Why do students need “Crits” at an art school?
The “Crit”, or critical review of art work is a central element in most art education. It is normally a setting where students prepare a piece of finished work and show it in an “exhibition like” situation. The student gets to explain what the work is about, the background for his/her investigation and choice of techniques/materials, and the rest of students and tutors of the art school give feedback.
It is my personal experience – as an art student in the 1990’s – that crits in some art schools can be ruthless: In my own life as a student I have seen students walking out crying (I may have done so myself once or twice) while some students and certain tutors simply feel that their views and ideas have been “proven” or “underlined”. The crit can therefore sometimes become a tool for the exact contrary of its reason to be: a torture, a trauma and in no way a useful learning experience.
At Metàfora we take the presentations as one of the most enriching and important parts of any artist’s education, and we are very careful that the crit lives up to its true potential: It teaches the student to formulate ideas in a clear and coherent way, and the rest of the student group learns to discuss art though giving constructive feedback.
We often have moments where a certain aspect of a student’s work is discussed and takes us to a more “universal” debate about important issues in art making today. All this, within a carefully monitored atmosphere of respect, understanding and constructive thinking. There are no arrogant comments or angry, neverending monologues, and we place importance on the fact that both tutors and students of the art school get to express their ideas freely – without judging.
For first time presenters, the crit is a deadline, an opportunity to talk in front of a crowd. It is a chance to get public feedback, but also a moment to gather one’s ideas and look at the work objectively. Choosing the display elements (plinths, wall, frame…) and the venue for the presentation also introduces issues such as context, site awareness and considering the public you are addressing.
Discourse Review in our art school
The Crit, presentation or “Discourse Review” (this is the name of the presentations of the work by advanced students at Metàfora) is also a forum where we discuss the links between a student’s investigation and the work of other artists, writers and thinkers within critical theory. In this way, the entire student group of the art school gets exposed to linking practice and theory, and how a broad sustent is necessary for any art practice.
Based on my on personal experience – both as an art student and as the designer of a professionalising art program – I know just how important a good crit can be in crucial moments of a student’s development. Sometimes the outcome is simply food for thought or useful observations to take with you back to the studio. But in certain cases it is eye opening that which decides whether you continue or not on a path through the jungle of art making.
Director of Metàfora’s Studio Arts Programs