When I wrote the book Art Critiques: A Guide, I tried to add information and stories from as many countries as possible. At the time I visited Iran, but I didn't attend any art critiques there. A friend sent me this photo.

One of the things that makes a critique different from a discussion or a seminar is that people often sit on the floor. That may seem like a trivial fact, but I think it's one of the most important things about art critiques.

This is the picture I chose for the cover of the book Art Critiques: A Guide. It epitomizes the situation of the critique: the student stands, by herself, and the audience considers--neutrally or impassively. People who have never taken art classes can find it hard to imagine how difficult that can be. An average artist has experienced this a number of times--often in the distant past, because after art school is over, there is often very little critique.

What Does it Mean to be an Average Artist?

This essay is adapted from a chapter in the book Art Critiques: A Guide, which is available on Amazon. The book is a comprehensive handbook for art students at all levels. It's the only book of its kind, I think: it covers the many kinds of judgment, the formats of critiques, the history of the "crit," the current practices in different places, the philosophy of critique and criticism, the idea of non-judgmental critiques, the problem of silent instructors, the problem of teachers who talk too much, the bigger problem of teachers who are aggressive or self-serving, the difficulty of knowing when to speak and when to let others talk, the length of critiques, the assumptions behind critiques, the space of critiques, critiques that are like battles, like trials, like medical examinations, like first dates. The book also has transcripts of actual critiques, analyzed line by line: that's the best way, I think, to understand the assumptions instructors make, and to figure out how to take control of the often bizarre and incomprehensible things that happen during critiques.

This chapter is about the idea of being average. In art classes, art schools, and art departments, it's not usual to feel average. Usually you'll feel fairly special, or at least you'll feel like you might be. But out in the real world, there are almost no critiques. It is entirely common to go years without any special attention being paid to your work. Many artists go their entire lives without even having a single public exhibition. The question is: how can you  reconcile the fact that you are (probably) normal, in the statistical sense--average, not too talented, not too untalented--how can you reconcile that with the ambitions and hopes fostered by art schools and the art market? And from a teacher's point of view: how can you offer students feedback that does not tacitly assume they might become famous, that they are exceptional, that they are producing unique work? How is it possible to come to terms with being a normal, unexceptional person?

The essay is available as a pdf, and the entire book is on Amazon.

One of the most difficult things about art school, and life after art school, is realizing that your work is not going to engage everyone, that it won't always turn heads, that people won't always care. At least in art classes people pay attention, but in the art world it is all too easy to be passed by: most galleries are empty most of the time except at openings and closings, and the majority of artists don't get many shows. That is why it's especially important to ask what an "average" life as an artist is.