For art students, the final critique

For students in UIC’s masters of fine art program, the critique process is a large part of their grades. Likewise, a major part of the MFA program is dedicated to studio time — independent study and research into ideas, philosophies and practices of visual art that form and inform their works. 

Each semester four artists are selected (from in and outside the school) for a committee that evaluates each student’s work at mid-term and again at the end of the semester.

That final evaluation — a five-day show — culminates the efforts of the semester for the entire group.

MFA students

MFA student David Boylan discusses his work with committee member John Cates, left, and faculty member Silvia Malagrino (background). Photo: Alex Rauch/UIC News

It’s 8:45 a.m. on Monday and the aroma of coffee floats in the Great Space — a large open room in Art & Design Hall. Excitement and curiosity is the conversation.

A crowd of about 50 people slowly gathers and heads into the North Gallery for the first critique — also known as just “crit.”

For 34 master’s of fine art candidates, fall semester boils down to this 45-minute group session.

The group is composed of first- and second-year art students, faculty and guests. They examine, critique, study, debate and roast the works and shows presented over the course of five days.

The process has no concrete structure — anyone in the group can speak at any time and there’s no definitive hierarchy.

While some works function within traditional mediums like photography, sculpture or painting, others do not hold to one medium.

MFA student Matthew Brett discusses his work

MFA student Matthew Brett speaks to the group, including faculty member Hannah Higgins, right. Photo: Alex Rauch

For instance, Joshua Albers hacked his Xbox Kinect to record 3-D video. Daniel Tucker has been working on his 12-chapter video for a year and a half.

When Friday comes around, the demanding week shows on many students’ faces  — lack of sleep from late hours of installation, and saturation of work and conversation on topics ranging from modernism to Internet cat videos.

An iPhone alarm rings in the middle of a conversation, which trickles to an end.  Thanks are given to faculty, guests and students, then everyone goes their separate ways.

Faculty head out to decide grades. Students disperse to sleep or celebrate. They take a deep breath, and shift their thoughts winter break.

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