How to Survive Critiques: Tips from Other Art Students

Hey, everyone! Final critique season is almost here (cue all-nighters in the studio)! Previously, I had written a post about how to survive critiques. I wanted to expand on the topic, so I decided to ask my fellow art students for their tips for how they deal with critiques.

Alissa Outwater is a Graphic Design major. You can find her Behance portfolio here.

Rebecca “Becca” Roberts is an Illustration major. You can find here art Instagram here.

Rebecca “CC” Martin is a Fine Arts major. You can find her art Tumblr here.

To start this conversation off, I asked them if they had any tips on how to survive critiques.

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CC: Don’t take constructive criticism as an attack. Just listen and take what they have to say with a grain of salt.

Becca:  Nobody wins a crit. You don’t get a gold star or an automatic good grade if you get “the best crit”. Often when you think someone got a better crit than you, it just means the room had more to say that they think could help make you piece even better, they cared about your piece and helping you improve it, And that other person probably just got told everything was great and you moved on, and that means that people didn’t think that was further that piece could grow. Remember, in art, you should always be striving to improve.

Of course, they will inevitably be people who do a better piece than you at some point. But that doesn’t mean you should be hard on yourself for it, be happy for them, learn from their work. They are always gonna be someone better than you so embrace it.

Make crit a conversation, not just a lecture or read/rant. Crits aren’t their best (let alone fun) when it’s just the professor talking at the class about each person’s piece. Even if each person only speaks up a couple times when they feel like they have something to say, those little thoughts can lead to a much more valuable conversation about a piece. Also sometimes if you have a mean professor or harsh classmates it can be nice to have some people who are looking to be encouraging rather than debbie downers.

Always be constructive: don’t just say you like (or dislike) something, say why. It’s always nice to compliment a person on what they are doing well in crit but it makes it more constructive to explain what it was they did when and why/how it’s functioning to help the piece. And in the same way when something isn’t good in a piece, be able to identify what isn’t working and give a potential solution.

Alissa: I think the part of crits that a lot of people have trouble with is like staying engaged and not getting tired out by it, at least in my classes. It helps to make it a point to try to find things you can comment on in others artwork or to ask questions about it and then listen. Also!!! Take notes!! Even when other people are being critiqued, something could be said that could help with your own work. With design crits we have the benefit of being able to easily go back in and improve the designs with the critiques we were given so notes are super important but in fine arts and illustration classes it’s probably more difficult. So I guess notes’ importance differs from major to major.

Becca: Listen! Watch! Be engaged! When someone is saying something look at them, or if they are pointing at something specifically in your piece, look at what they are pointing at. [having a sketchbook out to take notes, jot down ideas, sketch out things, etc, is a great idea but don’t bury your head in your sketchbook. If you are looking down at you sketchbook the whole time, especially when the crit is on your piece, it makes you seem like you don’t care and you aren’t listening] Also, always listen, don’t have headphones in or your head down (and please don’t fall asleep).

Professors tend to give more constructive advice to people they think can actually take it and apply it. If they think you and your work is shitty and you have no potential they probably won’t bother to help you as much. If they know you aren’t gonna listen and take their advice they won’t give it. Same thing goes for other students if you don’t care or seem to want criticism they won’t give it.

This also means that if people have a lot to say about your piece it’s probably pretty good. Your peers and professors generally want to see you succeed and it they see your piece has some really good potential or even if it’s just shy of being really great they are going to want to help you make it the best it can be.

Me: Notes are important too (at least for me) because if I’m continuing in the same theme for my next piece I can incorporate that advice into it.

CC: To add the fine arts perspective on Alissa’s comment, she is right. It is not as easy to go back to fix our pieces. Some pieces it works (paintings, concept work, etc). However, things like performance and sculptures can be hard to go back in. With this in mind, you kind of have to learn from the advice given to you. If you want to make that piece again or do something similar, just pull from the comments given to you so can improve. If you don’t want to make the piece again, use the advice for future work so you don’t fall into the same problems.

Becca: A correction or a crit is a piece of information. In a crit when someone tells you something they are giving you something new to learn from or with. Don’t think of your critique as criticism, think of it as feedback to help you learn and grow. It’s not because it’s bad, it because you can make it better, it’s to help you.

Listen to everybody else’s corrections and advice, cause chances are you can learn from what other people are doing wrong or right. Don’t check out when crit isn’t of your piece (I mean for one, you should be listening so you can participate and be part of the conversation), always be engaged in what’s being said because and information can be helpful to you for future projects.

You don’t have to take every piece of advice you get given, especially not all at once. My professors always emphasize to us that the information they are giving us in crit is all optional.The best thing to do its take things with a grain of salt but consider everything. Some stuff might be really helpful but often not every piece of advice will work together.

One of my professors likes to talk about when his professor gave him this advice during a crit one day. His professor was giving him lots of different ideas on how to improve his piece and he was trying to figure out how to make all of them work. But as soon as the professor realized what he was freaking out about they assured him that they didn’t mean for him to talk everything, these were just options.

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I hope this advice was helpful for you! If you are having trouble with giving critiques, check out my post here. I wish you luck in your finals, be they crits, presentations, papers or tests!

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