The Question that Matters as an Artists

Choosing Critical Questions in your Art Practice

by Sarah Smith

As a visual artist, choosing critical questions for your art practice is crucial. It provides a sense of direction, purpose, and coherence to your work. A critical theme helps you explore specific ideas or concepts that you are passionate about and wish to convey through your art. It also allows you to engage with and contribute to larger conversations within the art world. So how can you choose a critical theme that will enhance your art practice? Here are a few steps to help you on your journey:

Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness by Alfredo Jaar, and Exodus by Barthelemy Toguo, at Frieze Art Fair, Randall’s Island, NY, 5/4/19

Identify your interests and concerns

Start by reflecting on the critical art questions that intrigue you the most. What are the issues that evoke strong emotions or thoughts in your mind? Is there a message you want to convey or a story you want to tell? Consider your personal experiences, beliefs, and values. This introspection will help you identify the areas you are passionate about and will provide a foundation for your critical theme.

The interactive art installation of With All Love for Tulips, I Pray Forever of big coloured dots anf giant sculpture flowers by Yayoi Kusama, Life is the Dream of a Rainbow exhibition at the National Gallery Singapore.

Research and explore

Once you have identified your critical questions and art themes, dive deeper into them through research. Look for artist residencies, related artists, artworks, or movements that have explored similar themes. Understand how they have approached and interpreted these topics throughout history. This exploration will expand your knowledge and inform your understanding of the theme you want to choose. It will also help you differentiate your approach from what has already been done.

Don’t touch Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds (Tate Modern London)

Evaluate your skills and style

Consider your artistic skills, techniques, and preferred style. Think about how your chosen critical questions aligns with your art and abilities as an artist. For instance, if you are a painter, you might choose a theme that can be effectively expressed through color and composition. If you are a sculptor, you may look for a subject matter that can be translated into three-dimensional form. Evaluating your skills will ensure that your chosen theme is a good fit for your creative strengths.

Barbara Kruger

Untitled (Your Body is a Battleground), 1989. Photo and silk screen. Broad Art Foundation. LACMA

Be authentic and genuine

Authenticity is key when choosing a critical theme for your art practice and questions. Select a theme that resonates deeply with you and reflects your unique perspective. Trying to mimic someone else’s theme or riding the wave of a popular trend might lead to work that lacks sincerity and fails to connect with your audience. Being genuine in your choice will give your art a distinct voice and make it more compelling.

Frida Kahlo, Las Dos Fridas. Museo de Arte Moderno Mexico

Consider your audience and impact

Think about the effect you want your art to have on its viewers. How do you want them to feel or think when they encounter your work? Consider the audience you wish to reach and how your chosen critical questions can resonate with them through your art. Understanding your audience will help you create art that is engaging, thought-provoking, and has the potential to evoke a response. Keep in mind that the impact of your work can extend beyond the art world and contribute to larger societal discussions.

Marina Abramović, The Artist is Present, 2010, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 9 March – 31 May 2010.

Embrace evolution and growth

Finally, remember that your critical theme is not set in stone. As an artist, your interests and concerns may evolve over time. Allow yourself the flexibility to explore new themes and experiment with different ideas. Embracing growth will keep your art practice fresh and allow you to continuously challenge yourself.

Yinka Shonibare, Planets in My Head

Choosing a critical theme for your art practice is an important decision that will shape your entire body of work. Discover your art world potential by learning. It is a reflection of who you are as an artist and what you wish to communicate to the world. By identifying your interests, conducting research, evaluating your skills, being authentic, considering your audience, and embracing growth, you can select a theme that will fuel your creative journey and make a lasting impact through your art.

Published by Subverting Mobility

Navigating Artist Residencies. Subverting Mobility is a source to understand the experience of artist in the ecosystem of artist residencies.

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