Critting the crit
Post #781 • May 2, 2006, 11:09 AM • 23 Comments
Jori Finkel on the group critique:
Last semester at Columbia, Lynne Chan, a second-year M.F.A. student, staged a boxing match called "Big Crit Brawl," pitting student against student in a ring in her studio and playing hip-hop music to set the mood. The performance drew on her training in Thai kickboxing and also served as a pre-emptive strike, as the professors decided not to interrupt the event to critique it.
Not long ago it occurred to me that group critiques have a regular structure, despite inidividual variations. The artist puts up his work. People discuss how the work is failing and succeeding. Then, participants suggest new options, pulled from the infinitude choices that the work didn't select. You can repeat this process forever to no meaningful effect. Fortunately, one graduates.
Telling people how to make art is like telling them how to live. When I was still teaching, I had to crit studio work. I would start by gauging their level of happiness. I had to see an excitable interest, a desire to chat about the work, a knowing smile, something that indicated life. If they felt bored, we had to take care of that first, because nothing is more useless than art generated by bored artists. Bad art comes from boredom, confusion, and frustration, which show up plain as day in the results. So first, you check to see if the student needs to be picked up off the floor.
Next, you see if the student needs to be pulled down from the ceiling. Sometimes the artist has an overly high opinion of what's going on in his work. That won't do either. This case is rare.
Once the student is standing upright, we can have a good talk about the work. When you're by yourself in the studio, you get hundreds of ideas. You learn which ones don't work by executing them. I've done that so many times that I hear the bad ideas coming. Sometimes I execute them anyway - it's the only way to know for sure - but I try to save the student some trouble. But I don't like telling people what to do, so I'd say this: "Go ahead and try that, but if it doesn't work, don't kill yourself making it happen."
When I realized that I was advising students to do what they would be doing anyway if they just spent several hours a day working, I knew it was time to take a break from teaching.