How to Survive an Art Critique


By Jessica Molcan

One of the great aspects of being in an art school is getting feedback on your work. As most instructors stress, the opportunities to get such a vast array of feedback on your art ends quickly after graduation. It’s a lot harder to convince people to look at your work and give insightful, helpful, or critical feedback when there’s not a participation grade attached to it. With the middle of the semester looming, we’re either about to dive in or just made it out of our first critiques of the term. Sometimes, you can make it out relatively unscathed, but other times you’ve been burnt to a crisp—whether your peers throw proverbial wrenches into your artistic vision, or you’re being pulled in so many directions your head is spinning, sometimes it’s hard to know what to take from a critique and what to leave as you exit the classroom.

Separate Constructive Criticism from Cruelty

Positive criticism is great for making us feel warm and fuzzy, but it doesn’t lead us in the direction for growth. This is why constructive criticism is important. It allows us to grow as artists and create stronger creations. However, sometimes the delivery of negative criticism can make it outright nasty. If you’re delivered a particularly awful comment during a critique, try to dissect it. Is there a valid point? Can you use that validity to improve your work? Great! If not, move on. Most technical comments will have validity, and even aesthetic ones—but the key is finding what you can use.

Set Feedback Aside

Whether it’s positive or negative, critiques can rile you up. Although your first reaction may be to passionately defend your work to the death upon receiving negative criticism, sometimes it’s best to set the feedback aside and revisit it later. I try to take a notebook into critiques to write down what people have to say so I can revisit the feedback and my pieces later with a clear head. When you’re clouded by anger or disappointment, you may take it out on your own work unnecessarily. Another good reason to set feedback aside is if you get multiple different opinions or suggestions of where to go next with your work. If you feel you’re being pulled in many directions that intrigue you, having it written down can help you reflect and make a decision.

Accept Criticism Gracefully

If you’re in second year or above, it’s better to hear something during a critique, positive or negative, rather than nothing at all. With negative criticism, remember that you’ve moved someone enough to respond to your work. Be grateful that they’re willing to share their opinion with you, and decide if you can use that information later. Accepting criticism gracefully doesn’t come easy or even naturally. Particularly scathing reviews of your work can have you ready to unleash the fire of a thousand suns—but it’s better to be thankful that you received something that may help you and your work (once you’ve calmed down, of course). Try to calm down before you respond to any negative criticism, responding in anger is never a good idea.

Consider the Source

Generally in an art school critique, the source will be your peers and professor. These people have seen your other work, or are aware of your aesthetic and technical ability. Their opinions may be more thoughtful than that of a complete stranger at a gallery opening or launch party. Keep in mind that even if this is your professor, peers, gallery curator, or a respected artist in your field, it doesn’t mean that their opinion is the definitive voice on the matter. There’s no such thing as right or wrong; you need to weigh the advice and use what you can.

Do Something Amazing

Don’t let criticism stop you from creating. Take what you can from it and grow as an artist. Don’t abandon an artistic vision simply because of one person’s opinion. Keep creating, keep pushing, and keep contributing to the world. What are some of the ways you handle criticism?