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Should Every Artist Be in a Critique Group?

Creating art can be lonely work, so a small group of artists in the Eastern Panhandle gets together every two weeks to critique each other’s work. These are people who work with paint, pencils, cameras, and clay. But why do they need each other?

This Artist Critique Group, or Crit Group for short, was started in 2007 by Doug Kinnett.

It consists of seven members, and they meet twice a month at Kinnett’s home in Shepherdstown in a large sun room with high ceilings and big windows. The room gives off an air of art – hardwood floors, lights, and modern furniture. Some of Kinnett’s colorful paintings line the walls.

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Credit Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting
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West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Craig Winkel shows his zebra painting to the crit group.

Each person gets a chance to stand before the group and show a piece of art on an easel. One artist has brought a painting of a zebra. He shows his work, talks a bit about his process, and then opens the floor to comments.

Painter Judy Bradshaw speaks up, “I mean you could’ve painted those stripes straight, and it wouldn’t have worked, but look around his neck, how you have that curvature with the dark stripes. I mean that is difficult to do.”

Many of this group’s members are retired and picked up visual art after finishing one or more careers. But some are experienced artists who have been doing it for a long time and do it for a living.

Gary Bergel is one of the newest members. He says critiquing each other’s work isn’t a matter of saying what’s good or what’s bad – it’s about describing what you see.

“We’re looking to build each other up and encourage each other along our visual paths," Bergel explained, "Not to – even if we feel something is less than successful, there’s a way of talking about it that is still edifying and encouraging, not destructive, not critical in the wrong way, that’s why the word critique is very, very important rather than criticism.”

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Credit Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting
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West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The founder of the crit group – Doug Kinnett – is an expressionist painter who likes to use a lot of color. He’s also a retired art teacher with a doctorate in Art Education. After retiring, he longed for something to keep his art education background alive.

He says he started the crit group because artists don’t have a lot of support.

"You know, there are lots of people that get art degrees, and then because life hits them because they graduate from school, sort of like diving into an empty swimming pool, and you see the real world, you know," Kinnett explained, "they just have a hard time fitting it in, making it a discipline, doing the kinds of things they always wanted to do, which is to make art.”

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Credit Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting
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West Virginia Public Broadcasting
The Crit Group's first exhibit at the Visitor's Center in Charles Town.

After being around for eight years, the Crit Group put on its first two exhibits together this summer - one in Martinsburg and one in Charles Town.

“What we’re hoping to do through these two exhibits - to encourage more artists to really wake up and realize they have a need to get together, to hang together, and if we could spark more,” Gary Bergel said.

The Crit Group’s founder, Doug Kinnett says every artist of any age should have the opportunity  to be in a crit group. He says anyone can start one, but they should be small – no more than a handful of people to get the best outcome.

Kinnett isn’t sure how many other crit groups are in the Eastern Panhandle – he thinks around five – but he hopes there will be many more in the future – ones for all kinds of art.


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