Thursday, December 4, 2008

There's a Fine Line between Critique and Criticism...

...and today it was crossed.

Today was the last session of our figure class.

No models, no drawing, no mess - it was critique time!

Now, I've been through a lot of critique sessions since I dipped my little cotton socks (yeah, that's for you, Val!) in the deep water of art. Most classes and workshops involve critique, and I am very used to having my work reviewed by a critique group for the past 3 years (wow, has it really been 3 years already???).

And, I can take critique. I do not belong to those who seek the "WOW that is so amazing" response on each and every thing I do, as I don't believe in this kind of reaction. It's false, it's phony, and when you've done something that actually deserves it, how can you tell the difference?

But today - whew!

The teacher overdid himself. He made sure to give positive critique on at least one piece that everyone put on the wall, but then he went on a bloody merciless quest, aimed at helping us move forward, as he saw it.

Oh, so it's examples you want?

OK, here's one: "The eyes in this face look like he is blind. Or like someone poked it."

Or, "The drawing is very good, but the color... you know, it reminds me of the time we were kids and we were painting by numbers."

Or, "Looking at these two drawings, you can really see the contrast - because this one is so good... and the other one, well (chuckle), the good one just makes me not want to go back to the other one".

Or, "You overstated the creases in the dress. It's enough if you say something one time, you don't need to say it over and over again three hundred times".

Or, "This is supposed to be a self-portrait... well, I didn't know your mother, but I bet you she looked like that".

Or, "OK, you've shown us what you can do. Now - move on! show us what you cannot do."

And on.

- - - And on.

And, mind you, I didn't even get the harshest critique! My share was the highly ecouraging comment about saying something 300 times... and it was said about the little sketch of the crossed legs I did
here , which I happen to like quite a bit. Some of the students looked at me with anticipation, but I remained calm. Well, except my eyes that were shooting arrows.

At some point, at he was roasting Al's work, he said "Mind you, everyone has an opinion, so even if I say something about a certain drawing, it doesn't necessarily mean that I am the gospel".

"No, you are not", said a little voice.

And soon enough, I ouched with pain as MembieM kicked my leg and frantically shushed me.
"Oh, did I actually say that out loud?" I asked her, and her uncontrolled laughter proved to me that indeed, that little voice was mine.

But then, oh sweet revenge... MembieM wanted to share an incredible monoprint she did at a new exciting class she is taking. A wonderful portrait, truly impressive, absolutely expressive. She showed it to the appreciative class, and the teacher said "Oh, a monoprint. Let me tell you about monoprint... it's this process in which you smear ink on glass - "

"Actually, it's Plexiglas", said MembieM.

"OK, whatever - Plexiglas, and then you take some of the ink off, and transfer it to paper using a brayer - - "

"Um, we use a press", corrected MembieM.

"A what!?", grunted the teacher (he does not like to be interrupted nor contradicted - yeah, he's a man!).

"A press", replied MembieM with her sweetest smile.

"Yeah... anyhow", he proceeded to educate us, "then you make the print. Technically, it's not really a print, as you can only get one print out of it, so - - - "

"As a matter of fact, you can get two!", cheered MembieM and - like a magician pulling a bunny out of the hat - presented us with a second print of that very same image, or what's called 'the ghost'.

At that point, the teacher seemed quite miffed, and I was thoroughly enjoying myself. Sure, it may be small and petty, but looking around, I wasn't the only one giggling.

"Oh well, I guess so...", he surrendered. But, having to have the last word, he added "...and as you can all see, the ghost print is better!".

"Hmm... I disagree. The original print is MUCH better! it's got more mood!!!" - that was Val, who's just had enough.

"No, it's scary", snickered the teacher.

"Yeah, well, I did say mood", insisted Val.

While all that was going on, I kept myself from bursting out by delving into sketching. I captured Al and CrystieG as they were watching in disbelief the teacher slaughtering yet another painting.

So, that was a good exercise in ego-survival, and more than that: it showed me that I've become pretty immune to criticizing. Judging art is so subjective, different people will always have different opinions about different paintings, and nobody is the gospel when it comes to art. Some people can give their opinion in a nice way, and some, well... I won't share The JohnnyB's definition, as this blog is rated PG (at least it was, the last time I checked).

I just can't help pondering: what's the reason for this tendency of the teacher to put everything and everyone down, and antagonize the class? Is that what he considers to be tough love?

