Critique: the Art of Evaluation

The process of critical evaluation is one of the most important resources available to those interested in the arts. It is a centuries old practice in all areas of the arts, as well in other disciplines such as the sciences.  There are many ways to participate.  Conversations between master and apprentice, teacher and student, colleagues, or even as an inner dialogue in one’s own head about the work before you, can all be effective.  Whether formal or informal, critique is an invaluable exercise for gathering information.

The goal of any kind of artistic critique is to stimulate ideas and suggest alternatives. People hear the word critique and often assume it is something negative.  Done well, it is not.  Participation requires one to think about the “why” and the “how” of a given piece or even a series of works.  Moreover, there are benefits to approaching the process of critique from both sides – that of the evaluator and that of the evaluated.

As an evaluator, one might find oneself considering the work of an artist before you, or perhaps one is looking at a piece in a gallery or a museum. You can reflect on elements such as composition, the physical details of creation and its overall intention.  When the artist is present, you can express alternatives or ask questions with clarity but without any need to dictate.  Listen to their response. Thoughtful critique might lead someone towards a better understanding of what they are seeking to do.  When looking at a particular work independent of its maker, issues of form, content and effect can be investigated.  Such considerations will help lead to a fuller response to any given piece than merely liking or disliking it.

As the maker of a work that is being critiqued, comments or questions posed might address a technical detail or focus on the whole piece as it is in the moment. The entirety of the process might inspire you to rethink some options in order to reach for something new and improved.  Conversely, comments might confirm that your direction, resolution of a problem or conceptual approach is effective.  Most importantly, one must remember that any kind of critique, be it a written review or an on-site chat, only presents someone else’s opinion or suggestions.  As the maker, you should always do what you think best with your work.

There are lots of ways to approach an art critique.  The process works best if one can set aside personal taste to view something in a dispassionate manner.  Taste is very personal and highly subjective, but a well-done critique or evaluation should be founded in basic principals of design and standard questions about the intentions, rational, etc. of someone’s work.

Try the critique process with a trusted friend or a group that has agreed to work towards a common goal of helping each other.  It can happen in-person or on-line via shared images and written replies.   The goal is to get a different point of view on your work and hear other thoughts beyond, “Gee, that is great” or the now generic “like” or “thumbs up”.  A critique can reaffirm that one’s efforts are moving forward in a positive way.  A critique also can help an artist resolve the sense that something is “off” but it is not quite clear what might be wrong or why.  While there is no one system for evaluating work, or approaching a critique, sessions ought to be supportive- perhaps a bit challenging at moments-, but not destructive.  Remember, the intent is to gain another point of view, another perspective that you might not have considered.  The only goal of any critique should be to help an individual advance in their work.

Below are a series of different approaches to critique submitted at the request of the PAA.  All sources are credited and links provided when relevant.

Harriete Estel Berman

Kathleen Dustin

Lindly Haunani

Christine Dumont

Elise Winters