Do you ever get into that place where you don’t know if the painting you are working is any good or not?
As an artist, I usually work alone in my studio. It can be great to get feedback from others. But not from just anyone. I put a lot of heart and soul into my work. The creative process can be a struggle. I want to be supported and offered specific feedback, not blindly praised or shot down.
I appreciate all my supportive fans, peer artists, and family, but my tribe of critics is a very small, invitation-only group.
Michelle Sirois-Silver discussing recent work with me in my studio.
Photo credit: Ray Ophoff
Who do you ask?
When I was in architecture school, a small group formed based on mutual respect for each other’s work and the enjoyment we found spending time together. We created a private ‘zone’ in the studio where we worked, discussed, and struggled through our projects. Some of these people are still very close friends and colleagues.
I have a similar handful of people that I ask for comments on my paintings. Most, but not all of them, are visual artists themselves. These are people whose artistic work and ‘eye’ I completely respect, and I trust them to provide thoughtful articulate comments.
Who not to ask:
- Don’t ask someone you’ve just met.
- Don’t ask another artist whose commitment and mastery are not commensurate with your own.
- Don’t ask someone whose work/writing you are not familiar with.
- Don’t ask family and friends. Their job is to be your fans and cheerleaders, not your critics.
Uninvited critique and other awkward situations:
The Silent Spouse:
I have several artist friends who note that their spouse never comments on their artwork. What does that mean? Your spouse may be 100% supportive of you doing your work. They may feel they don’t completely understand it. Or like many people, they may not know how to look at visual work and talk about it. Or they wisely might realize that their role as your fan and cheerleader is far more important than any critique they might feel qualified to offer.
The Self-appointed Critic:
Have you ever had someone (artist or not) visit your studio and launch into a critique uninvited? “This piece has great color, but the composition fails here because....” I’m not sure how best to respond to this myself! Depending on the situation, I’ve tried:
- I just listen for a few minutes, in case I get some beneficial feedback. After I few minutes, I move to one of the responses below:
- “I’m happy that you look closely at visual artwork. Many people don’t. Unfortunately, I only have a few minutes before I need to prepare for a phone call/start preparing for tomorrow’s student/see a man about a dog... Let me show you the rest of the studio.”
- A bold soul might just interject “Thanks for your opinion, but I really am not looking for a critique of this piece right now.”
- Brush it off with “Thanks for that. Perhaps I’ll look at that again/on the next piece” and briskly move on to another topic.
The Know-it-all Critic:
A close relative to the self-appointed critic, these folks don’t ask any questions or leave any space for dialogue. I usually find that beneficial critique includes some back-and-forth. In a great crit, I get excited and start bouncing ideas back and forth with the person giving me the critique.
Taming My Critic:
I try very hard to refrain from commenting on other artists’ work unless they explicitly ask for it. Sometimes I can’t resist a “Wow! that bright green really pops!” or similar statement, leaving the artist to decide if that’s good or bad, what they want the green to pop or not. I’m probably also guilty of the occasional “Could I tell you what really jumps out at me?”.
Who do you ask for feedback on your artwork?
Next week I’ll look at the anatomy of a critique: what to ask, and how to provide useful, respectful criticism.