Art Professor as God

Critique process has changed a lot since the makers of Six Feet Under went to school…. the art professor/art star strutting around dropping pearls of wisdom to his protege’ is amusing, but not terribly useful. There’s a lot to love here, however, and heck, why not do something that might surprise students, like, “everyone get on the floor…. now!”

Six Feet Under art school clip 1

Six Feet Under art school clip 2


What’s wrong with “Like”

I’ll admit it, I’m an anti-like evangelista.

My students all learn that it is a pet peeve of mine to begin a critique with, “I like…” Not only is it unproductive, but it makes the critique personal, and that’s often not helpful. Overuse of like makes for lazy critiques.

Helping students to learn that although we may enter the conversation based on our personal attraction (or repulsion to) an art work, for the conversation to be useful to the maker (and to the rest of us) we need to delve beyond that personal attraction and explore what makes the work successful (or unsuccessful).

My classes may laugh about my seemingly futile attempts to get students to drop this use of like, but I do make a concerted attempt to get the students to find different ways of approaching the subject such as: “I respond to that work because….” It’s the because that is important. If we don’t strive to explain why we respond the way we do, then critique becomes merely an exercise in personal preference.

Ask your students to exercise their minds and go a little deeper when undertaking the critique process.

Using Student Questions as Learning Tools

Student questions are often the most important drivers of learning. A question indicates the desire to “know”, as well as an interest in the subject of the question. Teachers can harness the power of questions in a variety of ways. Here are three:

Variation #1: Ask students ahead of time to bring to class one or two questions they have based on their homework reading. Have them frame it as follows: “I have always wanted to ask …..(fill in the topic)….?” Have them submit the questions on a card at the start of class and use them to lead discussion. They can also post them on Blackboard in order to get responses from the rest of the class.

Variation #2: Have students write down a question at the start of class. Address them throughout the course of class period.

Variation #3: With 10 minutes of class time remaining, have students write down one question that they still have about the day’s topic. You can also have students formulate questions in pairs to do this. Answer those questions at the start of the next class period.

The Usefulness of Small Group Discussions in Class

Small group discussion is a tried-and-true method for getting students engaged in the class content. To be maximally useful, a small group of 3-5 people should be given a task that fulfills the following criteria:

  1. The purpose of the task is clear.
  2. The group knows what to do specifically.
  3. The group knows the time frame for completion.
  4. The group knows how to complete the task.

It’s particularly useful to pose a question to the entire class. The best kind of question is one that requires students to make judgements and choices between various alternatives. Here’s one example:

“We have just discussed the origins of Postmodernism. In the next ten minutes, I want your group to discuss the question: “Which 2 artists had the most direct influence on what became the Postmodernist movement? Explain why you chose those two artists.” Write down their names and a brief justification for your choices. One person from each group will report back to the class as a whole.”

One key to success is making sure each group has a “reporter”, in other words, a person who keeps notes and is willing to report the results to the class at large.

You can then use the results of that discussion to continue with a lecture, or as a lead-in to another point or issue.