Critiques or No Critiques, Getting Better Painlessly

Critiques or No Critiques, Getting Better Painlessly

In the photo accompanying this article one sees Raul Corrales, famous Cuban photographer, Fidel’s personal photographer for many years, showing some of his famous images to a group of students from Appalachian State University. A trip arranged through ASU’s outstanding Overseas Education Program. A visit with Raul was always a part of our visit at each annual workshop. We would take him a fifth of good scotch whiskey. He would show his iconic prints and discuss them giving his own personal critique
When I was teaching photography II, the second course our students took in photography, we had several critiques a semester. I always dreaded these exercises because the students were intimidated, would not speak up and it was left to me, the teacher to do most of the talking. About all I could get out of a student was some comment like,”I like it.” I secured a copy of ˆTeaching Photography,” a small pamphlet by Phillip Perkis containing observations and practices during his successful career as a photography teacher. There was a section on the Critique in the book, and it was so enlightening,so simple and straightforward, and now that I am out of the academic world seems so common, it’s shocking. Perkis did not use critiques for grading purposes so that took a lot of the stress out of it. Secondly, no one was forced to take part. The idea was that students should want to participate because the benefit was so great. The critique was not a negative experience, it should be arranged and expressed in a positive fashion. The work shown if outstanding could gain praise and maybe a bit of tweaking. If it was rough in some spots, that would be pointed out with some suggested technique or strategy for improvement. No one should get their feelings hurt by colleagues who are working to help them improve. Another aspect of the critiques was that they be honest. Nothing is more cruel than telling someone whose work is marginal that you think they do terrific work and to just keep it up. Especially when you want to say there is a workshop coming up that the student definitely needs to take.

On the site of the Nieman Reorts for Winter 13 there are several articles about criticism, reviewing and curation of art. One that I thought quite interesting was titled “Select, Shape, and Celebrate.” The subtitle is The critic’s calling is to elevate the good and ignore the bad. The author is Maria Popova, a Bulgarian writer, blogger, and critic known for her blog Brain Pickings. By pointing out the good, the writer-critic lacerates a sense of the good and thereby omitting a head-on confrontation with the bad, simply leaves a negative space to be explored by the artist. According to the writer, what emerges is an osmosis of positive reinforcement and negative space through which the celebration of the worthy spurs a richer understanding of how to recognize and shield against the unworthy.

There are other equally worthwhile articles in this issue,so you might like to bookmark the site and return a few times over the month.

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