Tell Us What You Think About Group Critiques

Art teachers and workshop participants have differing opinions about the value of critique sessions in which all the students’ drawings or paintings are placed in front of the class, the instructor points out strengths and weaknesses in the pictures, and then members of the group are invited to comment. William Hook prefers not to hold these sessions at the end of each day or on the last day of a workshop because he finds the students have such varying levels of skill and experience that it isn’t fair to compare one to another. Other teachers forgo these group meetings because they are sensitive to the fact that some students dread having their artwork reviewed in front of the entire class. Nevertheless, the vast majority of teachers find it helpful to review the degree to which the students have understood and applied the information provided during the class or workshop, and they use the occasion as a way of praising the students’ accomplishments while identifying areas in which they can make improvements. For example, Jack Beal always says something encouraging to the artists who participate in his workshops, even if it is only to identify the progress they made over the week they studied with him in Oneonta, New York; and he points out ways they can get better at composing their pictures and presenting personal interpretations of the subject matter.

I’ve participated in a few workshops and have been anxious about the comments the instructor might make as he or she got closer to my picture, so I know what it feels like to have my paintings criticized. I was certain the instructors and workshop participants wouldn’t be cruel to the guy who was reporting on their workshops, but I was nervous nonetheless. I listened carefully and remembered everything that was said, especially the recommendations for making improvements. In the end I was glad I participated and felt I was given some useful advice, so I have positive feelings about the entire process. Still, I would be interested in the comments you might like to make about leading that kind of review process or being one of the people whose artwork was critiqued.

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M. Stephen Doherty

About M. Stephen Doherty

I've been interested in art since I was a child,  and I was fortunate to be able to take Saturday art classes at the Cincinnati Art Museum from the time I was 9 years old until I finished high school. I majored in art at Knox College and graduated summa *** laude, Phi Beta Kappa (proving artists can use both sides of their brain!).  I then earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in printmaking from Cornell University; taught art in public schools, a community college, an adult education program, and a college; worked in the marketing department of a company that manufactured screen printing supplies; and was hired to be editor of American Artist in January, 1979.

Thomas S. Buecher introduced me to plein air painting and it immediately became a passion of mine because it got me outdoors and allowed me to continue learning when I traveled to judge art shows, attend conventions, give lectures, and interview artists. Over the years I've exhibited my paintings at Bryant Galleries in New Orleans, Trees Place Gallery on Cape Cod, and in a traveling exhibition titled From Sea to Shining Sea.

I've written 10 books on artists and art techniques and contibuted articles to magazines, websites, and exhibition catalogs. Now as I prepare for semi-retirement, I'm trying to hone my painting skills -- especially those related to painting portraits.

I've been very fortunate to have met thousands of talented artists who have enriched my life with their art, their friendship, and their advice. I am grateful to Jerry Hobbs and Susan Meyer who hired me in 1979, to the talented people who worked with me on the magazines, and to the artists and advertisers who supported American Artist, Watercolor, Workshop, and Drawing  magazines and the related websites.

I've also been blessed with a supportive, talented wife, Sara; a daughter, Clare, who works for an insurance agency; a son, Michael, who is a computer enginner in Austin; a son-in-law, Shawn, who can fix and carry anything; a granddaughter, Amanda, who has me wrapped around her finger; and my mother, Dotty, who has advised and encouraged me from the beginning.

14 thoughts on “Tell Us What You Think About Group Critiques

  1. I remember the first time I was involved in a group critic in a college design class back in the 60s. I was floored. I never had negative things said about my work before. I went home doomed and told my parents I didn’t think I was going to be an artist after all.

    I talked with the instructor and learned the value of not only what I didn’t do, but I paid attention to the mistakes everyone made. I learned their mistakes.

    Now, I pretty much don’t worry about positive feedback. I need the negative feedback so I can continue moving forward. I prefer to give the negative too, although I do hold back because I know some people are sensitive and are looking for positive reinforcement.

    A teacher who will give both barrels is fine with me (now).

  2. I think critiques are great if you are with honest people that truly critique for the artist’s benefit and not any other reason. As a new watercolorist, I appreciate anything that will improve my work. I don’t believe anything needs to be stated in the negative. When someone says, “if you did …it would express what you are trying to present in a better way,” it is appreciated and helps me become a better artist but if they approach it in the negative I’m not much interested because you can always be kind with instruction – it’s much more effective, for me, anyway!

