As an English major and Art History minor, I am required to read and view A LOT of art and written work. Â Some of it is great (George Orwell’s ‘Politics and the English Language’ = Great!, Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’ = Great!) and some of it (My peer’s essay on Feminism in The Hunger Games = Not So Great, An art installation of a toilet coming out of a wall = Huh?).
Given the subjectivity of art, coupled with the broad spectrum of genre and mode, there are bound to be certain kinds of art that don’t make sense to everyone. Â But when I see a piece like this (say, a toilet coming out of a wall) and am confronted by the artist, I never know what to say. Â Sure I’d like to say, “I’m sure you had fun making this and I’m sure this toilet speaks to some deep, albeit smelly part of your soul, but it just doesn’t speak to me.” Â But somehow this feels wrong.
But for me and for anyone who has ever felt this distanced sense of disconnect when confronted by bizarre art, I thought I would compile a list of tips to consider when voicing your opinions. Â Coming from a family full of people with diverse tastes in music, movies, and books, I’ve learned a few things over the years, but it’s helpful to remind yourself how to tastefully convey your tastes, without crunching the hearts of passionate artists.
Sarah’s Tips for Tasteful Critiques
- Acknowledge the Skill. Even if the swirling blown glass sculpture doesn’t look like anything to you, it’s still nice to tell the artist that you appreciate their time and effort to construct every piece of blown glass.
- Find ONE thing that strikes you. Even if it makes you feel sad, scared, or angry, acknowledge the emotion. Â Even negative emotions and reactions mean that a piece has power.
- Feel free to ask questions. If something fails to strike you, ask the artist why they chose to arrange the piece the way they did. Â Artists love talking about their work and their creative process. Â Even if you aren’t interested in the final product, it’s always illuminated to find out how things are made.
- Connect the art to something you are familiar with. If you have absolutely no background with minimalist music, but love film scores, you could maybe tell the composer, “Wow, I had never heard minimalist music before this, but it reminds me of…” Â Things like this will keep the conversation from a stalemate and maybe spark a new connection.
- Be Honest. Â If there was something that you didn’t understand or thought missed the mark, kindly say so. Â You don’t have to rip the piece to shreds, but maybe highlight the key feature that maybe rubbed your the wrong way. Â It’s always nice to start with a high point though, as in “While I loved the colors of the leaves around the frame, the naked man in the middle was really jarring.”