Critiquing in Your Art Room
The first time I recall having to really "critique" an artwork, was when my first ever art professor had us hold up finished design work, spin the the work around for her, and then she'd tell us to go back and fix everything because it was terrible. Other than spinning the work, there was no involvement from me.
My next critique experience involved: staying up in an anxiety induced insomnia, finishing charcoal drawings on the floor of my bedroom, getting driven to college by my boyfriend because I caused myself a pinched nerve in my neck from stress, frantically and nervously hanging and arranging my work for three of my professors to judge while I stood there awkwardly awaiting their responses. They may have asked me what work I thought was my most successful piece. They didn't really say anything bad, but I still felt very strongly that I wanted to barf after.
Later in grad school, I quickly I realized I was going to have to talk about my work when a professor walked into my studio asking, "Who are you looking at?" Meaning, in this context, what other artists are inspiring me at the moment. I couldn't even answer this. When they asked me questions about why I was doing what I was doing, I was unsure of myself. I kept searching for the "right" answer. I didn't feel equipped to discuss my work. I was intimidated and uncomfortable.
This is why I critique with all my classes, even 8th graders. I give all of my classes different critique experiences but prior to critiques, I require that they do some self-reflecting and writing about their work so they start to become more comfortable asserting themselves. Each kid should know their "why" no matter what the project is.
When they get to the advanced level, such as my AP Drawing class, they're expected to respond to each others work and reflect on their own almost on a weekly basis. Here are somethings we do:
1. Process videos/photos- taking pics along the way to see how far you've come/record your process. You can do this in one class period even. Take a pic 5 minutes in, take a pic at the end- discuss what changed.
2. 5 minute art swaps- no matter where you're at in a project- swap it, grab a post it note, provide some feed back (not just- "I like it, it's nice").
3. Mid-project critiques or online discussions- posting work to a forum or discussion board (Schoology or google classroom), and students comment on each other's works and provide feedback/ways to improve etc.
4. End of project critiques/assessment/self-reflections
-You can do a traditional critique- posting work, having kids start by choosing a work they are drawn to, explaining why/what appeals to them, then offering suggestions. The student of that work can then choose the next one, you can keep piggy-backing off of that.
-You can have kids organize work based on who met the project goal the strongest via technique, creativity, concept etc.
-You can group work from strongest to weakest (yes they do need to see when the work is considered weaker by their peers and by you, the teacher, so improvements can occur) but provide weaker outcomes with HELPFUL and constructive feedback. I NEVER offer the suggestion or allow a student to suggest the work just get completely re-done. Always look for ways to problem solve and improve a work, or recommend something for next time.
-Assement- I always have students go around and score work at the end of the projects with a teacher-created rubric. At the end they have to leave at least 1 positive and 1 constructive comment.
-Self-reflection- writing about their work with or without an art vocabulary word bank- discuss the process, opinion of their work, why they used materials/surfaces they chose, why they were inspired to create the work etc.
The Small Group/Large Group Critique
With my advanced kids I do mid Breadth and Mid Concentration critiques. When they get to around 7 breadth/7th concentrations. We do one spread out over 4 days before December break, and the concentration ones get done over 4 days in January at the end of the first semester. Here's how it goes down:
Students are given a specific day to be prepared for their crit (similarly to that college experience). On that day, students come in immediately setting up their critique space. My art room has no space for displaying work on a board, so they spread their work out on our tables. If it's a concentration critique they need to provide their artist statement and a contact sheet of their works in the order they're intended to be viewed in.
Students then select new tables to sit at in small groups of 3-4 and are provided with a rubric to fill out. This rubric has 10 criteria that are aligned with the college board AP studio art scoring guidelines. They can earn up to 100 points. There is space on the rubric to leave comments in relation to specific criteria so their responses and feedback are more focused. They leave extra comments as needed, like to determine a weaker link in the portfolio.
With about 15-20 minutes left of class (we have 43 min long periods) students then get up and we make the rounds to each table. Students are presented with 3-4 focus questions to discuss with the group.I set a timer for 2-3 minutes. They talk me through their comments. For breadth, focus questions may be "Is there enough variety, are the techniques strong, what could be a quality work, what needs improvement etc." For a concentration crit we focus on "Does the work and the artist statement relate (sometimes the statement just has to be tweaked to reflect the work), where should the student go next with their work, is there something that is standing out as a weak piece or is out of place. etc."
I chime in as necessary to guide, pose an alternative question, or point out something if I think a student missed something. Students can use this time to also clarify anything about their images. We also use this play "crit money" inspired by a fabulous art ed account I follow- @mrs_tfox on IG (I think I recall her using something similar) so students can use that as a vehicle to explain what art work they would buy if they could. It's a cool way to bring that discussion of is art meant to be viewed by others, what value do we place in art, etc. Fine artists need to sell their work to make a living. It's also interesting to see what they would want to own from each other, I think that shows a deeper sense of appreciation for their works. To be clear, the money isn't a reward system for this class, it does't mean that artwork "won" something.
You can test out this small group to large group crit along with the rubrics I created, and print out some of your own crit money! Check out the links below!
