On Critiques

I think there’s a lot of confusion about art, and about learning to make it. Particularly, there’s a lot of confusion about who the art made in art school is being made for. In that equation, who’s serving who?

Even though critiques are a common practice and a requirement in any art school, the artists I worked alongside never treated them that way. The distinction is in the way the artists regarded their own work, not just the structure they chose to impose upon it.

We looked at our critiques as an opportunity to learn to notice smaller and smaller details that we might exercise finer and finer control over. When my work is critiqued, others are pointing these opportunities out.

When I critique the work of others, I have the opportunity to notice little pieces of their technique and incorporate those into my own work. That’s value I get in exchange for the critique I’ve provided.

In the end, the professors have a responsibility to the institution to report on our performance, but in my experience, art professors are professional artists in their own right who know where to draw that line, so that art is allowed to be art, and grading is treated like a loose formality that says the work of an artist was done there.

And for an artist to do great, meaningful work, they need to be a good steward of their own work. If they choose to have a structure like art school imposed upon it, they have to do their due diligence to ensure that the institution is giving them the results they want.

As far as my work is concerned, I’m a servant, and my art is meant to serve others. Not the instructors that give us our grades, but to society as a whole.

As an artist, I hire instructors (through the school I attend, or privately) the way a startup founder might hire a CEO: not to have a CEO to answer to, but to be equipped with the competency I need for my ideas to serve the greater world.

Joseph Rooks