Leading Critiques in AP Art and Design Classes

Critique or Rebuke?

As teachers, we sometimes forget that students first interpret "criticism" as a negative term. Criticism is not often understood as a process of objectively analyzing and evaluating works of art. Students identify very closely with the art objects they make. For this reason, questions about or analysis of their work is construed as a rebuke. When structuring critiques, make it very clear from the beginning that the critique is about the work, not the person. Emphasize that critiques are intended to help artists learn about how others see their work. Make sure students understand that during a critique, they are artists working together as a supportive group. They are artists offering other artists ideas for achieving their goals.

A Participatory Critique

It's essential to have full student participation in critiques. Using the Socratic Method is an effective way to encourage participation. Asking and responding to questions stimulates analytical, evidence-based thinking. In this way, students learn through dialogue with the instructor and peers. The goal in any critique is to help students better understand their own work. Students need to feel comfortable sharing evidence-based thoughts and ideas about works of art.

Critique may be centered on a particular assignment, visual challenge, theme (such as use of color), or individual artistic goals.

  • State the focus of the critique—assignment, theme, or goals to consider in relation to art that has been created.
  • Ask for volunteers to point out works they think successfully address the goals and to explain why, using specific visual evidence.
  • Ask students to assess works they think aren't as successful in meeting the goals, with specific suggestions on how the works could better address stated goals.

You may want to first talk about techniques, skills, and compositional elements and principles because they can be simpler to discuss objectively. You can then address content by relating it to aspects of visual form. Get students to think about artistic intent, processes, and meaning.

Your primary role is to model effective questioning and evidence-based observations that connect art-making goals with work that is being discussed. You need to facilitate a critique process that is supportive and instructive for all students involved:

  • Identify and describe ideas, materials, and processes used to create the work discussed.
  • Relate the work to artistic goals.
  • Provide visual and contextual evidence to support ideas that are expressed throughout the critique, and require students to do so.
  • Question, add information, define terms, and explain art-historical and interdisciplinary connections.
  • Offer anecdotes, humor, positive reinforcement, and explicit, constructive suggestions.
  • Provide, at the conclusion, a summary of ideas and recognition of individual and group accomplishment.
  • Recognize outstanding efforts, whether successful or not.

Finally, stress the value of reworking a visual problem or assignment. Encourage your students to explore variations, make comparisons, and risk failure to discover something new.

Authored by

Ken Daley
Old Dominion University
Norfolk, Virginia