I am critical of crits.

First off, my credit card informs me that I've had this website for over a year!  I think I did my first blog post on April 9th, but we're in the ballpark :)

I'm pretty sure I've talked a bit about this before, but this week I've had a student ask me to look at their work and a friend ask me to look at their daughter's work and offer suggestions, so it looks like the Universe wants me to think about crits.

Crits as we think of them today largely grew out of the Bauhaus model of art education, coming from the school of the same name in Germany that operated from 1919 to 1933.  They organized relatively small groups of cross-disciplinary students and teachers who worked together and then reviewed, or critiqued each others work in a semi-formal way...which, knowing what I know of the people involved, probably meant they yelled at each other a lot, and then went for beers.

I think somewhere between 1933 and now, we have largely lost the point.  Now, I see people running to *get* crits from people, preferably famous people they respect, in a desire to improve their work.  The pros dutifully make comments, and then the student goes back and (might) adjust and improve that one painting.

I have a confession to make.  I've talked to dozens of pros in my days as a student, and the number of times any of those crits translated directly into artistic improvement is....


Bupkis.  At best, it has helped me improve the paintings I already worked on, by going back and making the suggested changes....which is kinda like fixing your math test after you get the correct answer from the back of the book....gives you a better test, probably doesn't help you learn that much.

The point of Bauhaus crits wasn't to GET critiqued...it was to GIVE critique - To train your eyes and mind to see flaws and solutions by looking at something less close to your emotional blind spots.  When used correctly, a crit is an amazing learning tool, but people everywhere seem to be trying to use them in exactly the opposite way.

Sometimes, some VERY FEW occasions, getting a crit can be helpful.  If you can look at your work and see specific problems you can identify ("It sucks" is not a problem), then the crit can take the form of a short lesson, helping you find solutions to problems you have already discovered.  If you haven't discovered those problems on your own, then 99.99% of the time, you aren't ready to hear the solution.  Even if you get advice and fix it in that one image, you won't have internalized things so you apply it in the next one.  The people I know who seem to get the most out of crits are the ones who ask questions back, things like "I feel like the shadows are off in this image.  I tried to make them cooler than the areas that are well lit, but things still feel muddy.  Any suggestions for where I went wrong?"  When you do that, you have changed from a crit to a teaching situation.

Teaching is not the same thing as criting, even teaching lessons that have been specifically crafted to you based on your work....I HIGHLY recommend sharing your work with your instructors, because  it helps them focus on what you need....but that's not the same thing as showing your work at CTN, or to someone online, and asking "What do you think?"

Finally, crits are GREAT, and are a wonderful reason why you should connect with other students and artists of your level.  By learning to see what they are doing wrong and offering suggestions, you will be able to teach yourself solutions you can apply to your own work.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you found it interesting and/or helpful :)