Update: Please note that after nine years of thoroughly enjoying my role as facilitator of monthly critiques, I am looking for someone to whom I can pass the torch. Please join us; there will be four more free critiques on the last Monday of each month at the Langley City Library from 7-9pm for Feb, March, April and May 2015.
Being an artist: Art Critiques – full exposure
by Lalita Hamill
Published 2010 in the Art Avenue Magazine
The rate at which we grow as artists and the artistic path we choose is largely dependent on feedback we receive. Whether this feedback is from within, comments from family and friends, awards, declines from juried shows, or number of sales, we rarely find out why our work was considered successful or not.
Unfortunately, the term “critique” has a negative connotation, instilling feelings of anxiety, apprehension and inadequacy. A critique is an oral or written discussion strategy used to analyze, describe, and interpret works of art. If someone claiming to provide honest feedback is personally attacking or being tactless, unkind, or cruel, this is not a critique. A critique provides honest and encouraging feedback, requiring both the knowledge and sensitivity of the critiquer and openness and curiosity of the artist.
Over the past four years I have been facilitating free monthly visual art critique sessions in Langley. In examining this subject, I asked several questions of attending artists. How were you feeling before you attended your first critique? Most mentioned that they feared their art would be inadequate. Amy, whose paintings are soft, emotive and expressive, states: “I was nervous about attending, [because] at other crits I’d felt like my work was crap by the time it was over, like there wasn’t any good in it.”
Many new attendees said the key to summoning the courage to attend is that they were allowed to observe; artists are invited to display their work only when they feel ready. Others who have attended before feel more comfortable and go first.
What to look for or possibly receive from a critique
What artists want from a critique depends on their varied purposes for painting: to sell paintings, to get into juried shows, a means of self-expression, to experiment, or to impact others on an emotional level. Josie, new to art, said the critique should be “gentle, honest and constructive criticism”. Sylvia said “so often an artist is looking for an answer and the teacher will skirt around the issue, either because they don’t know the answer or they don’t want to ‘upset’ the student. Personally, I prefer to be told.” Still others are looking for ways to align their art with their intentions. The unifying theme is: artists want someone to provide a candid critique in a supportive, respectful manner.
Advice from others
When asked about critique advice for new artists, some urged “go for it!” while others suggested observing how the critique is facilitated to see whether it will work for you. My advice is to be honest with yourself. If you are more likely to ask a store clerk than a trusted friend hoe your new jeans look, you may not want to move into the critique arena quite yet.
Perspective of the critiquer
In-person art critiques can be difficult to find. Being an instructor, juror, or critiquer can be tough because you are bound to inadvertedly hit people’s sore spots. The next time you find yourself at a critique and feeling nervous about your artwork, imagine yourself as the critiquer. What you would say about the piece in an authentic, helpful, inspirational way? This imagining exercise will help you to expand your verbal expression of visual creation. Perhaps you will develop an appreciation for the critiquer, or realize how much you enjoy the discussion and become a critiquer yourself.
Things to remember
The bottom line is: it’s your painting! No matter who makes a comment, their opinion should not automatically override yours. The tricky balance can be knowing when to trust your inner artistic voice, especially when it’s so quiet you cannot hear it, and when to experiment with feedback. One should be careful of the terminology used. I believe, for example, that in art there is no “right” or “wrong” way; rather, certain guidelines will help you attain your goals. If your goal is to paint a vase in a realistic way, then one could say that you painted it “wrong,” or one could say that the ellipse at the top of the vase is too round. One statement implies judgment; the other is constructive, objective, and helpful.
What to do next
If you live in the greater Vancouver area, you have access to critique sessions and classes through the Federation of Canadian Artists, or through an FCA Chapter. If you are in a more remote location, you may need to rely on the internet. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Find an artist who is willing to view your work digitally; something within their feedback will likely help. If it doesn’t, try again with someone else. Be creative. It need not be a painful process. Many will walk away feeling excited and inspired.
If you would like to receive by email the 5-page Word document that Lalita hands out at her free monthly critiques, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org This document contains descriptions and explanations of many elements of composition and design. Lalita’s website can be viewed at www.lalitahamill.com