Anna Hergert, Art & Design

To Critique…


… a privilege and an art!

I recently witnessed a lengthy critique session. It was my first meeting at an organization I just joined. My personal philosophy is to embrace critique sessions  as learning opportunities. Not only do we learn about the work itself, we also get to observe a panel of jurors/judges interact and communicate their feedback. Being asked to critique an artist’s work is an honor and a privilege. To communicate ones observations while providing constructive feedback is an art.

With this in mind I approach any open critique with caution. In the past I have had excellent experiences where the judges take on the role of mentors, speaking about each work of art with deep respect, taking time to point out areas that could be improved upon. At the same time I have witnessed open critique sessions conducted by well-respected artists where the tone was aggressive, even downright combative and discouraging to a number of artists who entered work. I realize that it is important to “grow a thick skin” when it comes to surviving in the art world. However, a critique session is not the time or place to let a personal dislike or even jealousy shine through.

Robert Genn’s recent post on Creative Darwinism elaborates on group critiques. He also offers several valuable options for successful critiques and ways to ask for input. Check out his writing – if you are not familiar with his Painter’s Keys.

Getting back to the critique session from Tuesday night: It was as if the panel of judges had been briefed by Robert Genn in person. Images were presented in an anonymous fashion. Each professional had previewed the images on their computers, made personal notes and was well prepared. Each judge briefly evaluated the image projected on the large screen. He/she proceeded with excellent suggestions for improvement, ranging from cropping to overall composition, the position of the focal point or the absence of one, texture and how it related to the subject on hand and the context of each image. This was a great opportunity to revisit elements and principles of design.

Once again I learned a lot. If I have one criticism… two hours of sitting in a dark room on uncomfortable chairs was somewhat taxing. In addition I am very aware of the use of everyday phrases: As a judge it is important to stay impartial. “I like” and “I don’t like” are subjective and make any feedback lack in objectivity. For now, the images are vivid in my mind and I am confident that I will remember many of the excellent suggestions from the professional judges.

Meanwhile, Lao Tzu’s words will resonate within me “Those who know do not speak; those who speak do not know.”

What is your experience with juries and/or judging? Do you have a personal story to share – please weigh in with a comment. This is a topic that needs more open discussion: here is YOUR chance!

This entry was published on February 7, 2013 at 6:33 am. It’s filed under Art, Design, Special Project and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

10 thoughts on “To Critique…

  1. A motivating discussion is definitely worth comment.
    I do believe that you should write more on this issue,
    it may not be a taboo matter but typically people don’t discuss such issues. To the next! Kind regards!!


  2. Critiques…. my favorite part about belonging to SAQA. The online method of critiquing everyones work is helpful for me cause I can take time to choose my words as wisely as I can. I find it much easier to accept others critiques of my work when I don’t know them personally but can tell they have offered their honest observation. I’ve learned from reading the critiques of others work as well as the comments that are given about my work.


    • Jaynie, thank for your comment and weighing in. My last post was about critiquing, not judging – they are two very different things… and then I stepped right into the discussion with comments and answers relating to judging.
      Critiquing is all about learning, and I am so glad that you are finding the SAQA (Studio Art Quilts Associates) online group so beneficial!


  3. Katina on said:

    I spent 15 years plus as a writer. Critiques were often cruel. Why presume to judge if you don’t read or understand the genre. Once I went home after a particularly bad session vowing to throw the manuscript in the garbage. Cooler heads prevailed and after many months I resumed writing. I am beginning to find the same in the quilt world. My quilt won second place in fairly large quilt show. But the judge commented on the machine quilting which had been done professionally and was not part of the cateogory. Now I feel after having entered so many times and won several ribbons that I will quilt for me. Entering in competitions has lost it’s excitement. I realize judges have to walk a fine line, but they also know that entrants expect feedback.


