When someone disregards all the voices telling them they can’t do something, and they challenge themselves with hard work and dedication, they ought to be encouraged.
Last evening, we had a critique session. This isn’t just about learning what’s wrong with our paintings. It’s also about learning what’s right. I want students to learn to read and write artwork that is clear, strong and intelligible.
To this end, we considered formal structure, including:
- Focal point
- Shape and form
- Rhythm and movement
We could have equally asked:
- “What do you notice first? Second?”
- “Why did you see those things in that order?”
- “Does this evoke a feeling or response in you?”
- “What is the point of this work?”
The first set of questions are objective. The second, while subjective, are not judgmental. Rather, they ask us to observe our responses to the paintings. That’s intentional. “Do you like this?” is not going to garner useful responses.
As a teacher, I generally use the “sandwich rule” to critique paintings. I start by pointing out something the person did well. We then discuss what might have been handled differently. I finish by pointing out something else that the person did well, so that each session ends on a positive note.
This method has been mocked as “fluffy bun—meat—fluffy bun,” but that misses the point. Most people are all too aware of their failures and not aware of their strengths. Their own self-doubt gets in the way of seeing what is successful in their painting. That needs articulation as much as the negatives do.
Last night, one student said she has a hard time taking criticism. “You can say a hundred good things about me and one negative thing, and all I remember is the negative,” she said. She’s not alone in that; it’s how we’re all wired, and it takes a lot to work past our natural defenses.
It’s a sign of how well these students trust each other that they put in not their best paintings, but the ones where they felt they needed another person’s insight. And I apologize for the photo quality; Jennifer took the photos under incandescent light, which wrecks the color.
People are capable of wonderful things, but our society routinely discourages us from daring to be great. When someone disregards all the voices telling them they can’t do something, and they challenge themselves with hard work and dedication, they ought to be encouraged.