How to Critique the Art Critic

I was going to title this article ” What Should We Do with the Critic in Our Head?” but then realized that it doesn’t matter if it’s the inner critic or the person critic, something must be done with them if we are going to get on with our work.

Let’s face it, we are told that we should obey the critic because it will make us a better artist. But there are times when the art critic makes us to want to throw in the towel!

There are many types of critics – the perfectionist, the jealous one, the know-it-all, the mean girl (even if it’s a guy) and on and on. How in the world are we going to deal with all these and still love our creative self unconditionally and be productive and happy?

 

Beware the Perfectionist

I remember my first encounter with the dye-hard perfectionists. I was in 6th grade. My mother had always frowned on seeing C’s on my report card. She told me that A’s and B’s were what I was to strive for.

At the end of the 3rd quarter of 6th grade I was bouncing home with a report card that had five A’s and one B. I couldn’t wait for my mother to see it and sign it. I was so proud of that report card!

Her comment? “Oh, it’s too bad you got that B. It spoils the card.”

I was speechless. I was crushed. I felt sucker punched. There was no way I had misunderstood her philosophy of all A’s and B’s on the card was what I should strive for.

I said to myself, “Why should I bother? I’ll never please her.”

That day, I realized that I had a decision to make. I could stop striving entirely. What was the point of trying so hard? I was not the best student in the class. I had to work long hours to get grades like that.

Or I could stop caring about what she thought and said. I could get good grades to please myself. I cared. I was proud of me! Maybe that was enough.

Thankfully, I chose the second route and continued to do my best, no matter what other people said.

I wish I could tell you that unjust and unkind criticism didn’t hurt from that point on. It came heavy and often. But I was always able to get past the pain by saying to myself, “This is YOUR life. If you are pleased with your work, that’s all you need. Whose opinion about your life matters more – yours or theirs? My head told me that my opinion about my life should be counted as more important.

After all, I am the one who pays the consequences of my actions. Why shouldn’t I be the one who knows what’s best in my artwork and life?

It’s For Your Own Good, They Say

Really? Always? I don’t think so.

I think we are led to believe that the art critic exists to help us make our art better. In my opinion, that depends on a whole lot of factors.

* Why is that particular person the art critic and not someone else?
* Did I invite that art critic into my life? If not, how did she get there?
* Is the art critic saying that she doesn’t like my artwork? Or does she not understand where I am in my art and life journey and what I’m trying to accomplish?
* Has this critic pointed out what she finds good in my artwork? If not, why not?
* Is this particular art critic helping me to enjoy my art journey? If not, maybe I don’t need that particular critic in the art area of my life.

To Help You Improve

It’s my opinion that if you want me to do better, then point out the things you LIKE in my artwork and I’ll build on that.

If you point out what you DON’T like, I will find myself focusing on those aspects. I may spend hours trying to “correct” what you don’t like and possibly ruin or lose altogether the parts of the artwork that are good.

I Like Color

To me, the most important aspect of my artwork is the color scheme. If I land on the right colors, I’m happy. I might not love the subject matter, but I will like my artwork if I get the colors rights.

The opposite in NOT true for me. If I love the subject matter but I don’t get the colors the way I want them, then I don’t consider my art piece to be good.

For you, it could be something completely different. You might care far more about the subject matter. Maybe getting the expression right is the most important thing to you. Maybe the color scheme is secondary for you.

Maybe the art critic doesn’t realize this about us.

I’m NOT Talking about the Teacher

If we choose to take an art class, we expect the teacher to be honest (and kind) about our work. We have chosen to be there. Maybe we paid good money to take this class from this particular teacher.

In this case, we expect to get some feedback and maybe we won’t like it all – but that’s what we walked into voluntarily.

Once, when I was in an art group with a teacher, we were allowed to work on any art project we wanted. About three-quarters into my painting I was completely stuck. I knew there was something missing in the subject matter but for the life of me I could not figure out what to add to pull the elements together.

As the teacher walked by, I mentioned that I thought there was something missing in a certain part of my painting but I couldn’t picture what it was. She asked my permission to pick up a brush and add to my painting. I was stuck so I gave her the go-ahead.

Within minutes, she had added the perfect stokes to my painting. I loved it! It was better than the original vision I had in my head. I considered the piece done because it was now better than I hoped it would be.

All this to say that there are times when we should ask for comments, criticism and critique. But not all the time. Just when we choose to.

If an unwelcomed comment is unsolicited, feel free to ignore it and continue to focus on your work.

Know What You Want to Accomplish

Knowing what you are trying to accomplish at a particular point in time is a great barrier to feeling pain that comes from criticism of our artwork.

Let’s say you’ve decided to concentrate on improving depth in your landscapes. Someone who thinks they are an art critic says that the grass in your foreground is not realistic.

So?

 

You were not focusing on making the grass realistic. You are learning to create the sense of depth in the painting. Who understands that but you? Who understands how important that is to you? Only you at that moment.

Now let’s say that you are very pleased with the progress you made creating a sense of depth in your painting. You now understand that the far mountains are lighter than the closer ones. You even produced a sense of fog or mist in the distance. The distant mountains are hazy. Your INNER critic says, “Good job!”

So now, how important is that comment about the grass in the foreground? It’s not important at all. Not in this painting anyway.

Knowing exactly where you are in your art journey and what you are focusing on to improve, helps to tame the critic, who often doesn’t understand exactly what you’re trying to accomplish.

Finding an Encouraging Environment

Even though our artwork is profoundly personal, we do like to show it to people who love art and understand how difficult it can be to produce what we have in our mind’s eye.

There are many times when we would like to hear what people like about our work. You might ask a friend:

* What is your favorite color in this painting?
* Which character on this beach attracts your eye first?
* How would you describe the expression on this boy’s face?

There are other times when we have questions about our work:

* Did I create a sense of depth? Can you see it?
* Do you like this shade of green or do you think it should be darker as compared to the colors next to it?
* Did I get the left eye in the right place? Does it seem a bit too close to the other eye to you?

These are legitimate questions that an artist might solicit from people who may be able to offer good feedback.

If you are looking for this type of feedback, I invite you to become a member of the Skillful Artists Membership Group. We are here to support each other in kind and positive ways.

If you have questions, contact me from this page. I’ll be glad to help in any way that I can.
-Elaine

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