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Writing for the Arts

Critical thinkinga man thinking about the positives and negatives of something

Critical thinking can involve:

  • Bringing a critical lens to evaluate the world or existing work

  • Producing work which is critical, providing a critical response

  • Looking critically at your own work, during and after production, considering  strengths and weaknesses

Using a critical lens


Applying a critical lens is like putting on a pair of glasses which allows you to see an object or situation differently. The lens you employ will depend on your subject field. A critical lens is evaluative, not purely descriptive. Think of a lens as a viewpoint loaded with a particular theory from which standpoint you are evaluating ideas.

You could write about any of the topics below employing your reading and inspiration texts to communicate a lens such as:

  • Power relations.
  • Gender theory and political or artistic movements e.g. Marxism or modernism.
  • Materials and design being of its time and viewing design through a contemporary lens or applying a non-Western cultural lens.
  • Discourses.
  • Culture: dominant and non-dominant, informal and formal, those with power and representations of those with less power.
  • Theoretical frames in which works are situated e.g social constructivism, political activism.
  • Subjective and objective views, ways of seeing and knowing.
  • Purpose of art debates, philosophy-what is art for?
  • Exploring tensions for example between consumer and producer/maker.
  • Notions and debates concerning key themes such as creativity, originality, what can be considered modern, how society affects the production and types of art and artefacts produced.

This is not an exhaustive list, and you will find more ideas if you read widely around your subject area.

illustration via GIPHY

Pen writing in a notebookExample: Abdul uses a critical lens for his dissertation

Abdul, a fashion design student with an interest in textiles, is thinking about a potential dissertation topic for his final year. He visited a Mary Quant exhibition at the V&A and is interested in exploring Quant’s work. He is playing with a potential title of:

A critical retrospective of the fashion design contribution of Mary Quant and her contribution to fashion using a feminist and sustainable climate-aware production lens.

He is interested to explore to what extent 1960s fashion design can be viewed through a contemporary theoretical lens and aims to explore the tensions of critical interpretations employing new knowledge and sensibilities.

Pen writing in a notebookExample: Freya- a fashion design student offers her work, a critical response and a short critique.

When studying the history of fashion, I became interested in how hemlines appeared to go up and down during different decades depending on politics, world events and the economy. Some theorists in particular, using a feminist lens, propose that the fashion industry not only objectifies women, but that also female fashion reflects the changing role of women in society expressing changes in their independence, autonomy, work participation and economic independence. I thought this was an interesting concept and I wanted to actively subvert these theories some way in my designs. I came up with various designs and settled on the concept of dresses, trousers, skirts, and coats with a detachable, moveable, modular, wearable, flexible hemline as a critical response to the idea the hemlines are reactive representations of woman as the 'observed' whereas I wanted to introduce the wearer as agent and co-designer. Part of the garments can be removed and re-purposed as cross-body straps, scarf, pockets, and a mini backpack.

The designs were well-received and in my peer group criticism my peers thought my ideas were innovative. After a few questions from them about the tradition of design and gender-based designs, I did ask myself whether I was still operating from within a gendered tradition of garment design and production and therefore my critical response could not be considered fresh as I had not subverted concepts fully. I need to ask myself what would it take to re-design clothing for the human form fully? What would fashion be like if it moved beyond the traditional male/ female form?

Note to self: do more reading and find more academic references to explore ideas.