Saturday, October 27, 2007

Critical Response

"Untitled", 1994 - 12' x 18'
Douglas Argue

"Untitled", 1994 - 12' x 18' - showing scale of the painting
Douglas Argue

Detail of "Untitled", 1994 - 12' x 18'
Douglas Argue

This 5-minute audio (with pictures) is a fascinating example of an educator taking a student (who states that he is indifferent to art) through the critical response process. The level of understanding that he reaches during this process is amazing. His initial statement was, “I don’t get art.” The artwork is "Untitled”, a painting by Douglas Argue which is on exhibit at the Weisman Art Museum.
To view more of Douglas Argue’s art, please visit his website:
“Critical Response is a structured process that allows responders to pay close attention to a particular piece of art, text or a performance.” This process is one that we as artists can use when dialoguing with a viewer about our art, or on our selves when we find ourselves engaged with someone else’s art that we may or may not “get”. Five questions are to be asked and responded to (with emphasis on “There are no wrong answers”) - The Critical Response Tool:
Additional examples of Critical Response in action:
Developed by Minnesota’s Perpich Center for Arts Education for the Minneapolis Public School System, Critical Response was designed for artists who teach and for “artful” teachers.
Also available is the Artful Teaching and Learning Handbook
this 158 page free e-book ( is “Full of tools, processes and examples from its field sites, the handbook offers the practitioner research-based support for building arts based and arts infused learning.” (a hard copy version also is available).


Petra Voegtle said...

Hi Gwendolyn,
the painting of Douglas Argue is really impressive as is his second about this theme. My contribution to your mentioning the "Critical Response Tool" is yet a question: I did not find any response on Douglas' website besides the quotes of other people's sayings which is not very helpful either whether he is a vegetarian, eating neither chicken nor beef. If he still does - his paintings would be absolutely meaningless, a message without content.

Anonymous said...

I am not a vegetarian and I do not think that makes my work meaningless. There is plenty of witting about this painting and quotes from me in the article section of my web site. You need to look around the year it was painted.

Doug Argue

Pat said...

Critical Response is not about the artist or the art for that matter. Critical response is a process that can be used, as it was by the art viewer to find away into the the art. To find meaning and understanding of the art. It can be used my the artist to facilitate a conversation between herself and her artwork. It can be used in life to see a situation without judgement. It simply is a tool to help deepen our observation skills by developing our abilities to describe what is there and not what we think about what is there. Judgement is often confused for observation. The other thing critical response untangles from an experience is our emotional and physical responses to the work as well as questions that may be directly related to the work or not. Critical response creates reflective thinkers.

Melissa Borgmann said...

It's fascinating to see this up, to read Doug Argue's comments, and to realize that never during the course of the work, (as teacher, artist, facilitator, contemplative,) have I considered a "right answer" for Alston in in his investigation....This process, the Critical Response protocol has always been about facilitating meaning-making: deep and intentional investigation and inquiry, especially in the face of so many other factors getting in our way as thinkers, creators, literate beings. (Pat said it well.)

I'm deeply intrigued by Mr. Argue's work, (these chickens and beyond!) I believe this response of Alston's has become a kind of "artful piece" in and of itself, outside of what Doug Argue intended. What I would relish, of course: is to experience young, seemingly off-put and disengaged Alston, in the same room as the artist...

I'm thankful for the life this little interview has taken on, outside of Alston and myself. I do believe it was a magical kind of thing to have captured this moment with this young man.


Gwen Magee (Gwendolyn) said...


Thanks to each of you for your comments. I find myself listening to the audiofile over and over and never fail to be amazed about its outcome.

Petra, I think the message of this artwork stands on its own as social commentary irrespective of the artist's personal eating habits. But you raise a very interesting point for consideration - to what extent does an artist's personal life negate or validate the intrinsic meaning of his or her art? For example, how would the meaning or significance of an artwork depicting a lynching be impacted if the artist were a card carrying member of the KKK...

Doug, thank you so much for your incisive visual comment on a topic which we rarely take into consideration. The young man's perceptive linking of the plight of those chickens with that of Africans (his and my mutual ancestors) herded and chained together on slave ships like cattle sent chills down my spine.

Pat, your comments are very well spoken.

Melissa, the interaction between you and Alston was indeed something "magical". This is itself an art form. Thank you for creating and sharing it. I would love to know how Alson's awareness and awakening during this session has subsequently impacted his experiences with art.

Petra Voegtle said...

my answer is very simple and very restrictive: if I "accuse" something or someone through my work and do not act consequently myself I am neither true to myself nor very credible. As your example: I cannot belong to the KKK club and then criticise racism. Accepting a work as a piece of art that praises anything that is against humanity and life is out of question in my opinion anyway.
Therefore my question about being vegetarian. Eating habits, as you decribe it, are very well a part of your lifestyle, beliefs and general attitude.
I did not see anything funny in the painting with the chickens - on the contrary I considered it as a very powerful message against the mass product "chicken", I also considered the painting with the bull skeletons as a very strong message against all sorts of animal slaughter. The chicken painting includes other strong symbolics even if the painter was not aware of it.
But as I said before: for me there is only one message in these paintings. I cannot see anything funny or witty in these. But if the latter was the true intent from the painter himself the whole is reduced to a merely empty sarcasm. This would be very disappointing for me.

Gwen Magee (Gwendolyn) said...

Like you, I find absolutely nothing funny or witty about this painting. And as you point out, it is a very powerful social commentary about the cruelty that occurs in our food industry, cruelty that we rarely think about as we "chow down" on a chicken dinner.

But I see the message as being about the way chickens are currently treated prior to slaughter, not about their use as a food source. I see the message as being a call to action for reform, not for pulling chickens off the market.

As far as the artist's personal life is concerned, for all we know he may only eat chicken that has been killed according to kosher or Islamic laws which mandate that the animal's death is as quick and as painless as possible.

I believe the artist was sincere in his intent when creating this artwork. For me, the incredible amount of detail in the work negates the probability of it's being mere cynicism. And when the size of the work is factored into the equation, I have to believe that the artist was impassioned about the statement he was making.