Sunday, 6 October 2013

hearing feedback: crits and creative process

Work of Art (Season 1) contestant Abdi (left) during a work in progress studio crit with Simon de Pury.

How do you respond to feedback on your work?

It's a curly question that one, most probably generating even curlier responses depending on your view.

Let me give you some context. I've been engrossed in watching Work of Art: the Next Great Artist on SBS, a reality series from the US about artists and their creative work in a competition environment. You can read more about the series here on wikipedia. Spoiler alert: do not go to the official Bravo site to read about this series if you want to keep the mystery of who wins alive to the end. They have winner information plastered all over their front page at the moment (for season 2).

Have you been watching Work of Art too? If so, I'd be really keen to hear your take on it. There's so much that can be said about this show from many different angles - the competition, the participants, the judges, the studio environment, the nature of the briefs, the personalities (!!!), the made for TV formula, but...I'd like to dwell on the crits for a moment in this post if I may. Because boy, are they lively!

Crits (or critiques), as many people familiar with art or design school environments will know, are one of the most important places that an artist (or designer) receives feedback on their creative work, either the work in progress or the finished work. For a very thorough run down on crits and their role and place in art school education you might like to read this post by Kurt Ralske. A fellow tweeter and colleague, Megan McPherson (@meganjmcpherson) is doing her PhD on the student experience of the crit in the art school studio. She will no doubt have much to say on this topic as her study finishes so stay tuned!

If you haven't seen them, the crits on Work of Art are brutal. They're honest and hard hitting and the whole time I watch that part of the show I sit on the edge of my seat and my heart beats faster. I swear. This may sound odd but I feel some of the pain for the participants. Why? Because feedback is hard. It's hard to hear especially when the feedback is critical or negative and you've been working like a demon to produce something you feel is worthwhile. It's hard to hear feedback in the most normal of crit environments but on tv in a reality show with cameras and viewers all over the world, well that is something else! Sure, it could be argued that the partipants knew that this would be the case, that their crits would be uber public and that's the 'game' they entered into when they agreed to be part of the show. Yes. But all the same, they're creating work in very short time frames while being filmed. And then on top of it all they endure very public feedback on their work via a gallery show and then the crits. To actually hear the feedback, own it, take it in and process it, and then act on it takes a great deal of openness for artists, and I would suggest especially in the kind of environment on Work of Art. 

But I'm keen to hear what you think. Go watch the show. Come back and leave comments. Or just tell me what you think from your own experience of crits. Is feedback hard for you? Do you have any special ways of dealing with it?


  1. I only saw it for the first time the other day.... yes it is soooo interesting and was quite hard to watch the crits... ouch! I am not sure I would have taken it as well as they did! Can't wait for the next episode!

    1. Know what you mean! I hear the show may not be going to a 3rd season (just no. 1 & 2).

  2. I haven't seen the show but you describe it so well that I can sense the excruciating awkwardness of it all. Crit sessions are an interesting construct and whilst I value the opinion and feedback of others, I have sat in many a crit session as a student feeling very baffled by the need to whittle down the pure essence of something until no one in the room can think straight!

    1. Jenni, yes, I think so many artists experience this!!! Some feel like they have to say stuff about their work just for the sake of saying something!