Thinking about Studio Critique

This brief of a presentation (pdf) at the November 2016 Art School Critique 2.0 conference at Teacher's College, Columbia University, casts critique as the situated reflection of artist's practices.

The Critique Template below presents the experience that studio critique is a performative process, bounded by both the capacities and the willingness to engage that participants bring into it. This page presents material in support of that perception. The Critique Template was part of Talking Whiteboards, 2016.




Critique as Creative Technique A Q&A with Adelheid Mers, by Jacelyn Kee, SAIC Press, 2015

College Art Association Annual Conference 2013
Beyond Good or Bad: Practice-derived Epistemologies of Studio Critique
Judith Leemann, Massachusetts College of Art and Design and Adelheid Mers, School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Session Statement: The ubiquitous practice of studio critique remains undertheorized and awkwardly modeled; at the same time it is near universally accepted as the central event of the studio art course and is assumed to stay relevant throughout an artist’s productive life. We invite artists, pedagogues, art historians, and particularly those interested in ‘art as research’ discourses to join us in explicitly examining critique as immanent to production. Our goal is to work towards epistemologies of making that centrally include forms of reflection and grow out of the specifics of the discipline in question. Well-illustrated presentation proposals might address: pedagogical interventions in inherited forms of critique, that both expose the form’s tacit assumptions and steer towards new modes of generating critical response within academic art education settings; close readings of the performative nature of critique that attend to the affective dimensions of the practice; effectiveness/assessment of impact; and more.

Panelists: Sara Black, Randy Lee Cutler, David MacWilliam, Joey Orr, Allison Yasukawa; Respondent: Graeme Sullivan

The diagram below accompanied my part of the panel introduction:


Adapting Techniques of Studio Critique for Arts Management Pedagogy, paper in: The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society, Special Issue on Arts Management Pedagogy, June 2013. Presented at Panel: Beyond Administration: Experimental Pedagogies in Arts Management. Paper: Arts Administration Pedagogy at the Intersections of Management, Cultural Studies and Art as Research. Association of Arts Administration Educators (AAAE) conference, Boston, 2011

Abstract: Many students in the field of arts management have a background as practicing artists. In that light, it seems promising to explore fine arts pedagogies for the delivery of elements of arts management curricula. Studio critiques are a central pedagogic tool in arts education, allowing for systemic self-reflexivity that emerges from a shared interest in the terms of the conversation itself—critique as a creative technique. Since 2009, the Department of Arts Administration and Policy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago has integrated critique. Feedback from the first generations of students is assessed in this article. (pre-print version)

Adelheid Mers. "Transfer Diskurse – Einige relevante Künstlerpositionen. Kultur‑ und Kreativindustrie. Kreativität/Innovation. Ästhetik. Diagrammatik", in: Martin Tröndle, Julia Warmers, Eds."Artistic Research als ästhetische Wissenschaft. Zur transdisziplinären Hybridisierung von Wissenschaft und Kunst", transcript Verlag, Bielefeld, 2011. In conjunction with the conference “Artistic Research as Aesthetic Science?” conference in the context of the art, science & business program of the Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart, in cooperation with the Zeppelin University, Friedrichshafen, 2010

Translated Excerpt: "Marcel Duchamp’s brief conference contribution from 1957, titled “The Creative Act”, paints a familiar and still highly popular picture of artistic creativity as an act of giving birth, from gestation (the “labyrinth”) to delivery (“efforts, pains”.) Duchamp emphatically denies the possibility of conscious creation: “If we give the attributes of a medium to the artist, we must then deny him the state of consciousness on the esthetic plane about what he is doing or why he is doing it. All his decisions in the artistic execution of the work rest with pure intuition and cannot be translated into a self analysis, spoken or written, or even thought out.” While Duchamp enlists the viewer as the one who completes a work of art by “critically” reacting to it, he characterizes its perceptual/cognitive acquisition by that viewer somewhat magically, as a “phenomenon [that] is comparable to a transference from the artist to the spectator in the form of an esthetic osmosis taking place through the inert matter, such as pigment, piano or marble.”



Doing Combat - The Arena of Critique (unpublished essay, written in response to the Conference: Cultural Management and the State of the Field. Cultural Management and Pedagogy: Discourses and Practices. HUMAK – University of Applied Sciences, Helsinki, Finland, 2010)

Excerpt: In his essay “On Critique” from 2010, Brian Massumi draws on Deleuze to also address performativity: [E]verything that enters the interaction […] must become equal to the coming event by performing itself in and for that particular assembly, so it enters actively into the constitution of what happens as a co-creative factor. Its “critique” is then not the opinions or judgements we have of it. It takes place on an entirely different plane. The critique is not an opinion or a judgment but a dynamic “evaluation” that is lived out in situation.13 Deleuze’s impassioned plea "To Have Done With Judgment" indeed appears as a blueprint for studio critique, its ‘combative’ intensity and ethical (as opposed to moral) bearing, as much as its initial focus on affects and percepts. A work of art is not measured< against universal criteria, but “can be evaluated by criteria that are strictly immanent to the mode of existence or the work of art itself.” This immanence frames the discursive arena in which interlocutors convene, for the personal and productive exercise of what Deleuze calls “combat”, as opposed to war, which he defines as driven by externally located goals. Combat, or “the system of cruelty”, performs a passionate, situated exploration of new possibilities of life, something that judgment, with its reliance on existing criteria is incapable of. Deleuze takes pains to state that this is not a retreat into postmodern subjectivism: "If it is so disgusting to judge, it is not because everything is of equal value, but on the contrary because what has value can be made or distinguished only by defying judgment. What expert judgment, in art, could ever bear on the work to come? It is not a question of judging other existing beings, but of sensing whether they agree or disagree with us, that is, whether they bring forces to us, or whether they return us to the miseries of war, to the poverty of the dream, to the rigors of organization."

Part of the “Art as Research” discourse is seeking to fill a similar philosophical framework with a recognition of its mechanisms, to grasp Deleuze’s ‘forces’ by developing epistemologies of art making, as Graeme Sullivan exemplifies. Tasos Zembylas and Claudia Dü̈rr caution that it is easy to miss this dimension: “Non-standardized activities, even if carefully planned, thus consist of many small and large, situation-specific improvisations, which are often overseen when external pressures for justification privilege rational explanations for actions.” These efforts to construct epistemologies by far exceed the scope of the ‘how-to’ literature, intended to guide and protect students (and teachers) on their journey through the institution of art school critique.

With a nod to Deleuze, the theory/practice framework may now be replaced by a new, more performative pair, in reverse order of appearance, tentatively labeled manifestation and evaluation, a pairing that more easily admits the fluid parsing of the manifold interests associated.

Reading the Introduction by Daniel W. Smith and Gilles Deleuze's To have done with Judgment, in Essays Clinical and Critical, exhibited at D/RAFT, Art Action Field Kodra, Kalamaria, Thessaloniki, Greece, 2011

Interview with Jan Kaila and Jan-Erik Andersson, Academy of Fine Art, Helsinki, Finland, in “Bootprint”, Vol. 2, No. 2, April 2009 p18-19

"Sketches: Organizing Arts", Green Lantern Press, May 2007, contains a diagram after Duchamp's lecture "The Creative Act". 500 editions contain a screen print of the diagram. Download the pdf here. This book was published in conjunction with KSAMEC.