September 24, 2020 | Alyson Stanfield

The Value of Critique Groups for Artists with Patricia Miranda

My experience with critiques is limited to memories of undergraduate painting classes with George Bogart. I was crammed into a space outside the studio classroom with my fellow students.—some of us lucky to snag a bench—to talk about our work.

The only session I remember vividly was one in which I had a very early work in progress that was about my 25-year-old cousin, who had recently been killed in a small plane crash. I struggled with that piece and it was getting nowhere.

“Maybe it's too soon,” is what I recall Professor Bogart saying. It was, indeed, too soon. And I didn't have a strong vision for the piece—just the desire to depict this fond memory.

©2020 Patricia Miranda, Lamentations for Rebecca. Vintage lace and silk thread hand-dyed with cochineal, cast plaster, 120x180x2 inches (dimensions variable). Used with permission.

I strongly believe that artists need critique in order to improve. Artists who have been part of formal and ongoing critique groups find them invaluable to their creative development, which is why I've prescribed them to many clients over the years.

In the latest episode of the podcast, I talk with Patricia Miranda, founder of The Crit Lab, which uses a structured pedagogy designed to deepen discussion around members' work.

Miranda has been leading 7 separate critique groups in 3 states and has recently transitioned successfully to online sessions in the wake of Covid.

I encourage you to listen to this more than once. And then return to it later. There's much to consider.

Highlights of Our Conversation

  • Patricia describes her work with vintage textiles and lace. 3:30
  • “I collaborate with the materials to create these pieces that have a deep story.”  4:08
  • One of the benefits to being an artist today is that your career is unique and constructed from multiple streams. 7:00
  • Patricia's studio practice and teaching feed one another.  7:55
  • The Crit Lab evolved from programming she was doing at the MAP Space gallery. 8:50
  • How Patricia's pedagogy developed and the 1-day a month format for The Crit Lab.  10:04
  • Why you can't say you “like” or don't like something as a member of The Crit Lab.  11:15
  • Patricia receives a No button from her students at the end of the sessions.  11:47
  • Patricia Miranda working in the studio. Photo courtesy the artist.

  • “I would define critique as an encounter with the work and my pedagogy.”  “These are not art objects. These are verbs. They go in the out in the world and they're active. They're verbing all over the place. Their context and meaning changes. It changes according to where it is. It changes over time.” 13:13
  • We can't identify what makes an artwork extraordinary.  14:32
  • “Make something and then introduce yourself to it.” 15:00
  • The conversation Patricia wants you to have with the art. 16:15
  • Patricia felt restrained by the rectangle that is so ingrained in Western art history.  16:54
  • Being open to conversations and suggestions from viewers, but wary of the word “should.” 20:44
  • “Every work has a field of potentiality in it.” 22:11
  • A single work isn't that interesting. It's more interesting to think of it as part of a family or a body of ideas. This is why solo shows with a body of work are valuable for conversation.  24:02
  • “Sometimes an artist's intent can actually strangle the work to some degree because the work is not you. The work is not your intent. It is an autonomous being outside of your body. And as soon as it is outside of your body, it has its own character, its own nature. And our job, I feel as an artist is to collaborate with that nature, to not to overpower it.”  29:43
  • You don't have to over-explain. Trust the materials and respect the viewer. “Meaning is not generated by the artists. The object's meaning is generated in the space between the object and the viewer.” 30:57
  • I argue that people need to be taught how to look at art in order to have meaningful encounters with it.  32:12
  • Why critique is addicting. 34:11
  • Suffering doesn't make you a more successful artist.  36:28
  • Constructing your personal “family” of artists for your art to be in dialogue with. 37:23
  • How would you curate a museum exhibition of your art?  39:05
  • “The space in front of an artwork is a space of empathy.” It gives us the ability to see the world through another person's eyes. 41:36
  • Artists are always ready to engage in critique of their work. 44:09
  • Why it's valuable to stay with a critique group over time and why it's also valuable to inject it with new blood every so often. 47:42
  • Patricia discusses the new virtual version of The Crit Lab, Alt MFA. 51:02
  • What to look for in a critique group, even if you're organizing it yourself.  52:14

Mentioned in This Episode

Christine Aaron (member of The Crit Lab and Art Biz Success)
The Participatory Museum by Nina Simon
Giotto (his 28 frescoes in the Upper Church at San Francesco at Assisi
Magnetic You, my program to help you articulate your work

Patricia Miranda critique session
Patricia Miranda leading a critique. Photo courtesy the artist.

About My Guest

Patricia Miranda is founder and director of MAPSpace and The Crit Lab. She has been Visiting Artist at Vermont Studio Center, the Heckscher Museum, and University of Utah; Visiting Lecturer at Purchase College SUNY, Kutztown University, WCC Peekskill Center for Digital Arts; and been awarded residencies at I-Park, Weir Farm, Vermont Studio Center, and Julio Valdez Printmaking Studio. She received an Anonymous Was a Woman Covid19 Relief Grant, an artist grant from ArtsWestchester/New York State Council on the Arts, and was part of a year-long NEA grant working with homeless youth.

Miranda develops education programs for K-12, museums, and institutions, including Franklin Furnace, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Smithsonian Institution. She has exhibited at ODETTA Gallery, Wave Hill, Bronx, NY; the Cape Museum of Fine Art, Cape Cod MA; the Belvedere Museum, Vienna Austria; Metaphor Contemporary Art, Brooklyn, NY; and Kenise Barnes Fine Art, Larchmont, NY.

Instagram: @patriciasuzannemiranda and @thecritlab

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