And you know what's the funniest thing? I'm gonna take this class again next semester.

I can see your jaw dropping with sheer astonishment: why in the world would I wanna do that!?

It's a combination of wanting to paint from life, liking the atmosphere in class and the fact that there are no Prima Donnas in it (which is very refreshing). Plus, there's also that simple primeval instinct to survive, as LimaB is taking it next semester, and I promised her that I would too...


singleforareason said...

Well, there is one Prima Donna in the class. The teacher. But, in matters of art and artists trying to work on 'their" art, the teacher can be muted. The occasion to actually get together and work is the point. So, I totally get that you are going back. The teacher is really secondary to the class.

As to why some folks are like this? It's cliched but often true: insecurity masked as superiority. You may be able to dismiss him as a teacher or take what you want and continue on...but living with him?

More than darts would be flying from your eyes, I feel sure!

RHCarpenter said...

Nava, I'm giving you huge props for returning to this class because of the reasons you said - and because you promised a friend! The teacher, well, sounds like a typical insecure person hiding beneath a superior shell and maybe worth trying to crack that shell - or not. I'm glad you got some enjoyment out of it and hope those who were shredded can recover and keep painting. He said one thing true = his opinion is just his opinion. I think we all want honest criticism but not a mean-fest. And again, good for you (and that little voice that spoke up).

Straight Lines said...

Did you show him the crooked fingers? What did he have to say about that?

Nava said...

Pat, hmm - until now, I haven't thought we do have a Prima Donna in class, but you've now opened my eyes. Same for the masked insecurity, which I suspected for a while.

Rhonda, props are highly appreciated! As for cracking his shell - naaah, I wouldn't. Why bother?

Straight Lines, You are really enjoying this game, aren't you?

Holly Van Hart said...


I like the new header on your blog. The 'eyes' have it!

What a class. ouch. thanks for the pointers what not to say in our next critique session.


Sandy Maudlin said...

Yikes. Sounds like a couple of workshop instructors I've had - and have nearly no respect for because of their belittling ways. That can suck the artist right out of a person, and that's not teaching or critquing. Glad you're tough - and such a humorous artist and person. love ya! And love the new look to your blog, too. Cool.

Nava said...

Holly, yup, 'Ouch' pretty much sums it.

Sandy, I have learned that those who are belittling others, especially if they are in a position of authority, are not very big themselves. And indeed, what doesn't kill us (or our spirit), makes us stronger, right?

Anonymous said...

You didn't mention what was the worst part for me.....the endless, endless meandering comments surrounding each nugget of relevant critique.
It was the l-o-n-g-e-s-t two hour session I've experienced since my last root canal.

I agree, the class is important for the learning we receive from each other, and the pleasure of some of the stimulating models.


Nava said...

Valerie, indeed - that took place as well. I guess it just faded comparing with the rest of all that fun.

Anonymous said...


I concur in the previous comments that: (1) your teacher appears to be the only prima donna (or perhaps "prim don" since he's male) in the class; (2) that he appears to be struggling to maintain his positional authority as your instructor with his sharp criticism; and (3) that I like the new header to your blog--more interesting.

Your instructor reminds me of some bosses I have had or seen, but I digress . . .


Nava said...

JimmyB, we've all had these bosses/teachers/so-called-friends in our lives. I am just amazed that the collection keeps growing. Apparently, a lotta people have missed their true calling of being a Prima Donna, and thus try it on everyone they meet.

Blueberry said...

WOW, I think he needs a critique on how to conduct a critique.

Nava said...

Blueberry, Bingo! only I hardly think he'd listen.

Daniel Bruckner said...

Hmmmm, let's see here.

First of all, I hate it when people use the 'tough love' moniker as an excuse to act like an asshole. While that may not necessarily be the case here, I just hate that trend.

Second of all, I would have loved, LOVED an asshole teacher like this at some point in my life (there's still time, fingers crossed). I would want to make it into a contest between myself and fellow classmates, 'Who's he going to slam the hardest?' THat way, you all can have a sort of inside-joke laughter at each one of his comments that would make him self-conscious (which is exactly what this sick bastard deserves).

THird of all, this is the longest comment I have left in a while. I will stop here.

Nava said...

Daniel, I sense that this lovely teacher has hit a nerve. Indeed, that IS the longest comment you've ever left. I'm impressed. If you ever do get such a teacher, please let me know, so I can transform myself into a small fly on the wall. Or - better yet - join that class...