Drawing nude models in life drawing class and the fact that making a painting could be considered a final exam for a college course were memorable, but the thing I miss most about art school are the critiques.
Although “critique” might conjure up the idea of an agonizing session of scathing judgement, it really wasn’t. After a week or two of busily working on a given artwork, we’d all stop for a bit, and show our progress to the rest of the class. It was fun to see what everyone else had been working on, even it was a little nerve-wracking to share your own work. How would it measure up to everyone else? What would the teacher think? Would everyone hate it?
Ok, that does sound pretty terrifying.
But the reality is that because we all had to do it, a spirit of empathy prevailed, and we were usually much more compassionate toward the work of others than we were with our own. At least in my experience, there was always a general interest of helping each other get better.
In my illustration classes, statements like, “I think the focal point could be better defined,” or “the fingers on the left hand don’t look quite right,” or “the color seems to get a bit muddy on the side of her face” were not harsh criticisms but merely helpful comments designed to help take the piece to a higher level.
Critiques often had another purpose, especially in painting or drawing classes. You were required to talk about your work, specifically the concept behind it and you were expected to justify why you made the choices you made. I always found it to be a very meaningful exercise, even if I didn’t always agree with the commentary of my classmates or professors.
So here are some thoughts that might be worth pondering, particularly if you were to look at your life as a work of art:
1) You can’t make your painting better if you don’t step away from it once in a while and look at it from a new perspective.
2) We can believe that being asked a question is the same as being questioned. Or we can see it as an opportunity to share, to learn, and to get better.
3) If you had to explain your life, taking a stand for the choices you’ve been making that have gotten you to this point, would you be able to?