A Crit Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

... as is an artist community.

DAY THREE - New England Painting Tour
by Seth Ruggles Hiler (MFA 2005)

Well, the workshop with painter Jon Imber has come to an end. I spent the morning painting on the porch of Penny's B&B in Deer Isle, Stonington, Maine. Click here to see a short video. And later that afternoon came my final crit. I have shared a portion of it below with a link to the video (and Jon’s permission, of course).

As stated above, a crit is a terrible thing to waste. Critiques are an integral part of the art educational system, from grade school, on up through a masters program. I have always enjoyed them. The class tacks their works on paper on the studio wall, or lean their canvases along the floor. The group gathers around, coffee in hand, as the professor stands in the front, pacing and examining.

Well, it has never really been that dramatic - except during the fifteen-minute Diploma Project Critique at the New York Academy of Art, where the entire teaching staff, as well as honored guest artists and critics, sit in chairs in the front of the room while your classmates constitute the audience behind them. And you, as the artist-in-training, are the one standing in front, on display, along with the work, which you have poured your heart into over the last two semesters. (I actually enjoy the stress of such situations.) After the initial introduction of your string of prepared words, which may not make any sense at the time, the volley begins between the NYAA instructors and guest critics. Different view-points of art history are shared. And ultimately, you realize that you have added, in some small way, to the slide-show of imagery documenting the evolution (or destruction) of mankind. Unscathed, I graduated and entered my post-master’s studio.

It’s a lonely place. Well, volumes of forefathers whisper in your ear from the paint-splattered pages of you library and brushes of hog bristle and tubes of cerulean sometimes talk to you if you have forgotten to turn on the ventilation system. I know the artist is supposed to suffer in solitude until his or her masterpiece is created... at age 60! But, this is not exactly the environment that helps me to flourish.
On the porch of Penny's B&B
with instructor Jon Imber
and classmate Judith Seelig.

I need a community. I attended a lecture series at the Newark Art Museum in the winter of 2009 called, “So, I’ve Got Talent, Now What?” One of the panel discussions really got me pondering this idea of artistic community. The three panelists where all professionals at different points in their careers, emerging to well established. And they all had the same advice: “create your own community.” Art school provides an automatic one, but once graduated, artists forget to hold onto this idea - and to the alumni connections of their institution. Community is important for several reasons:
1. moral support, 2. creative consultation, 3. networking.

Luckily, I have found these things in several different communities. In my home state of New Jersey, there is a thriving artistic community, believe it or not! You see the same people at every opening and some of them are generous enough to make regular stops into your studio for one-on-one critiques. I am also a Junior Member of the Salmagundi Club in NYC, which is a fabulous, historic and kitschy (in the most positive sense of the word) venue for exhibition opportunities, workshops and social events all centered around traditional and contemporary figurative art. And I am honored to say that I have recently been sworn in as a Membership 
Co-Chair on the board of the Alumni Association of the New York Academy of Art. This team is cultivating a thriving network, which connects Academy grads with their “edgily traditional” alma mater and the rest of the New York art scene. The initiative is spearheaded by artist and instructor Debra Goertz, with support from dedicated staff member and Academy graduate Charis J. Carmichael Braun. The AANYAA offers group crits, professional practices workshops, group shows and reunion events.

So, I am lucky to have found so many supportive communities and to have had the opportunity to take this painting workshop with Mr. Imber. I make a conscious effort to take part in such activities, as they are the only way for me to grow as an artist outside of the studio, and support my efforts inside.


Seth Ruggles Hiler

Seth Ruggles Hiler is an artist and arts educator from Boonton, NJ. He received a BFA from Syracuse University in 2002 and an MFA from the New York Academy of Art in 2005. He is a portrait painter at heart, but landscape is his mistress. Grab your French easel and enjoy the ride!

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