Some people are lucky enough to be in a critique group, but most of us have to try to evaluate our own work. Though I’m not too sure about the value of critique groups anyway since I recently heard of one that had to be disbanded because everyone was too nice!! they would never truly criticize another’s work! So how and when d’you stand back and critique what you’ve done?
The creative phase
I don’t think you can create and critique simultaneously – they’re two very different activities and we know from recent studies that multi-tasking isn’t something the brain actually does. We switch rapidly from one activity to another rather than doing them at the same time. People with ADHD probably switch faster than others and so may seem as if they can multi-task more easily!! When you’re creating you want to open your mind to possibilities, to trying all the “what if”s and “how if I….”s and “I wonder about…” . I think it’s good at this stage to capture those ideas…but not to evaluate them. How to capture them? well you can make a “note to self” - if I start springing out different possibilities, I’ll write on scraps of paper and attach them to the design wall – “try cutting in two”, or “work upside down” or “reverse values”….or if I’m trying out different pieces of fabric I drop them into one pile – never put fabric away while you’re working on a piece!!! For one thing if you find yourself tidying up when you‘re supposed to be building the piece, you’re actually engaged in displacement activity!! there’s a problem and you’re avoiding trying to solve it! Another way to capture the different ideas is to photograph the different possibilities as you go along. I must admit I use the camera, the scanner, Photoshop and the computer a great deal when designing a piece.
The evaluation phase
So when the creativity has yielded a something on the design wall, there comes a time to stand back and evaluate. A good time, I think, is the next morning…give yourself time away from the piece and then come back and try to look at it with fresh eyes. How does it look? Does it fit the idea you wanted to communicate? some people don’t begin with an idea ( I find it hard to do that!) but at some point there must be something that begins to emerge…if not, frankly I would ask myself does this piece actually have any point?
Look at the piece in a mirror – that helps to give distance…two mirrors at angles gives even more distance! photographing and looking at it on the computer gives distance…looking from a distance too!
It’s not easy to critique the piece…and I think that’s why people often avoid it. They fear that they may have done “all this for nothing”…not so!!! With everything you do, something is learned. I used to say to my kids “not a mistake, a learning opportunity!” (Oh, Mom don’t act the psychologist with us!). If you’re engaged in displacement activities like tidying up, making a cup of tea, checking emails etc, ask yourself what you’re doing?!! Instead of telling yourself how much work has gone into it so far that can’t be undone, or that you’ve already cut into a special piece of fabric, or that it’s the size you had in mind and can’t be changed, that you have to finish it by Thursday and that allows for no alterations, that you really like the top right hand corner and nothing’s going to shift that! that you’ve spent several days piecing together the middle section and you don’t want that time wasted, that you can’t consider using navy blue fabric because you don’t have any…..steel yourself to the task of cold clear critique. I think the two main questions are: Does it communicate? Does it work as a composition?
And how d’you answer those questions? I always do listen to gut reaction at first – though I know I’m one of those people who tends to hate everything they do until weeks or months later and then I think, hmm that wasn’t too bad… alternatively some people’s guts are friendlier than mine and they tell them everything is ok when it’s not. so I think a little more thoughtful analysis is more helpful than just the gut. It’s not always the site of your clearest thoughts! Move up the body and get another organ engaged in the process!! preferably the one on top! Now is the time for all good artists to get the left brain in gear.
Does it communicate? To answer that question look to the original idea – if it was “fresh, glowing tomatoes tumbling from a basket”…is that what you’ve got? If it was “the serenity of the hills” – are your lines serene? What is a serene line in fact? How would you define it? If your idea was much more abstract e.g. “the beauty of lines crossing in harmony”…then can that be seen?
Does it work? When I first began to try to make art I was very puzzled by this question. I had no idea what it meant. Did the question mean did the piece actually go? or Work as what? Now I think that the phrase actually should be: Does it work as a composition with all that we want a composition to be. Phrasing is that way is a lot more helpful because there are many books out there giving guidance as to what a composition should be, what attributes it should have etc. And you can even take workshops on it!! (I’m giving one at the end of October at Hudson River Valley addressing these exact points (plus (I’m told!) amazing food!)).
Imagine your favorite teacher critiqueing the piece - what might he/she notice? Imagine the most critical person you know looking at it, and how would they respond? Always remember that they're talking about the work, not about you!
So now instead of gazing vaguely at the piece and wondering about it, do the hard work of going through the steps – does it have this, and that..does it do this and that (balance, harmony, tension etc). Be willing to do this, even though it’s irksome and even though it means you might have to abandon a section of the piece. without this, no real progress can be made. And like you, the main thing I want is to improve. So I must clearly see what needs improvement – and act!
If you have been, thanks for reading!! sorry about the rant!! Go forth, create and then evaluate!! Elizabeth.