Using Critiques in the K-12 Classroom

By House, Nancy | Art Education, May 2008 | Go to article overview

Using Critiques in the K-12 Classroom


House, Nancy, Art Education


It happened again. One of my preserverance teaching students returned from a classroom observation and related how the teacher had a second-grade student stand in front of the class, holding up his own artwork while the other students talked about it. I think this is the least effective method to engage students in a discussion that focuses on art, especially their own. Not only do the students displaying their work feel like targets, the other students, particularly second graders, do not know what to say. They have no idea what a critique is, or what their role is. Yet, regardless of age or level of expertise, critiques can be a useful teaching strategy in the art classroom. Therefore, in this article I will define and outline the purpose of a critique in the K-12 art classroom. I will present several methods for conducting successful critiques and discuss the roles teachers and students may play in the process.

What is a Critique?

Simply stated, a critique in an art classroom is an evaluation of student artwork. It can be a useful teaching tool for any age group studying the visual arts. Many art students, including art teachers, remember the critique as a "test of fire, where their work, ideas and sometime self-confidence, self-image and soul are subject to the scrutiny of their instructors, and more importantly peers" (Bulka, 1996, p. 22). In the K-12 classroom, the critique should not be a "test of fire." A good critique should include both positive reinforcement and constructive criticism.

A sizable body of literature about art criticism exists (McRorie, 1991; Anderson, 1988; Geahigan, 1997). Art criticism is not the same as a critique in the art classroom. Barrett (2000) clarified the difference. Art criticism includes description, interpretation, judgment, and theory, as does the studio critique. Purpose is the major difference between the two. Barrett (2000a) identified the audience for art criticism as the public and noted the "usual purpose of a critique is to improve the art being made" (p. 176). Therefore, the audience for the critique is the artist/student. Both the critique and art criticism can be described as conversations about art that educate. Art criticism is done to educate the public; the art critique is done to educate the artist/student and his or her classmates. Barrett (1988, 2000a) argued that studio critiques would be more educationally beneficial if they included more description, interpretation, and theory, like art criticism. Although critiques have long been a component of artist study and training, I believe they are such an important component of the art classroom, that the topic should be regularly revisited.

Purpose of a Critique

Critiques serve many purposes in the art classroom. In their book The Crit, Doidge, Sara, Parnell, and Parsons (2000), enumerated the purposes of the "crit" in design education. It provides students and instructors with:

* A chance to evaluate work

* An assessment of fulfillment of project objectives

* Practice for practice

* A means for developing critical awareness

* Learning from everyone

* A focus

(p. 9)

These same purposes could be used for the critique in the art classroom or studio. Design studios and art studios do differ as to intent. According to Bayles and Orland (1993), "For the artisan, craft is an end in itself. For the artist, craft is the vehicle for expressing" one's own vision (p. 99). Regardless of these differences, the critique is a process that is valuable to both the art and the design classroom. Critiques can be a means of assessment of student work, providing both the student and teacher with a measure of the student's strengths and weaknesses. A critique that occurs in process, when students are actively engaged in developing ideas, and producing works of art, provides them time to slow down, step back and reevaluate their next step. Austin (1999) supported in-process critiques, noting that his students were not as protective of their work while they were still working on it. …

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