I want to talk to you today about how critiques can sometimes be a bad thing. When we are in art school, or if you take a painting class, at the end of the session everyone will put up their completed pieces. As your classmates wander around the room viewing the varied pieces, there is an open invitation to criticize each others work. People express what they like and dislike – mostly what they don’t like. I find that this can be very damaging to the art spirit, especially when you are a new painter that might not have complete control of the paint and the brushes yet. It again, can be damaging to the spirit to have negative feedback when you are essentially just trying to have fun. It is important for you to guard your art motivation and not let anyone bring that down. And, the main problem with art critiques is that they pre-suppose that there is some sort of universal truth in art. The thought that there is any truth in the belief that one painting is better than another. When you compare Bouguereau to Alice Neal, both are so different in approach but are both, in their own right, great masters. Imagine if Vincent Van Gogh had experienced some of the art critiques of today – imagine the damage unnecessary criticism could have done. You cannot compare Rembrandt to Elizabeth Sparhawk Jones but again, both produced wonderful paintings that are unique to their style.
How do we deal with the critique issue? First and foremost, I would say no to all group critiques unless it is a very unusual group with everyone on the same plane, if you will. Have you noticed that when you participate in a group critique, and put your painting up, you immediately get a sick feeling in your stomach out of fear of what is coming next? And, there are always a couple of people in the group that seem to monopolize the conversation with the idea that their way is better than everyone else’s. This is like saying poodles are better than great Danes – they’re all just dogs but everyone has a personal opinion. You need to protect and nurture your idea.
So, let’s discuss how you are supposed to go about getting a critique. First and foremost, you need to let the critic know exactly what you want to get out of the critique. If you have a particular style you want to bring about, like painting like Rembrandt, or David Leffel, or Richard Schmidt or any other contemporary artist. This establishes criteria that can be judged. Ask in terms of color, value, edges, lines, color harmony and how your painting compares to a master you like. Don’t use this time to fish for compliments, be constructive. Use this time to find out something important about your painting.
As the reviewer, ask the painter what he/she considers. Ask about goals and style of this particular artist. Answer only in the terms you have established for clarity. Examine your own personal motivation as well when giving advice. Pay attention to your tone and only respond to specific questions. Make sure you phrase the critique in such a way that it will only motivate the painter. You always want to encourage a painter to paint more paintings.
Find a small group or a teacher that will help you get where you want to go. Avoid the casual right and wrong approach because you are more than likely better than you think. Guard your art motivation and be careful not to let anyone undermine that motivation.Read More
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