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How to survive end-of-year shows and critiques

5 students from the Faculty of Fine Arts provide their top tips for handling the pressure
March 30, 2017
By Andy Murdoch

Marianne Laporte: "The work is done. What remains is to present it with clarity and confidence." Marianne Laporte: "The work is done. What remains is to present it with clarity and confidence."

On top of writing papers and exams, students in the Faculty of Fine Arts must make art and show it or perform it in front of peers, professors and often, the public.

For a painting and drawing major, for example, a critique — aka “crit” — is a studio class where students present their work and their peers discuss it. Those studying theatre performance, meanwhile, put heart and soul into rehearsals that lead up to end-of-term on-stage performances.

We asked five Concordia fine arts students to share their tips and tricks on how to tackle these unique final evaluations.

‘Schedule your time’

Breanna Shanahan, MFA student - Studio Arts (Sculpture)

I don’t think I’ve ever pushed myself more in my life than in the master’s program. Last term was one of the hardest I’ve ever had, and I’ve been in school for a long time!

Last year, I had a job, courses and studio time speckled throughout my week. Once I finished work, I was already exhausted. I needed to break down my week, so I tried to schedule myself better.

This term, Fridays are my classroom days. I work Wednesday and Thursday, and I focus on my readings during the week with the knowledge that I have to be ready for Friday.

Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday I am in my studio. I can start something over the weekend, then Monday and Tuesday, I am still in that thought. Because I’m not interrupted by other responsibilities like work or papers, I can let that creative workflow happen over those four days.  

‘Prepare well in advance’

Lynn Price, MFA student - Studio Arts (Painting and Drawing)

Like any exam, prepare for a critique well in advance. Make a plan for installing your work. Make sure that you have access to any tools and hardware that you might require. Test your install a few days in advance: you do not want that drawing to fall off the wall during the crit!

When choosing what to show the review panel, consider what work best demonstrates a cohesive inquiry. Individual pieces should be related in some way (conceptually, thematically, materially). Show work that demonstrates effort, risk taking and research.

If you are asked to produce a statement about the body of work, prepare it several days in advance so that you have time to clarify in words what's important about it. Whether the required statement is written or verbal (check your course outline or ask your professor), it's an important starting point for the critique.

‘Be motivated. Take risks. Practice.’

Marianne Laporte, Master of Design student

For me, motivation is the key to surviving the end-of-year period. Sharing the evolution of my projects with students, teachers, friends or family is a great source of inspiration.

I try not to be too much of a perfectionist: an imperfect work is better than nothing at all. Even when I'm not exactly sure what I'm doing or where I'm going, it's not a reason to be afraid to move forward. It’s important to take risks, even if it means we have to redirect our work sometimes.

Before a project critique, I give myself time to practice my oral presentation. It makes a big difference when it comes time to present the work! During critiques, I try not to be too stressed: the work is already done. All that remains is to present it with clarity and confidence. Crits are there to understand the work of students and to guide them — not to judge. I am open to comments, as these allow me to improve my work.

‘Keep it in perspective’

Elizabeth Millar, BFA student (Music Performance)

I take one day off a week: no school work, no thinking or talking about school. It's a complete refresh. In my experience, this is the only sustainable way, both physically and mentally, to get through to the end of term.

I remind myself to keep it all in perspective. My artistic career will last my whole life, and what I am presenting now is part of that, but it does not represent my entire body of work, current or future.

When I perform, I am engaging with art. This is a wonderful privilege. I am reaching through time to connect with a composer and bring that music to the people in front of me, through my own body. Despite nerves and the presence of a jury, I love being on stage. Thinking of this helps me to focus on the aspects that I like best leading up to a show.

Schelby Jean-Baptiste: “To keep in good form I meditate every day.” Schelby Jean-Baptiste: “To keep in good form I meditate every day.”

‘Consult your to-do list every day’

Schelby Jean-Baptiste, BFA student (Theatre Performance)

I have a to-do list I consult every day. I try to do at least of 80 per cent of my whole list daily.

Outside and inside class I'm busy juggling several things. I have a job doing communications for a local media company. I'm creating two TV shows. I write theatre reviews and talk on the radio about what’s going on in film, cinema and TV. Then there’s my career — last week, I finished acting in a new web TV series that will be out this summer.

To keep in good form I meditate every day. I have five steps in my practice. The first word that comes out of my mouth is “thank you.” Thank you for life and the ability to do what I love.

Then I forgive myself because we tend to keep a lot of feelings inside. In performance that’s bad, because if you’re keeping something in, you’re not available. Then I plan my day and follow up with some breathing and feeling the present moment. My last and favourite step is smiling for 30 seconds. That sets the tone for the rest of my day.

Find out more about 
Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts.



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