Critique - Pedagogy - Project Runway

Gerard Brown engages an important set of questions in this post.

What was going to be a quick comment on his blog, turned into this on-the-fly post here:

Saul Ostrow will be leading a College Art Association panel on this very topic in 2007.

While I also enjoy Project Runway and Iron Chef, I wouldn't want to use them as models for critique. The fashion world is especially unfit, from what I've seen, given its imprecise/sloppy use of language (just count the number of times designers throw around the term "modern" and try to decipher what it actually means) and (by its very nature) superficial handling of concepts (Hussein Chalayan, Alexander McQueen and a couple of others are exceptions). I certainly don't see how either of these are counter-examples of critique as "justifying preference." To be fair, when it comes to matters of craft the fashion world/Project Runway and Iron Chef to some degree, do a good job.

Having said that, I think Brown is dead on in describing students' work as "too rooted in intuition and pleasure" to be able to withstand or invite critique. I'd like to argue that part of this is a structural problem of academic institutions. They (art departments, etc.) do a terrible job of making explicit what kind of artist they're trying to cultivate, and often don't seem to know themselves what sort of art world they're trying to prepare students for. The biennial/Art Forum world? The professional exhibition, but "second tier" city/gallery world? The Sunday painter/coffee house exhibition world?

These are simplifications of course, but these are often competing agendas and create headaches for instructors who are trying to prepare students who want to exist in one domain for a different one. Strangely, I guess I'm arguing that academic art institutions should be less inclusive, that is, if they are trying to create capital "A" art world artists.

A pedagogical problem is often at play in a failed critique. Finding ways to eliminate students' subjectivity (in the expressive, uncritically emotive, and issues driven sense) is imperative to create a sufficiently "neutral" set of work to critique (please, I use neutral very loosely here).

As far as offering models for art instructors to emulate, I can point to philosophy and architecture. In the critiques/discussions in those fields that I've encountered, I found them to be fruitful and stimulating. They have an advantage though, in that they have not inherited the expressive legacy of art-making.

Of course, maybe, as Ostrow suggests in his conference proposal, the era of critique is over…