Let’s talk about ‘critique’

In many ways its a hard but useful term. Hard because the ways that it can mean vary; useful because it’s part of the standard vocabulary in almost all of the arts and humanities.

Oxford English Dictionary (never used it? you have free access through the library!) defines critique thus:

 1. An essay or article in criticism of a literary (or more rarely, an artistic) work; a review.

2. The action or art of criticizing; criticism.

Now, “review” doesn’t feel too bad, but for some that “criticism” thing may feel more like “attack.” Learning to not take feedback personally is a great skill for college level work. Learning how to give and recognize useful feedback is just as valuable.

Other places where the work of “critique” shows up but in different guises: the already mentioned “review,” writing groups, editorial or other feedback, crowd response (clapping/snapping, anyone?), engagement (dialogue, conversation), up and down voting in social media, call out culture.

One of the really useful ways to reframe ‘critique’ is to think in terms of how collaborative teams work (or don’t) and how brainstorming best unfolds. With thanks to Josh Gigantino for the use of his favorite resources – here are two guides on Teambuilding and IDEO Rules of Brainstorming that can function as guideline to how critique can best unfold in this course.

Some key features: listen, engage, encourage wild ideas, use “yes, and” instead of “but” or other turns of phrase that shut down exploration.

Here are some traditional ways of approaching critique, especially in the arts and arts writing.


Describe the work without using value words.


Describe how the work is organized as a complete composition


Describe how the expressive qualities of the work, what does it invoke by way of figurative language?

Judgment or Evaluation

Describe your sense of the successes and limitations of the work based on what you understand it to be doing. Consider offering thoughts aimed at improving – don’t just praise or pan.