Raising the Bar: An Online Critique Group and a Goal
By Kathy Cantwell
I began with a simple criterion for participation: Send several images to me along with a website link and a brief statement about the work. That greatly reduced the number of applicants because some people were unable to post a series of images that made a professional or even a comprehensible presentation. Others did not have websites or were unable to write a statement. I felt it was okay to pick artists who seemed to show potential and had a willingness to participate in the critiquing process even if their work needed refinement.
A composite of work by Raising the Bar members
Top row: Anna Wagner-Ott, Susan Paladino, Kathy Cantwell, Julie Snidle
Middle: Carole Peck Harrison, Melissa Morton Lackman, Elizabeth Harris, Robyn Child Cole
Bottom: Gayle Oxford, Louise Noël, Arlene Sokolow, Steven Cabral
There were six of us in the original group. We decided to call it Raising the Bar, as we had been inspired by Joanne Mattera’s ongoing challenge to improve the quality of paintings made with encaustic. Our plan was to have one critique a month. We would discuss the work of one artist member a day after everyone had posted so that it took about a week to critique the six postings. However, we found that we wanted to have freer interaction and to be more active. Since we were a small group, we easily changed our plan to allow posting of images whenever we had work ready. Since then we have had no time constraints or schedules; our only rule is to check in at least once a week with the group and participate in critiquing the posted work. We currently have 12 members.
For the actual critique we follow the principles of DAIJ: Describe, Analyze, Interpret, Judge. It’s a good framework to use for critiquing because it means that we look closely at each work and make an effort to understand the artist’s intention. We all comment on each other’s work, and almost everyone responds to every posted artwork.
My role as moderator has been to lead, institute DAIJ, encourage rigorous critique by example, reach out to potential new members, facilitate their being voted into the group, and then bring them into the group with some orientation. Any issues that come up are funneled through me to help bring about a consensus on the issue.
Critique is a two-way street with us; we give and we get. We are 12 sets of eyes with voices that stretch to find words to best describe what we are seeing. That is where the breakthroughs happen—when what we are seeing is not quite what the artist thinks is there. It has been exciting to see the original members’ work evolve from where it was when we started and to watch the newer members’ work take off too. In my case, my writing and ability to discuss art have improved tremendously. That is a muscle that needs exercise. Today our criteria for joining the group are that an artist must have been painting with encaustic for at least two years, have an art background, be visible on Facebook, show promise, and preferably have a website. We all vote on whom we ask to become a new member.
I think this group has succeeded for two years because each member shares a desire to better her/himself by opening up to criticism. We are also avid users of Facebook. Viewing art online is never as good as seeing it in real life, and at times the art is at a disadvantage, but we do our best to photograph and explain what may not be immediately visible. The advantage of being able to get together at any time without concern for distance or the clock more than makes up for what we are missing in dimensional presence.
The original members of Raising the Bar are Carole Peck Harrison, Melissa Morton Lackman, Anna Wagner-Ott, Gaye Oxford, Arlene Sokolow, and me. Since then six members have joined us: Steven Cabral, Robyn Child Cole, Elizabeth Harris, Louise Noël, Susan Paladino, and Julie Snidle.
Open Call is a new department edited by Nancy Natale for ProWax Journal, an opportunity for members of the larger encaustic community—not just ProWax members—to have a voice in our publication. We’re looking for essays, opinions, and reports of 250-500 words. Our plan is to select one item per issue, with a visual to be determined by the writer and PWJ editor. There is no deadline. You may send a proposal or finished piece at any time to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Open Call” on the subject line. Nancy will file submissions as they arrive and review them as we plan upcoming issues.