Making art means being judged. Fair enough really, as artists are usually asking for money in some form or another, either by dreaming of gallery commissions and sales, or hoping that art-lovers will take the time and pay the fares to view and then buy their work. Artists learn fast that gallery reality involves overhearing unasked for opinions, all delivered with the discretion of a furious, neon pink buffalo. They grow accustomed to being critiqued in terms such as: “This picture’s crap and the artist is a twat.”
In art-school crits, students gather round to appraise work displayed by fellow emerging artists, a process intended in part to acclimatise students to the cold hard world outside. During a crit, students say: ‘Your piece doesn’t work as a coherent installation, neither does it engage or communicate your intentions of exploring the ephemeral nature of meaning. And there’s far too much mauve.’ You know – stuff like that.
But do not fear the appraisal, despite there always being that one harsh judge who boldly, exactingly and infuriatingly states that they do not like the sculpture, but can’t explain why (others are insightful, so listen to them). Crits might seem like Stalinist denunciation sessions, but need not be if they are helpful and kindly done, which however negative, they usually are.
For artists who have flown the warm, nurturing nest of art-school, self-evaluation is difficult. Some retreat to a highly critical other-world, where nothing looks right and not understanding why, they chuck everything in the bin. Others submit mediocre or utterly terrible work because their quality-control/ego meter is calibrated to assure them that everything they do is brilliant.
During my time at The Institution I Decline To Name, I attended what I thought was a crit. My embryonic installation attracted thunderous indifference, after which, things got weird. One student glowered at us silently near a plinth, then shared details of their terrible life, before offering up the ‘creative response’ - a recording of someone screaming, madly and loudly for ages. Did we have any thoughts? Talk about uncomfortable silences.
Another student presented some research papers but half-way through began to weep inconsolably for no obvious reason. After our ordeal was over, we were rewarded with applause. Which is why I was delighted to attend a proper crit session run by the excellent David Dale Gallery
Several aspiring creatives, half-crazed from working alone, spent most of a grey Sunday helpfully and supportively appraising work. I submitted my larger, colourful sampler-style embroideries for comparison with the silver-on-muslin work I am struggling with, mainly because it’s a nightmare to make (I have some sight problems). Others were looking for an opinion about subject matter, and how to improve their presentation.
The people at David Dale were critical in its true meaning, not in the common understanding of brutally slagging things off. Thanks to their feedback I feel able to decide which way to go. Now I am a great fan of crits, mainly because (get this) nobody laughed, not even a sly giggle. Even better, nobody cried.