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April/May 2005


The Creative Critique: Steve Aimone

The Artist’s Contract

Ed.–When Steve Aimone works with artists individually or in workshops, he asks them to clarify their goals in a “contract.” Here he elaborates on the contract and its role in the critique. Most of the participants in his workshops are fairly accomplished artists, and his areas of primary teaching focus are intent and composition rather than technique. Most work in painting and drawing; some in collage, assemblage, installation, fiber arts, and other art forms.

Often as part of a workshop, each participant starts with a contract that he or she commits to in writing before beginning work. In a two-day workshop called Directed Individual Study that I do monthly in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, the entire session revolves around this contract. In other workshops that run five days, the first three days or so are devoted to a curriculum, and then the last two days consist of individual explorations that revolve around a contract.

In the contract, participants outline what it is they hope to accomplish during the individual study. It may involve such things as:

• Exploring a new working process (such as working without a plan)
• Exploring a new technical approach (a new medium or new way of using a medium)
• Focusing on a new subject matter
• Continuing to develop a body or work that is currently in process, or
• Changing a temperamental approach (for example, a "worrier" artist may try to take the work less seriously by working on several pieces at once or by working with nonarchival materials, or a very relaxed artist might try to take the work more seriously by focusing on a well-defined series of works).

I consult with each artist to make sure the contract is clearly defined and realistic. Then, the artists proceed to carry out their explorations while I circulate and counsel them on an individual basis.

At the end of the session, we gather for an interactive group critique. Each artist begins their critique by making a brief verbal presentation, starting with reading the contract. I then ask the artist to elaborate on the following kinds of things:

• What revelations occurred to you during the course of your exploration?
• What roadblocks did you encounter, and how did you respond to them?
• Where does the exploration stand at the present moment, and how might you follow up on it after the workshop closes?
• What questions, if any, would you like the group to address in response to your presentation?

Then, I require that the other artist-participants take part in a responsive discussion. The discussion has a time limit, and I act as moderator, loosely steering the discussion to make sure that it stays on track and relevant and that issues I regard as important to the artist are addressed.
This idea of a contract is a fluid one. That is, should the artist write up a contract, begin to work, and then experience something that calls for the modification or abandonment of the contract, that's okay. This experience and change of course become the starting place for the closing discussion.

Steve Aimone’s website is The site includes a Critique of the Week (, in which he chooses a work and focuses on formal composition issues.

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Susan Brandeis offers suggestions on how to start and maintain a critique group.

Steve Aimone
describes the artist contract he uses with workshop participants.

Helen Davis
shares a handout of trigger words she uses for stimulating discussion in her critiques.

Tom Lundberg
offers a suggested reading list related to evaluating art.

This article first appeared
online in:

April/May 2005


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