What is a critique?
A critique is an oral discussion strategy used to analyze, describe, and interpret works of art. It is a process of evaluation designed to help students and practitioners hone their persuasive oral information gathering and justification skills.
The primary goal of critique is to highlight and analyze the meanings of the work being presented. The critique process helps you focus your future work toward the specific meanings you want to convey in your work. Critique is never personalized nor ad hominem, instead the analysis is focused squarely on the content and interpretation of the work under review.
During the critique, you are asked by those participating in the critique to recall specifics details and aesthetic strategies employed in the work under review. You might want to take notes during your critique as well as during the critique of other work under review. When you are getting started, this serves as a guide to know what to takes notes on during future critiques.
Guidelines for productive and constructive critiques
The following guidelines will help you participate in a critique in a more productive and constructive manner. As a media maker, you will learn a lot by reworking your video addressing issues that came up during the critique and then having it critiqued again. Through this process, you will gain insights into the effectiveness of your aesthetic strategies.
Describe the work under review without using value statements such as “It is good” or “I like it.”
- What is the title?
- Describe the subject matter. Are there recognizable images or sounds?
- Describe the important aesthetic elements of the work (i.e., framing, composition, use of space).
- Describe the technical qualities of the work (i.e., lens choice, focus, fidelity, timing).
- Describe the work in its context. Where and how are you experiencing it?
Describe how the work is organized as a complete whole. Use your observations about the aesthetic and technical qualities from the previous section.
- How is the work constructed or planned (i.e., order, timing, shape, flow, etc.)?
- Identify some of the patterns or differences throughout the work (i.e., images, sounds, compositions, etc.).
- Identify some of the points of emphasis in the work (i.e., directing of the eye, highlighting certain parts of objects of spaces, obscuring parts of the frame, etc.).
- What are the relationships between objects and subjects? How does the work ‘treat’ the objects and subjects?
- What does the work ‘think’ about its subject? (e.g., it talks about love, but it doesn’t talk nicely about love)
Describe what the work helps you to feel and to think about. Use your observations and ideas from the two previous sections to support your answers:
- Describe the expressive qualities you find in the work. What would you say the emotional ‘tone’ of the work is (i.e., sad, happy, eerie, joyful, etc.)?
- What does the work expect you to know?
- What does the work teach you?
- How does the work relate to other ideas or events in the world?
- Think of the work as a kind of essay, asking and then answering a question. What is the question? How does it resolve it?
- What is the theme of the work? What is it about? What is the theory of the world put forth by the work?
- Are there subversive ways to interpret the work?
How to be better prepared for your critique
It can be disappointing and emotionally draining receiving critique on early iterations of your work. Establish a timeline for creating and finishing your work. Waiting until the last minute to create work can often be disastrous and you may find yourself showing work that will not be evaluated favorably by peers. In order to get the most out of a critique session, the work you show should reflect a process of ongoing iteration. To create higher quality work, and to learn more from the process of critique, create a schedule for your work that allows you to self-critique and reflect on the work in various stages prior to a formal critique.
For further study
- Art Critiques: A Guide, by James Elkins, 3rd edition, expanded, New Academia Publishing, 2014, (e-book)
- The Critique Handbook: The Art Student’s Sourcebook and Survival Guide by Kendall Buster and Paula Crawford, 2nd edition, Pearson, 2009, (e-book)
This article is based in part on a handout by Seth Mulliken and draws from Art Critiques: A Guide (James Elkins, 3rd ed., New Academia Publishing, 2014).