Last night I presented my work alongside three other artists for a group crit event organised by Q-Art. It was my first ever presentation under these circumstances and I came home feeling absolutely exhausted. I had a rough idea of what to expect in terms of how the evening would pan out, having attended three crits held by Q-Art over the past year. It’s clearly a different ball game however, when you’re presenting your own work – all that emotional energy and andrenaline – I wasn’t prepared for feeling quite so tired afterwards.
Maybe it’s just me? I’ve been wondering today about the impact crits might have on other artists. Last night’s presentation of my work certainly felt like a big deal for me, specifically I suppose as it was my first. Does it, through repetition, become easier to present your work – as well as easier to accept any constructive criticism? Do you ever get to a point when you become almost blasé about presenting your work? Does the critical scrutiny feel any easier over time?
As a self-taught artist, I’ve never experienced presenting my work on a regular basis for formal critique. It’s only in the past year, in fact, that I’ve become familiar with the word ‘crit’ and what it means, it being a term used primarily in art schools. And up until acquainting myself with Q-Art, my naïve perception of what a group crit might be was of a rather harsh, unforgiving place where art students, metaphorically speaking, could be ripped to shreds – a place in other words to be avoided! Was I then, through committing myself to present at Q-Art’s 33rd cross college crit at Central St Martins, leaving myself open and vulnerable to being potentially torn to shreds in a terrifying, hostile environment?
All very exaggerated, of course and nothing anywhere near like the reality of the past Q-Art crits I’ve been to, including last night’s experience. But I’ve been wondering today about where my impression of art crits has come from, how I’ve come to pick up on so much negativity about them. Maybe it’s because the ones that back-fire and go horribly wrong are the ones that get most spoken about – the most memorable, the ones that stay in people’s mind and are always mentioned?
In a short space of time, I’ve come to recognise and appreciate the value crits can have. Last night was my first public one but I’ve had two one-to-one crits in the past year, too. I feel my understanding of my work has benefited as various conversations and dialogue about it have opened up – and through them, I’ve come to know who my audience is. It’s helped me put my work into some sort of context, too and helped shape its relevance in terms of social and political history, helping me feel more associated and involved with it.
For me, last night felt like a sound example of a situation created to help and support artists to develop and move forward with their practise. Any criticism, suggestions and advice about the presented work was handled in a gentle, caring and sensitive way. In some ways, with my counselling experience, it almost reminded me of group therapy. There was a sense of kindness around and I was hugely comforted by the person who, immediately I finished presenting my work last night, congratulated me on my courage to do what I’d just done. That was a really nice gesture and a far cry from the scathing, callous criticism I’d only ever heard about crit participants being subjected to. It was the release of tension and anxiety I suspect that made me sleep well last night.