Arts Education: Constructive Criticism vs. Criticism

By Samantha Rodin, Visual Arts Editor, LaVaLab, visualarts@lavalab.ca

 

Continuous learning and exploration is critical to every art practice.

A few months ago I enrolled in a painting class with LaVaLab member Andrew Cheddie Sookrah. I’ve always admired his work and decided it was high time to learn new techniques under his guidance.

After painting for many years, I felt confident in what I was producing though I no longer felt challenged. My work was impulsive and physical so I was looking to explore the opposite – something controlled, layered, highly technical. Andrew’s articulate landscapes and portraits are that and more. Taking a painting class after several years, especially using methods foreign to my hands, was nerve wracking. I realized I was judging my ability to paint before I touched the canvas. Thankfully, I trust Andrew as an artist and arts educator. This made a world of difference and it also made me realize how important it is to be selective with who you look to for mentorship as an artist.

Rewinding several years to my last year of university, I had the opposite experience. One of my professors challenged me in a very different way. Instead of trusting my ability to push past boundaries in my own practice, she belittled my ability to think critically and, as a result, it hindered my production. For the sake of my own work, I continued to push and produce. By the end of the semester, she was pleased with my progress and credited herself with my development. This was probably the least constructive instruction I ever experienced.

Harsh critiques are a main artery of the art industry. Though, well considered critical feedback and instruction is vastly different than pure insults. To further push your practice and self as an artist, it’s vital to find those industry mentors who are right for you. A great arts educator and mentor should both challenge and empower. 


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