The Ugly Side of Art Class Critiques




I am an art degree victim, I mean, graduate. Ha! Yes, I majored in art. They should have handed me a cardboard box at graduation, because finding a job with a studio art degree is about as easy as training a dog to make my morning coffee.

But for those who think studying art is child’s play or “not a real major“, let me tell you a thing or two — It’s NOT easy. One of my college roommates who was studying psychology would say, “I’m writing a 35-page paper, and you’re coloring.” Well, yes, but it wasn’t always that simple.

While much of it was fun and enjoyable, some of it was not. For instance, critiques. I hated the critiques. Some of the reason for that could just be because I don’t like criticism. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and don’t like being told that something isn’t quite perfect.

Now, for those who don’t know, in a class critique we each have our turn of putting our piece of art in front of the class and then the class and instructor discusses our art – the good and bad. For me, these were absolutely nervewrecking.


“The artist is the only one qualified to criticize his art, because only the artist knows what he was trying to express and how satisfied he is with the attempt.” 
-Ron Brackin
If only this were true in my art classes. Because I’m a perfectionist, I was constantly comparing my work to the work of others, and always felt mine was inferior. Class critiques made this feeling worse. My painting class was the most difficult. My instructor and I seemed to butt heads a bit, so what happened was I started to doubt myself as a painter and as an artist, because during a critique, it wasn’t just my art that I felt was being critiqued, but my ability as well.
That’s the hardest blow. If only the two could be separated somehow. The critiques from that class left quite the impression on me. After graduation, it was about 3 years before I painted again. Then criticisms from my then-husband caused me to go another 6 years without painting.
Not everyone will have the same experience or inner dialogue that I did, but the self-doubt about my work hasn’t gone away. It is present with nearly everything I create. The trick is learning to hear the good with the bad. Don’t focus on only the criticisms, but look at what was done right also. A piece of art is never really done. There will always be something you want to change or improve. Take those things with you into your next piece to make the next piece even stronger. And, no matter who discourages you or how many negatives you hear, don’t give up.
“An artist cannot fail; it is a success to be one.”
-Charles Horton Cooley

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2 thoughts on “The Ugly Side of Art Class Critiques

  1. I have known a few art majors, and I can tell you, I'd rather write any amount of research papers than have to accomplish some of the artistic assignments! That does sound like a really miserable process, the critiquing. It's hard to hear. I took a few classes where the assignments were performances, or public speaking–and I know that the “grading” process feels infinitely more personal than a letter on a paper, and that's not a good thing!


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