Sunday, October 19, 2008


In light of the upcoming critiques, I hope everyone is working hard, tying up loose ends, and helping each other out.

I was revisiting some readings from last fall that were leftover from a semiotics lecture I attended. Included in them was a reading about "critical thinking" that I didn't take the time to read thoroughly then (I think I was cutting out tiny paper airplanes from rag paper) so I went through and reread it to see if it would be helpful in giving me a new perspective on critiquing, and what the purpose of being critical is, as well as insightful ways to do it.

In art critiques, there are the standard questions:

1. Why don't you make this bigger?
2. What if it were blue instead of red?
3. Have you looked at Henry Darger? Because you should definitely look at Henry Darger.

So, how do we avoid these questions and say something really relevant about our own work and that of our peers? The first step is to present your work with confidence. Prepare ahead of time how you'll talk about it. Hang it up neatly and with purpose-perhaps the night before. Be excited about it. See this as an opportunity for strong feedback that will make you look at your work in a completely different way.

That being said, back to this critical thinking article: if you have time, take a moment to read it. Some of the points may seem straightforward, but think about how this kind of thinking could apply to art making - the questions are basic and to the point. They cut through much of the mystery we surround our work with and force us to look at it strictly in terms of how we think about it. How we think about it and the reality of the work are sometimes disconnected. Take some time, slow down and consider the following about your own artistic practice and that of your peers (link to full article) :

Our own thinking usually seems clear to us, even when it is not. But vague, ambiguous, muddled, deceptive, or misleading thinking are significant problems in human life. If we are to develop as thinkers, we must learn the art of clarifying thinking, of pinning it down, spelling it out, and giving it a specific meaning. Here’s what you can do to begin. When people explain things to you, summarize in your own words what you think they said. When you cannot do this to their satisfaction, you don’t really understand what they said. When they cannot summarize what you have said to your satisfaction, they don’t really understand what you said. Try it. See what happens.

Strategies for Clarifying Your Thinking

  • State one point at a time

  • Elaborate on what you mean

  • Give examples that connect your thoughts to life experiences

  • Use analogies and metaphors to help people connect your ideas to a variety of things they already understand (for example, critical thinking is like an onion. There are many layers to it. Just when you think you have it basically figured out, you realize there is another layer, and then another, and another and another and on and on)

Here is One Format You Can Use

  • I think . . . (state your main point)

  • In other words . . . (elaborate your main point)

  • For example . . . (give an example of your main point)

  • To give you an analogy . . . (give an illustration of your main point)

To Clarify Other People’s Thinking,
Consider Asking the Following

  • Can you restate your point in other words? I didn’t understand you.

  • Can you give an example?

  • Let me tell you what I understand you to be saying. Did I understand you correctly?
These points can apply to your thinking or to the work itself.

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