How do you make an artist? At The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in Manhattan, artist Josephine Halvorson guides an undergraduate painting class in a group critique. The student work ranges from letterform-inspired abstractions to painterly landscapes to intensely graphic narrative scenes on shaped canvases. The paintings are the culmination of a semester’s worth of work. On guard against the students’ tendency to respond to an artist’s words as much as their work, Halvorson explains her particular critique process: “The students give feedback without the artist over-determining it initially by what they say about it.” Her students’ comments are wide-ranging, off the cuff, and at times sharply critical. One student wonders if a densely iconographic set of paintings is an “allegorical overload,” challenging the viewer to give up on ever getting a clear understanding. For this student, the moment is poignant. This set of critiques will be one of few remaining opportunities to hear so consistently and variously from her artist-peers. Once out of school, she knows she’ll struggle to find similar chances for feedback. A Cooper Union alumna herself, Halvorson remembers the anxiety of her own undergraduate group critique experiences and the feeling of never producing work worthy of review. Art education—premised on the hope of training someone to do a seemingly untrainable creative act—is a necessarily tricky, contradictory endeavor. But for Halvorson, group critique, with its possibility of open dialogue and exchange, is one of art school’s truly constructive models for learning.
Josephine Halvorson (b. 1981, Brewster, Massachusetts) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
CREDITS | New York Close Up Created & Produced by: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Editor: Scott Burgess & Erin Casper. Cinematography: Christine Ng & Iva Radivojevic. Sound: Scott Fernjack, Ian Forster & Nick Ravich. Associate Producer: Ian Forster. Design: Crux Studio & Open. Thanks: Alex Barrett, Beatrice Bolton, Sarah Demoen, Jenny Eagleton, Clara Genard-Claus, Phoebe Gray, Josephine Halvorson, Taylor Hand, Minjung Jun, Matias Maunu, Emma McMillan, Daniel Schraeder, Maya Strauss, The Cooper Union for the Advancement, of Science and Art, Dylan Vandenhoeck, and Theresa Zeitz-Lindamood. An Art21 Workshop Production. © Art21, Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.