Advice needed on running a crit group for artists.
January 29, 2012 2:56 AM   Subscribe

Advice needed on running a crit group for artists. I’ve been asked to set up and run a crit group for artists at my local printmaking workshop. Although I teach, I’ve never run a group like this before so I’m a little unsure of how to go about it.

I guess the group will be for people to bring along their work to discuss ideas, problems they’re having, technical issues etc, and to get feedback from other artists. Has anyone got any experience of either running or attending a group like this? Can you give me any practical advice about how I should structure the sessions or any books / online materials which would be useful for me to look at? I was wondering if I should have exercises or items for discussion in addition to what members bring along to share - or as backup if no one brings work to talk about?

Any suggestions and advice gratefully received – thanks!
posted by Intaglio a go-go to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Professional artist here. I belong to a crit group that has met for 10-15 years with more or less the same group of people. Is the group you're setting up aimed at students, adult students or at professionals? With more experienced people you may not need to do much in the way of laying out ground rules. How big a group makes a difference. There are 6 of us and we have no moderator but we're such a small group that it's not necessary. We meet once a month. We all bring work - typically stuff in process that we want feedback on - not necessarily finished work. You can either start the discussion of a particular piece by having the artist talk about it - what they're aiming for, what they're struggling with or let people start by responding to the work. I've been present at some really toxic critiques in art school - so mentioning ground rules - no personal attacks, phrasing discussion of things that don't work in a piece about the piece not the artist may be a good idea.

We sometimes do exercises, go to exhibitions, travel together. Often share professional materials, pass on copies of books or magazines or useful online resources. If you are looking to share useful professional development advice there are lots of good sites - Alyson Stansfield, Joanne Mattera, Janet Bloch are three good ones - I know all of them personally, none of them are print-making specific though. On technical issues the best overall materials site I've found is the Amiens Forums - The Art Materials Information and Education Network. I haven't delved into their printmaking area but the encaustic and painting sections are excellent.
posted by leslies at 5:55 AM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

My wife does these all the time, and hers are quite simple actually. All her workshops have a critique session at the end, usually with refreshments ( even some wine to loosen folks up), and are done very casually. She displays the works one by one, and asks everyone what they like about it. Then she asks them to carefully delve into what they don't like about it. ( most participants keep their opinions tempered by the fact that their time is coming). Then she will give her professional opinion on things that are great or might need some work. Some of the groups have been going on for years , and they tend to develop stronger opinions. One thing she tries to avoid, is to compare one against another.
posted by lobstah at 5:57 AM on January 29, 2012

You might set a time limit in the beginning to help with the structure, say, 30 minutes per person. That way, awkward silences won't cause the crit to end abruptly. Instead, people will find things to discuss if they know they must have 30 minutes for crit. Also you may want to limit the amount of artworks that someone can bring in a week. 3 may be a comfortable max.

The major topics of a crit often cover:
1) technique (this will be at the top if you're in a printmaking group)
2) display (lighting, framing, etc)
3) meaning (more common if the crit group also consists of art critics or curators)

Perhaps the person whose work is being criticized could begin by telling the group which areas s/he wants help in. Otherwise the discussion goes all over the place when no one knows what the artist "wants" from a crit.

You can alter the structure and mood of the crit in a few fun ways, such as the artist cannot speak during the crit. That way, the artist must only listen to a discussion about their work. Another alteration is to begin the crit with 10 minutes of silent looking at the art, and only after 10 minutes does discussion begin. It takes time to understand artworks, so this buffer time allows people to acclimate to the work.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 7:23 AM on January 29, 2012

A couple other techniques I find useful are to ask those giving the critique to focus on their reactions before the artist explains their work - how it makes them feel, what questions it raises for them, where their eyes are drawn, etc. - as a way of helping the artist to know how their work is being received in an immediate way.

It's also helpful to set as ground rules that the critique should focus on what the artist is trying to do, not what the critics would do if this was their piece. That can really turn the critique in a different direction.
posted by Ms. Toad at 7:26 AM on January 29, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for your responses guys – really useful stuff. I like the idea of getting everyone to have a good look at the work first before any discussion starts – will definitely try that one.

I’ve got seven people interested in the group so far, only one of which is a professional artist so most of them will have been spared the trauma of art school crits. Interesting what you say about them being toxic leslies; that seems to be the tradition at art schools here in the UK too, certainly in my experience.
posted by Intaglio a go-go at 2:05 PM on January 29, 2012

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