Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Stick 'Em Up: 1st Critique

"Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard. " - Tim Notke

Handed back the graded first assignments along with some collected in-class sketches before getting everyone's critique piece stuck up on the review wall of the studio.

Also made photocopied sets of different approaches to critiquing, and went over some key terms that we will incorporate more and more as the semester progresses: formal elements of design such as shape, form, space, line, texture, movement, rhythm, harmony + compositional elements like a/symmetry, focal points, emphasis, fore/mid/background, balance + stylistic conventions, techniques, mediums, etc. ("there will be a test"). Expanding their vocabulary is a crucial aspect of this class, nomatter how much of a challenge it is to forcibly extract articulate commentary at 8am.
After examination, we talk over initial responses and reactions, premptive boundaries are set with respect and consideration (real-time comment moderation), not getting hostile or defensive during discussion etc. - etiquette seems to be as much of a dying art in today's society as the humanities in general.

Brief mention is made of the relative standards with some comparison and contrast between representative vs abstract art; in this class emphasis is placed on a more classical, traditional method of acquiring the basic tools for observation and visual problem-solving, and so the works produced here tend to reflect this outlook. Beginning drawing is the gateway prerequisite course to the rest of the department, and there are more than enough other members of the faculty who will push them in different directions assumably after getting the basics under their belts. Also the crucial distinction is made with regards to content, as in these particular works at this stage in the class are fairly rote assignments devoid of much of anything in the way of personal interpretations. Not too much controversy in a drawing of a dorm room, though I take pains to always remind them of the caveat in having artistic license with an option to interject creative elements. I appreciate the unexpected, it's nice to be surprised after viewing the upteenth interior.

"Criticism should not be querulous and wasting, all knife and root-puller, but guiding, instructive, inspiring."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
As one can see with the handful of samples posted here, there was a full spectrum of efforts on display: slackers to overachievers, careful to careless. Overall I was personally very pleased, and even the worst was salvageable enough to hold out hopes for the reworks. Some truly heroic accomplishments, especially given the steep learning curve for a few special cases - which is a legitimate factor to consider in overall grading. Can't mention it enough how much it makes my day to see a struggling student make the breakthrough and put up a piece that might not be half as well rendered as someone else's work but shows a quantum leap in evolution as far as demonstrating understanding.
After the initial establishment of expectations during review of the first assignment there was also a vast improvement in basic presentation, besides the predictable blunders and a few that I suspect just don't get it. And by that I mean simple fundamentals that trip up many freshmen, like not forgetting the homework back at home, reading the specific guidelines on the handout and following directions, accidentally ripping one's piece while tearing it from the pad, to name a few more obvious ones.

“A man draws with his brains and not with his hands.” – Michelangelo

Reiterated the importance of keeping this phase of the class in, er, perspective, as in when all is said & done this might just not be your strong point or even something that'll have to be used ever again in your artistic career. Just because one doesn't master linear perspective in a beginning drawing class doesn't necessarily doom one to having a future as an artist. In fact, some of the strongest student who consistently did excellent work remained clueless about perspective. However, in the same way the first assignment dovetailed into this critique, so in turn will future pieces incorporate everything we've covered and to some degree rely upon some basic understanding of each successive concept.

I like to defuse the tension with instruction on basic snobbery: poise is important when judging or discussing works of art, so assuming the position of aesthetic superiority is always fun. This is where the ol' Kaupelis Guide to Critically Evaluating Art comes into play, especially descriptive phrases like:
handsome, half-baked, cutesy, slumsy (great typo), facile, cliche, repellent, placid, charming etc. "It works" or "it doesn't work" only gets one so far and is just slightly more descriptive than the taboo "I like it/don't like it," which is promptly lobbed back with a "why?"
A couple pokes are made around the edges of titles and how the dynamic between image & text can influence a viewer's interpretation: labeling the examples shown here with provocative and amusing titles like "Death" or "Sex" provides good fodder.

"If Michelangelo had been straight, the Sistine Chapel would have been wallpapered." - Robin Tyler

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