Art Critique Pep Talk # 3

When will it be my turn?





Hello, Artists.

It’s Dr. Jamie Kemp here from and this is the third pep talk in my pre critique series!

I was absolutely stunned to learn the other day that my mother, Linda Kemp, gets stressed out during critiques. She’s an internationally acclaimed artist, she teaches workshops all over the world, she has a painting in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, and she has two best selling books. And she gets stressed during critique.

She isn’t worried that people will say negative things about her work, she’s confident, she’s not afraid of public speaking—it just drives her crazy to not know when it will be her turn.

Am I going to be next? Am I going to be last? Is there a logic to this order? These are the kinds of questions that go through her mind while she’s waiting.

I think this is pretty common. When I’m doing my day job as a university professor, there are always a few students who really care about the order of critiques and presentations.

There’s always someone who wants to go first, presumably to get it over with so that they can concentrate. Their whole aspect changes when they’re done and they go from super uptight to relaxed.

Then there’s always someone who wants to go last. Some people like to have a little time to chill out and get used to the room, and others like the idea of having the last word. I myself am more in this camp. If I don’t manage my mind I’ll just sit there mentally preparing myself the whole time.

And then, like my mother, there are people who don’t care when they’re up as long as they know in advance.

I think that all of these preferences are about trying to gain some control in a circumstance where you have to sit back and let someone else run a show in which you play a small but important part. No matter how many people are in the room, your focus is on yourself and what you will do next.

I’ll say first that in our critique, we promise to let you know the order in advance—my mother absolutely insists on that!

I’m not sure that this will go all the way towards getting you in the right mindset though.

If you can’t get the position you want, or if you still feel anxious about when your time is going to come, I offer a few tips. Of course, you don’t have to take all of them…or any of them!

These are just some conventional bits of wisdom that you can mix, match and try on for size. One or more of them might be helpful. Nothing will make you more anxious than telling yourself you shouldn’t be anxious when you start to feel it coming on.

  1. Beating yourself up about having anxiety is a really efficient way of escalating it. Honestly, you can handle the feeling. When you notice it say to yourself, “yup, I’m having some feelings,” slow your thinking down, and them watch the thoughts float past.
  2. This might sounds cheesy to some of you but remember I live on the west coast. Before the critique starts, close your eyes and remember the last time you had a really wonderful experience making art. Really picture it. Where were you? What were you working on? What were you thinking about? What did that paintbrush feel like in your hand? What was the light light? Were there any sounds or smells? Get that feeling into your body and try to call that up during the critique. The critique is part of your art-making process, not something separate. Talking about your art with other people is part of making it so it is possible to have the same emotions about this part of the experience.
  3. Give others the gift of your rapt attention. Really look at the art of your peers. Listen to what they say without thinking about what you are going to say or do in reply. Really be there for them. Stop yourself if you start thinking “oh boy, I hope I have the chance to give my opinion…I better get it ready” or “I must ask my question”. Take some notes. I’ll be sure to give you a writing prompt to help you listen and figure out what to focus on.

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