Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Zoe Strauss Guide to Crits

In the last 2 years I've found that I do a lot of student crits, which is a kind of odd thing to be doing because it seems a little crazy that people want my opinion of their school work. But I've come to like it and really look to do a good job. I'm not slacking, friends. One thing that seems to be different from my talking and talking about someones stuff vs. the critiquing style of other people is that I am unremittingly positive. This is because I don't give a shit if I "like" the work or not. I think these critiques have nothing to do with one's own aesthetic sensibility and is about the intent, skill and thought process of the person making the work and how they can get to where they want to be. It doesn't mean I'm not honest, I think that as a person coming into someones space to look at their unfinished work my role is to discuss the process and is less about the product.

I seem to have a loose formulaic structure at this point... if the work is close to done I tell the student what I see in it. I try and read it as it is with no input or description of the piece from the student and then I tell them my immediate reaction and reading of the piece. I have a tendency to read metaphor into a lot things where there was no intent, but I think that if I'm thinking it someone else must be as well. The biggest question that needs to be answered is whether someone is getting across what they want to convey. And then, depending on where the work is at, a billion things need to be answered. Who is the audience? How do you see it presented in final form? blah blah blah.

And if the work is in the formative stages of being created I like to find out about the person and what makes them come to want to create this work. What's their interest in making the piece and where is coming from? Are they happy with the concept? What research are they doing to help move the piece forward? What about the logistics that goes into making the piece? And skill that goes into making the piece?

There are definitively times where I've been like, "what the fuck is this?" because the kid is trying to get over with some total bullshit by couching a description of the piece in completely unrelated academic jargon. I have no qualms with terrible work where someone is really trying. It's up to me to help them think about ways to refine and rethink the piece, even if I think it blows. And I have no problem with folks having no idea why they're making something. I think that kind of exploration is healthy and in graduate school it's an amazing time to use the unconscious and just be like "Holy shit, so that's what I've been thinking about!"

This thing about these crits is that it's just my opinion... I hate a lot of art that people love, so, again, who cares if I "like" it? However, if you are trying to disguise a piece of shit by using language and unrelated theory... you're getting called out, no question.

lots o art shit_8083 web

All in all, it does seem a little bizarre that I'm doing this job considering that I went to college for about a year and it was for history and womens studies.


Anonymous said...

re: All in all, it does seem a little bizarre that I'm doing this job considering that I went to college for about a year and it was for history and womens studies.

Ah, you're an autodidactic par excellence.

Christopher Paquette said...

I love this.... I think you should expand on this line of thought when you get the chance... keep going!

alan said...

This is really nice. Gertrude Stein said artists don't need criticism, they need encouragement.

Anonymous said...

It was very helpful and encouraging to get response from you on my work. I've never met people who can read images as well as you do. It was totally an amazing experience. I found a lot to improve about my work but felt this is not impossible to accomplish. I'm pretty sure a lot of other student would feel the same way. Thank you for doing this for us.

Shimpei from Syracuse

ZS said...

Thanks, Shimpei!