Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Peer Review

The Value of Peer Review
I’ll call her Jane. She was in a one-day class that I teach at Emily Carr University (CEPD 250)—a “Professional Assessment” class. In CEPD 250, we address a conundrum in your practice; each student is seeking a different outcome. Jane wanted feedback about the retail value of her work.
Normally, each student presents a brief overview of the issue they propose to discuss, but knowing what Jane wanted, I asked her to isimply put her three pieces on display for the class to see. Then I asked her to write down what she hoped to get for each piece on a piece of paper with her name on it, and to give it to me. Next, I asked everyone else in the class to put a price to Jane's work on a piece of paper and to give it to me.

Then I wrote down out all the values of the class members (plus my evaluation) on the blackboard as I received them; the prices ranged from $800 to $3,000 for each piece!Jane’s self-assessment (bearing her signature) was $300 for each work. There was certainly a lot to talk about in the classroom after that experience. The opposite has happened as well. The majority of my students, in fact, overvalue their work when they price it without doing due diligence in market research.
Another student wanted ideas from our class about places to market her work and insight into marketing methodologies. In her classroom introduction, she described her career in captivating terms, but when she showed us her work there was almost an audible gasp in the room because it was unskilled and had a strong sexual element. My point in referencing her experience is that she professed career-long approval her workand she was taken aback by our reponse. She handled herself graciously, but was clearly shocked by the response.
Self-misperception—whether positive or negative—is avoidable if you are involved with your peers and if you create opportunities to get objective feedback. The greatest benefit of a visual art education, according to most artists I have interviewed and taught, is in the critiques and cafeterias that facilitate conversations with peers and mentors about your work.
Artists who get their only critical feedback from people who see their art by invitation ptend to be overexposed to the opinions of friends and relatives. They see your work in your presence are bound by rules of politeness to find a way to make a positive response. They cannot be objective—some can, certainly, but they are not the correct audience for important career advice. All artists need objective peer/mentor response to their work. But beyond aesthetics, artists can also benefit from a discussion about the business of being an artist if they create a forum for such a discussion. Both technique and business sessions with peers are easy and inexpensive to organize. The trick is to assemble a group of worthy participants—peers are people who are working at the same “level” as you. A peer review session is not worthwhile without knowledgeable leadership; your local art educator, gallery director or curator, or a professional artist in your community can be an ideal facilitator. And local arts councils, schools, colleges, libraries or galleries will often provide the space.

We are all familiar with a book club; an “art club” of peers that meets infrequently is just as easy to organize. You don’t want to meet too often or familiarity will corrode the objectivity that is so important to a professional session. With social media and the Internet at our disposal, there is no excuse not to make peer assembly part of your professional practice. It is easier than ever to identify your peers. And a good peer session can happen anywhere.
If you are disinclined to form your own group, you can join a college extension or continuing studies class, or join an artists collective such as Basic Inquiry, Malaspina Printmakers, the Federation of Canadian Artists, etc., etc. Peer review sessions—focused on both business and aesthetics—can be both practical, and fun. Or join my CEPD 250 class sometime.
Chris Tyrell


  1. Amen!

    The single most helpful thing I experience as an artist is a wonderful peer group of 5 other artists. The second is an honest and objective relationship with an informed and educated curator. None of us are fully objective about our work. We can't always see the forest for the trees. Defensiveness is never helpful for growth. Listening to the loving voices of friends and "fans" is nice and encouraging when you need a little boost. But nothing is more helpful than a good, honest crit.

    Love this blog!

  2. I got so much feedback from participating in the Eastside Culture Crawl. I noticed one year that people were taking a lot of time looking at my work but one piece they all just ignored. It was just not done and the people knew it! I took that piece worked on it and it sold right away next time I showed it.


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