The art quilt group I belong to has tried, over the years, to conduct critiques of members' work. We tried yet again the other night. We had several questions to consider--"What do you see in the work? What are the images and the techniques in the work? How does the work make you feel?" We would not offer value judgements. We would avoid statements like "I like it--it's nice."
We got a good start with two pieces, from two different people, that were part of a challenge to respond to the same photograph. Good "compare and contrast" comments, good "how it makes you feel" comments. It was exhausting. We congratulated ourselves on how well we had critiqued. Then my in-progress piece went up on the wall. Somebody walked up and peered at it closely. Someone whispered, "is that painted?" I answered the question. (yes) Then someone took a shot at what they were seeing, then someone asked me if it was based on a photograph (a composite of several) and what kind of background it was going to have. Then someone said, " hey, we're getting away from the critique structure we set up" and everyone went "oh yeah" and then fell silent.
I took my piece down and another went up. We pulled ourselves together and tried real hard to address the questions again. No one mentioned the obvious problem with the piece, until the artist finally said, "does this HERE bother any of you?" Everyone kind of hemmed around and went "umm, well......" Then she said it was a class piece and the teacher had urged her to line up these circles across the bottom and she didn't like it and what did we think? Then everyone went "Oh YEAH--that's BAD--you might want to fix that!" Lots of animation. Then we caught ourselves being judgemental and fell silent again.
The last piece went up on the wall. No one said a word. Everyone studied it. Not a word. Somebody cleared their throat like they were about to say something, but then didn't. Everyone looked real serious and thoughtful, but no one spoke. Someone tapped their pencil, the artist looked apprehensive and raised her eyebrows in question... I couldn't stand it. I said, "I know I'm not supposed to say this, but I * just * love* this * piece!" Everybody said, "Me too, me too." Someone said, "How does it make you feel?" and we all cracked up. The artist said, "Any suggestions?" and we said, "we like it--it's nice!"
We're going to try again next month.