    • Katina, I totally understand your frustration. Please keep in mind that many judges that are asked to provide their services at a quilt show are most often volunteers, sometimes retired home economics teachers (if we are so fortunate). Most often a judge does a favor to a guild. Due to a number of factors, for example: no certified judges or apprentice judges living in the area, judging is not as educational as it could be.
      The CQA has a stringent program in place. To pass all three levels and become a certified quilt judge in Canada is a great financial commitment, not to mention the time invested to complete preliminary coursework, time in the class room and seeking and securing a variety of quilt show judging engagements takes years. This program began in 2009 and continues to grow. We only offer Part 1 every other year, we constantly communicate with the apprentice judges and monitor their progress to guide them toward successful completion. Judges are certified when they demonstrate proficiency in all areas of judging: the ability to assess, evaluate, and formulate valuable critiques. At the same time the focus is on understanding traditional and innovative quilting techniques, understanding color and design, knowledge of current quilting trends. Once the judge is certified as a professional he/she has to provide regular updates about he/she stays current with judging engagements, through teaching and continued education. To find out more about the program, how many judges are actually certified and where they live across Canada check out this link.
      As a person entering into quilt shows it is important to communicate your observations. If you are not satisfied with the feedback make the organizers aware of the judges’ incorrect comments, in your case: about machine quilting. Organizers have their hands full during any event. They appoint the judge(s) often due to recommendations from other guilds. Nobody reads the judges’ comments once the quilt has been critiqued – they are confidential.
      This is a huge topic and requires communication from both sides. Kathy Bissett and I have been contributing to the Canadian Quilter Magazine since 2010. “Judges” Corner” is a regular column where we attempt to educate not just apprentice judges but the general quilting public, especially those who enter their work into judged quilt shows. I hope this helps reduce your frustrations a little… don’t give up quite yet. You have two apprentice judges in your part of the country – both of them are very committed to the judging profession.


  4. b2q2003 on said:

    I’m a perfectionist and am always looking at my work to see what is not working. So I welcome constructive criticism from judges. The last few times I have had work judged I was disappointed with the comments…if I don’t receive full marks in any one area, I would like to know what is wrong, or lacking. What more could have been done to improve. For instance,I have been complimented on my use of color, but docked 2 or 3 points under color on the judging form. What am I to learn from this? If the judging process is really going to help me to improve my work, I want to see comments that help me understand what the judge found lacking…not just praise for what she thinks I’m doing right. I’m afraid maybe judges are being taught to be too politically correct. I have only had my work judged in our local quilt show, but by national and international judges. Do they use a different set of rules for these smaller shows? I want to be treated like a big girl…I can take it.


    • Hi Linda, It is great you are commenting here. Your questions are so timely and an excellent way to generate more discussion.
      I ready your frustration and will attempt to address your concerns: As a self-proclaimed perfectionist you must also realize that not everyone else shares your eye for attention to detail.
      One scenario with judging sheets is that they rarely cover everything that needs to be addressed at any particular quilt show. Another reason for seemingly incomplete feedback is that the number of entries often exceeds a reasonable time-frame allowed for each piece to be judged and provided in-depth feedback on. Add to this a single scribe as the only helper, and take it a step further when the scribe needs help with spelling… this slows down the best intentions on the judge’s part on any given day.
      When a judge comments on your use of color she finds it noteworthy. To dock points may relate to a lack of risk with color combinations, in other words your color combinations might be safe, comfortable and very pleasing for the onlooker. Top points are often awarded for color combinations where the maker/designer selects and successfully combines unexpected elements (i. e. prints with batiks, hand-dyed with commercial fabrics etc.).
      I cannot speak for the US judging community at this time, however I know that the quilt judging certificate program in Canada is young and has already undergone a number of steps to graduate judges that are astute, well informed and professional. I have always made a point of making myself available to everyone for questions once the entrants received her comments. The written word is often insufficient, dictations to a scribe regularly get shortened, therefore loosing a great deal of information. Maybe the answer to providing feedback is to move toward electronic ways of scribing.
      This is a very important topic. Feel free to comment further. I know that you have hired a very experienced judge for your next quilt show. Make sure to bring up some of these questions to her when you connect.Meanwhile, please keep the questions coming and comment anytime. I will attempt to provide answers when and where I can.


  5. Margaret guest on said:

    Well said Anna. Critique should always be meaningful. Receiving your judges remarks, at a quilt show, that has a grade but no comment is useless. Tell me how to improve please.
    A recent experience was when the category I was in contained 5 entrants. I had so many people come to me with wonderful remarks about my piece, the judge returned her comments sheet with great grades but 0 critique and no ribbon which was OK but what did I do that was not good enough?


    • Margaret, you did everything correctly – it is the judge who was less than professional. If a judging feedback sheet provides room for written comments it is the judge’s responsibility to utilize this space with meaningful comments about workmanship, color and design while at the same time make suggestions on how to stretch yourself to ensure personal growth in your work. In Canada the certified judges are schooled in such practices, in the US feedback is more in the form of pointing out short falls, however, any written information can be valuable as long as they are provided objectively. Hope this helps!


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