LESSON PLANNING NEVER STOPS!
Sorry to tell you this but, if you're not still creating new content for your courses, you're doing a disservice to your students. This is my opinion, you might disagree, such is life. Yes we have projects that have amazing outcomes and students may have mastered technical skills through the lesson, and it is tried and true. You may not want to deviate. You may not want to touch that lesson, for fear of the slightest change altering the outcomes. If you want to elevate yourself as an educator however, are you reflecting on your work? Is there a new artist you can incorporate into this lesson? Is there a current exhibition that relates to this project's concept/technique/style or material? Is there an extension to this project? Is there an activity you can try for a few minutes prior to starting the classwork on the project? Are there different management techniques you can try, or a way to arrange the room more effectively? Are there different questions to be asked?
If you're not asking yourself these reflective questions, you may be doing a disservice to your students. You may also run the risk of getting bored with your own projects. If you're not that personality type, I'm almost jealous because I can't seem to leave well-enough alone for long enough. Which leads me to the dreaded "Perspective Unit".
I really despise perspective lessons. One point, two point...any point, I don't like teaching it. I don't like rulers so much, or the confines of fitting my ideas into a template such as perspective is essentially a template for creating space/depth on a 2D surface. Yes, the concept is important to teach, yes I need to bring up Renaissance art and boring dead white male artists who propelled this concept further, yes I need my students to understand how to make something 3D on paper. So each year, I struggle with what I'm going to do with my perspective unit.
The two-point street corner. A surreal twist- make it a board game, make it in outer space, make it upside down. I tried drawing a corner of our school hallway from observation then taking that drawing and collaging it into another surreal landscape to talk about displacement. Student outcomes were mediocre at best, and I was bored, and frustrated. I still can't pronounce "orthogonal". I was tired of using the basic surreal artists, Dali, Magritte, etc. as the basis for this work too.
This year, I was determined to do something with a contemporary twist, so I sat down and looked at one of my favorite artist's work, Scott Listfield (https://www.astronautdinosaur.com). His paintings infuse surrealism displacement concepts with Pop art. There is a strong sense of background, middle ground, foreground and scale. He uses a reoccurring figure of an astronaut, to tell an on going story of what one might find in the future when we come back to Earth. Abandoned stores, left over billboards, nature taking over, dinosaurs coming back to inhabit the Earth, it's all very engaging stuff! In several paintings there is the use of two point perspective within a building/structure.
Using this artist, I started to construct my new lesson. Students will be creating a landscape with at least 1 building in two-point perspective. Their building should reflect a modern day, recognizable store/restaurant etc. Their background landscape should be a place where this store wouldn't normally exist. They'll draw this out and render it with colored pencil.
To me, this was still a basic two point perspective project. So to take it a step further, and reinforce this concept of scale/foreground etc seen in Listfield's work, I am going to have students take a photo of an action figure, or use a found image from the internet of a dinosaur, animal, figure etc. And using an App of their choice, they will create a digital illustration combining together this image with their perspective drawing.
For my sample, I used the app called "Over". It allowed me to overlay an image of an old scuba diver, with transparent effects, and mask out the rest of the image so the drawing was more visible. I went ahead and also incorporated a piece of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" into the sky. Pixlr is free, may be effective but you can't mask out the object. MediBang paint on the iPad may also work.
What will be cool is that students have their original perspective drawing, which is a complete project in and of itself, but they also have this digital component that can exist and they can be as creative as they want with out disrupting their original image. I also want them to use this as an opportunity to see that once they create an artwork, that doesn't have to be the end of its life. It can exist in many other forms and become the start of something new. Getting into the habit of continually transforming an artwork and finding new ways to alter it to become something new is a skill that my students need to be successful contemporary artists themselves.
So, I challenge you to tackle that project that maybe you dread teaching or are bored of, and find a way to make it work for you and for your students. I am not sure how this is going to go, but I can tell you I am feeling way more enthusiastic about teaching it, which can only mean that it should be a better experience for my students. I tried my best to make a solid teacher sample, so they can be inspired to try the techniques too. Keep putting the work in, keep changing things up! Yes it's a little more work (my friday night....) but it keeps me energetic about what I'm doing in the art room, where I spend most of my time, so it's worth it.
PS: Thanks to other art teacher friends, here are some other artist you can look to for a more contemporary approach to perspective:
Cinta Vidal: IG @cinta_vidal
Patrick Hughes: IG @patrickhughesartist
Scott Listfield: IG @scottlistfield
Photography, forced perspective: Wire Hon IG @wirehon
Mark Hogancamp, "Marwencol"
Spherical panoramas by Randy Scott Slavin "Alternate Perspectives" IG @randyscottslavin
Pen/Pencil, concept art, futuristic cities with immense detail: Jae Cheol Park (aka Paperblue) IG @paperbluenet
Photorealistic landscape Painter: Nathan Walsh IG @nathanwalshartist
Photorealistic landscape: Jessica Hess IG @jessicahessart
Artist. Art Educator. This is what we're doing in art room 144.