Saturday, July 23, 2011


As a student, I sat through so many critiques in college, that it became hard to just sit and give a general response to a work of art.  I was constantly picking everything apart.  In studio, at the conclusion of a project, we would discuss what worked, what didn't work, what we liked, what we didn't like, what could be improved, what couldn't be improved upon, what might the piece look like upside down, inside out, vertical, horizontal...and I could go on.  The point of critique for me (beyond the obvious learning tool) was to unbend my artist's mind. A very important process, because I see something in my minds-eye, and then I execute it, sometimes exactly, sometimes not.  And by sitting through a critique, I'm forced (sometimes...sometimes I'm grateful) to hear what other artists think or see about my particular piece that's up for discussion. Sometimes it's a critical response to the craftsmanship or technique. Sometimes it's a reflection upon the emotion or symbolism evoked by the art. Sometimes it's neither.  Either way, critique can be helpful and instructive as much as it can be brutal to the artist.

During the first week of our class, Wendy Osterweil put a new twist on the critique. At least it was a different way for me to think about the art.  We were to respond to another person's printed fabric, using adjectives, short phrases, and describing words.  Because it was disjointed, I really disliked the first fabric that my classmate, Sheila Shuman, and I printed together. The top part (mostly directed by Sheila) was great, in my opinion. The bottom half (where I made most of the decisions) was just a mess. Or so I thought, until I heard the response to our cloth.
seemed like a mess to me, until I heard the response

The response:  energy, finding nemo, sea-like, wild, sick, random, separated, earthy, free, unity, abstract, growing, polarized, organic, complimentary, fuzzy, moldy, eroding, natural, contrasting, dynamic, infinite, rotted, deteriorating, mysterious.

After hearing those words spoken out loud, I gained a new appreciation for something I would have completely dismissed. In fact, I fell in love with the bottom half of this fabric, and used it in the quilt I'm still working on!   At the time of our "response" I was almost too embarrassed to put it up there amongst all the other wonderful printed fabrics.

all of our 'firsts' hanging up for a 'response'

So I re-learned a simple fact that I apparently had forgotten. Sometimes, it's too easy to call art "Good" or "Bad" or to say "I like this" and "Wow, That's terrible art! How can they call that art?!?"  I know for myself, from now on, when I look at a painting on a wall, or a quilt, a weaving, a sculpture standing in a museum, or anything, I will make a list, in my head, of all the words that come to mind.  And maybe, just maybe, something I disliked previously, will take on a new respect and understanding.


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