The Crit Lab Methodology
Patricia Miranda

Critique is a core element in a mature artistic practice. Critique is also an essential component of development, reflection and assessment. Focusing on the work, rather than on our subjective response, helps develop a critical and reflective eye about our own work, as well as art from historical to contemporary, from familiar to completely new. Critique develops intellectual curiosity, appreciation, and a healthy respect for the wide difference in the world of art, including process, form, intent, and content. Critical thinking/critical making keeps our work grounded in an ethical awareness, of content, context, and connection.

In The Crit Lab we use a firm set of guidelines to keep the conversation focused and directed.

The Don’ts: Things we do not say in critique
I like… (this includes I enjoy, appreciate, etc.)
I don’t like….
We all like and don’t like. Subjective preferences are part of how we determine who we are and how we move in the world. This is not inherently bad. For critique, however, like is a subjective term that interrupts the critical process. Whether you like or dislike something is not relevant to the ability to analyze critically. Keep critique focused on the work, what the materials are doing, how the work is “enacting” as an autonomous action in the world. Turn like back towards the work- ignore this conclusion, and locate in the work what causes the reaction.

Assess a work’s impact on its own merits, from formal to conceptual, to develop strong critical thinking in relation to diverse works. This keeps focus on the art rather than the artist, on the attributes of the work rather than our subjective preferences. This practice will push your critical abilities in surprising and productive ways, and affect how you see, think, make.
 
You should…..
No prescriptions (shoulds). Your artistic decisions may be vastly different from your neighbor’s. Instead, focus on what the work is doing, how it is functioning. Locate in the work what causes a like/dislike reaction. Stay with observation of the actual work and the discourses it is engaged in, what it is enacting as it is. This does not shut down a discussion of ideas and possibilities; just don’t tell someone what, or how to change their work. Talk instead about realms of possibility; how meaning might differ if elements were changed- such as scale, color, perspective, narrative, etc. Never tell an artist you should.
 
Don’t critique what isn’t there.  (another form of should)
We cannot critique what we cannot see. We don’t know how a choice would change the work, and each artist’s choice will result differently. Again, speak of realms of possibility, such as, the possibility of changing scale, exploring a more complex color range, how meaning is generated by changing form, how many different ways materials might be pushed, how the material is communicating, what is the identity of the work and where is it situated, etc.
 
The Do’s:
Focus on the work-
what is in front of you- not on the artist, or the artist’s intent.
Begin with the formal: what is in front of you- materials, processes, effects.
An artwork is a collaboration between the artist’s intent and the creative process. Intention is not always a predictor of meaning, an artwork can generate unexpected meaning. Knowing an artist’s intent is helpful for exploring how the work is, or is not, successful in communicating what the artist wants, if they want feedback to move forward or change the work. Intent is not always helpful as a criterion in how an artwork functions; an artwork must stand on its own outside of artist intent.
 
Move out to Content and Context: Locate. Situate.
All art is of its time. Who and what is the work in conversation with? What artists, historical or contemporary, what contexts, narratives, discourses in terms of medium, form, and the social? Who is your work talking to - in regard to and regardless - of your intent? Situate the work within larger discourses,  see the context of the work. This can keep work from seeming un-self-aware, out of its time. This is not about trends- but about the way art is in a continual conversation with its context, whether the artist is aware of this or not. You cannot make art out of your time- revealing this can root the work firmly, from your own experience out to the world.
                                  
Why? vs. What?
In a critique, we are often asked why? Why did you draw that? Why that material? Why this way? While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the question, “why” does not always yield productive information. We over-psychologize, look for motivations, history, intent, which can be reductive – and –  do we really know why we make what we make? Is it helpful?

A more productive way to get to useful information is to ask What? What can you not stop thinking about? What materials excite you? What do you want to touch? What keeps showing up in the work? What conversations is the work having? What surprises you in the work and in the world? What do you care about?
                                                                            
These are loose guidelines, meant not to restrict expression, but to focus on the work, view the work outside of the personal and subjective, and generate a deeper, more productive, critical discourse around both art making and art viewing.

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