Learning By Critique

Learning By Critique
May 24, 2017 Andrea Muhlbauer
learning by critique

Every artist knows that critique is sticky. It’s tough to both give and take critique, and at times it can feel like the wiser choice not to critique at all. But the truth is that critique can be one of the strongest learning tools for any artist. Today, let’s dive into learning by critique.

Taking critique is a great way to get an outside perspective and judge where you stand as an artist. And I would argue that GIVING critique is an even stronger learning tool. There’s so much to be learned just from watching other artists and their works: and there’s so much MORE to learn when you start critically thinking about what you see.

In my eyes, the most effective way of learning by critique is to look at critique as critical thinking. That’s really what it is: you are presented with a piece of art, and you decide what went well, what didn’t, and why. This form of critique is an invaluable skill to build because it means you can learn from ANY piece of art you encounter. That’s a lot of opportunities to learn something new.

Learning by critique is a lot like stealing (the good kind) for two reasons. First, the process isn’t really about the other artist. It’s about YOU becoming a better artist and learning from the artists around you. So really, the critique is just for you; there’s no reason to share critique with the creator of every piece of art you encounter. It’s about YOU learning from the other artists you encounter. Second, to effectively learn by critique, you want to dig deeper down into the concepts and ideas behind what you actually see. So just like you shouldn’t steal the actual phrase of choreography you see on stage, you shouldn’t stop your critique on the surface level. In my experience, there is much more to be learned by looking deeper into the concepts, ideas, and intentions of a piece of art, as well as the execution.

My last piece of advice when learning by critique is to try to keep a dual mindset: you are both looking at the piece from the point of view as an audience member and as an artist. This ensures that you can learn from this piece both what is an effective experience for an audience and what techniques or concepts to use to make it happen. These are some questions that help keep that dual mindset while you’re watching a piece:

  • What moments were impactful to you as an audience member?
  • As an artist, can you see what techniques or concepts the artist used to create that impact?
  • As an audience member, where did you lose attention or where did the piece pull you in?
  • Why did you lose attention / why did it engage you?

Critique can be one of the most powerful tools in an artist’s education IF you use it to critically think about art and learn from the artists around you. The most important thing to remember about learning by critique is that this process is for YOU. It’s about you learning and becoming a better artist, not about the artist you are critiquing. So get critiquing and critically thinking!


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