Friday, March 14, 2008

Artists’ Peer Review: The Value of Open Critiques

Beverly Ryan graciously donated some of her precious time and ample talent to a small group of adult artists who were participating in an open critique. The session was attended by painters, photographers, and assemblage artists who hoped to have Ryan dole out some careful yet educated advice.

Ryan teaches art classes, is a member of the Art League, and has a successful studio in the Torpedo Factory. She is currently exhibiting a major joyful work in the Art League’s gallery as well as paintings in the theme of “Layers” at the Glave Kocen Gallery in Richmond, VA.

Ryan offered group members an opportunity to individually present two works. Each work was critiqued in accordance with a pre-established list of questions designed to help the artist move though challenges in unfinished works. Ryan (and session participants) evaluated works based on four major criteria.

Language, formality, and consistency.
Composition, accurateness, appropriateness, color key, scale, surface and material handling.
Feel, elicited response, form and content.
Purpose, intent, necessity, superfluous-ness, and reason for being.

We presented two pieces in mixed media and assemblage collage utilizing modern day ephemera after observing the prior critiques of three very divergent oil painters. The process, Ryan’s patience, and the analytical purpose of the critique was found to be a valuable experience in viewing others works and in continuing to learn to be open and vulnerable, even if artists are already experienced and established in the art world.

One attendee showed an abstract work largely done in blue and orange. It was designed to serve as a memory of a trip to France. While the work was nearly completed, amazing things happened when Ryan turned the canvas in all four directions. The group agreed that two directions best declared the language of “aesthetic conjuring.” And in viewing the work upside down, it was easy to see where a touch of rust or red here or there might be mildly fantastic.

In another example, an artist showed photographic transfers in an heirloom piece designed to celebrate her matrilineal history. The work was explorative and graphic in its use of maps, letters, photographs, and postage stamps. Group members were individually taken with various aspects of the work, but as a whole agreed that presentation venue needed revisiting.

Of our own pieces, we saw with new eyes, through the eyes of others, a geometric energy, good placement of text and numbers, and innovative ideas in presenting, framing, and mounting the works. More important, is the confirmation that there is value in remaining open, vulnerable, and subject to peer review. This is part of an artist’s continuing education, part of participating in a community of artists, and part of being both humble and proud in one’s effort. Open critiques and peer reviews for artists are a great way to mirror back whether works are current, viable, and promising.

When the artist enters a competition or a review, (s)he is subject to very similar evaluation criteria – some based on point systems, others based on panel member’s opinions, others reviewed on volume, originality, or the relative importance of the artist. When an artist knows what kinds of judging elements are likely to be encountered in calls for submissions, then the artist is informed, refined, and reassured.

Ryan suggests that even if you leave that big, ugly blotch in the middle of your canvas, and even if you KNOW it’s all wrong, but you STILL love it, then okay – great. At the very least, the responsible, thorough, and enterprising artist submits works already understanding their relative strengths and weaknesses. As Ryan reminds us, “Any day you paint (or do art), is a day you win.” George Andrews would agree. He said, “Painting is the most complete and marvelous way of making up one’s mind.”
Pictured: Beverly Ryan, The Webs We Weave, 12 x 12, oil on panel.