This week’s featured lesson from ArtsEdge, the Kennedy Center’s educational media site, explores how to successfully use art critiques in the classroom. Check out some of their other Fact Sheets on their How To section. Read more after the jump!
Are you considering leading an art critique but are worried about receiving one-word responses and shrugs from students? This guide will help you extend students’ thinking so that art critiques are rewarding experiences for both you and your students. Whether students are creating original plays, visual artworks, dance pieces, or music compositions, the following tips will help exercise students’ critical thinking muscles and enable them to dig deeper into the art-making process.
Outline the game plan before the game begins. Begin by establishing the criteria for your art critique so students know exactly what to expect. Decide how you want the critique to flow, and stick to the same basic steps for each work being discussed. One way to organize a critique is to discuss an artwork in four ways, through description, analysis, interpretation, and evaluation.
Think first, share later. To ensure ample responses from students, give them time to brainstorm before opening up the floor to class discussion. Use the think-pair-share method to generate responses about the work’s successes and weaknesses, allow individuals to write down their interpretations of the work, or pass out a series of questions that ask students to evaluate the piece in specific ways (i.e., What are the goals of the artist? Are they being reached? If so, how? If not, why not?).
Generate vocabulary specific to each work. Art analysis at any level begins with description. If an artwork isn’t accurately described, then its interpretation can be flawed. Challenge students to include concrete nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs when describing an artwork or expressing an opinion about a piece. For example, they might write, “The artist delicately paints thin lines to create a detailed lawn.” or “The simile in the lyrics creatively describes the run-down house.
Honor every voice. Remind students that, when it comes to a subjective subject like art, it is particularly important to hear each individual’s opinion. After one student makes a comment, survey the class to see how many agree or disagree. Call on individuals randomly to explain why. Then step out of the role of discussion leader; allow students to generate their own questions and call on fellow classmates to answer them.
Ask open-ended questions. Prove to your class that there is no right or wrong answer by asking questions that would elicit diverse responses. What is the artist trying to communicate or describe? How do you know that? What could the artist revise to have a more successful composition, flow, pacing, character development, etc.?
Don’t take a blanket statement for an answer. Students should always be able to defend their responses with supporting evidence. If a student states that he likes a work and isn’t sure why, ask him if his opinion relates to the color, composition, subject matter, etc. If students have trouble justifying their position, encourage them to trace the thought process that led them to their conclusion. Or ask them if they were reacting to—or were influenced by—a classmate’s comments. You could also try playing devil’s advocate to draw out a response.
Evaluate in terms of art elements. If students understand the basic building blocks of a particular art form then they will be better equipped to intelligently discuss a work. If critiquing a dance piece, encourage students to respond in terms of the ways time, space, and energy are being utilized; in a visual arts piece, you could discuss balance, rhythm, or texture. As students gain more experience with art critiques, introduce more and more art terminology. The more they critique, they better their critiques will be.