  3. When I use negative and positive I mean, I ant the things that are wrong with the painting. Don’t just say great job, I like this, I like that. Tell me where I didn’t get it.

  4. I learned to draw and paint from other artists paintings and photos. I now use my own photos for the watercolor portraits that I produce. I feel that using other artists work is a good training tool; however, I feel that it is wrong to use it for competition or to try and sell it. My high school art instructor once told me that a good artist is also a good photographer.

  5. I notice that in contemporary art world mostly anything goes –all you need is to catch the eye of a juror or prominent gallery or some establishment. I see a lot of art that sell and win at competitions don’t really follow rules or break the rules regularly. Skewed perspectives are quite the rage. So who is to really say what a painting needs to be ‘better’ and what is right or wrong? Don’t we constantly hear there is no right way to draw/paint? Seems like an artist needs to confidently define and justify his or her ‘look’ in the art work. Am I being cynical – not really –just commenting on what I see.

  6. I notice that in contemporary art world mostly anything goes –all you need is to catch the eye of a juror or prominent gallery or some establishment. I see a lot of art that sell and win at competitions don’t really follow rules or break the rules regularly. Skewed perspectives are quite the rage. So who is to really say what a painting needs to be ‘better’ and what is right or wrong? Don’t we constantly hear there is no right way to draw/paint? Seems like an artist needs to confidently define and justify his or her ‘look’ in the art work. Am I being cynical – not really –just commenting on what I see.

  7. I did a new self-portrait because I got kinda tired of seeing the Ray Kinstler portrait being reproduced all the time.

    Be careful telling me what you think. I’m not yet comfortable with the way I look in the painting and my feeling could get hurt if your crticism was too harsh.

    Thanks,
    Steve

  8. I took the Famous Artists Corespondence Course in 1962.Every lesson was critiqued and returned to you.This is the only way to learn. When I went to College,(1966) the first hands on art class required each of us to critique the others work on every class project.Not only did you get graded on the project, but you were graded on your critique as well.
    I not only want to be critiqued, I need to have an educated critique, positive or negative.
    I have no sensitivity to getting an educated critique.
    However, a critique that does not have authority, does nothing, so it means nothing to me.
    But, your self-portrait is a much better idea than the Kinstler drawing.To begin with, you are painting it and we appreciate that you have shown us something of yourself.Frankly, the little avatar
    is so small, I would hesitate to make any comment other than thank you.

  9. In my opinion, it is a valuable resource. While in college I looked forward to these sessions and to compare my results with others. Knowing that skill levels are different, but yet all art work is unique on it’s own. It’s a way of validating yourself and view different styles on what works and what doesn’t. It’s all a learning tool that you can use to your advantage not only preparing you for the real world of possible rejections but building your self-esteem to continue on without feeling personal about these rejections.

  10. I personally think it is a very valuable resource and like Kells I have no sensitivity to an educated critique. I appreciate the honesty of a good critique and learn from them. I t’s nice to get the praise and positive response when it’s deserved but if that is all I was after I would just go to family and friends. They’re always kind but are they always honest. All in all, I think critiques are a great learning tool.

  11. I think group critiques are an invaluable learning tool in a classroom setting. They can be a little more delicate online, because you don’t know who you are dealing with. A new artist may be discouraged by an overly harsh critique when they need positive reinforcement. I have participated in and had my work critiqued many times in college
    and I am used to the process. I personally appreciate all comments
    positive and negative.

  12. Since after all these years I have never truly had any formal training, I like to hear both the opportunities and the positive points. I am fine with getting straightforward feedback as long as it is done in a manner that also tells me why or how the opinion was formulated. I find that I often am intrigued as to the order of which things are painted in each painting as I feel that often when I get results I am not so fond of, they are due to the order in which I paint, not necessarily my strokes.

  13. as a ‘self taught’ artist…critique (good or bad) is ESSENTIAL for me to get out of my own head and hear the thoughts of others. I have to admit that I am hard on myself and find the more ‘constructive” criticisms harder to take…but in reality they just reinforce what I probably already know. I wish I knew where to get MORE critiques so that I can grow and be aware of the ‘eyes’ around me; while I paint for ME and my passion, it’s the ‘eyes’ that buy…..

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