Previously Published February 2017
Everybody hates criticism, especially when it comes to something so personal as the artwork we've worked so hard to make. But without criticism an artist may have no incentive to improve. Many artists already possess a certain level of insecurity in regards to their own work. We are always our own worst critics, but when negative comments come from some unknown person we tend to let their words weigh heavy on our minds. For a lot of artists, this breaks them and completely destroys their confidence, but for others, it is just the ticket to taking an honest look at their own work and making the changes necessary to get to the next level.
This was demonstrated to me recently when I had some works critiqued. One of the comments I got back was that my landscapes lacked focus and meaning. Instead of getting upset and sulking around for weeks at a time, I took a good look at my work and tried to understand why the viewer had thought that. I could see in several paintings that the focal point was weak. I may have known what it was about, but it wasn't obvious to the outsider. I'd gotten too hung up on the references during the painting process, and forgot to use my own imagination and judgement to tell the story.
I decided to rework a couple of the paintings and see if I could 'fix' the problems. I no longer had the references images and worked from my imagination, letting go of accurate representation. It worked. I was able to strengthen the paintings and learned a thing or two in the process which will serve me well going forward.
One of the thoughts I'd had while reworking these paintings, is that I am not suited to alla prima painting. My works are always much stronger if I go back and rework areas when the paint has had a chance to settle, and the original reference image or idea has faded from my mind. I don't know what made me think finishing a painting on the same day was the way to go, because for me it isn't.
While it's always nice to have our work appreciated and lauded, never shy away from criticism for the important clues they can hold for advancing your work. Paul Arden said: "Do not seek praise. Seek criticism". I believe you will learn more from criticism than praise. Just make sure to consider the source before taking any negative comments to heart.
A peer, or fellow artist, is a more valued source of criticism than your spouse or parent who has little art education. While the neighbour may be ready with an equal dose of good and bad comments, they are (unless experienced in art) responding to their own sensibilities, likes and dislikes, more so than the specific technical qualities of your work.
"In any field, it's a plus if you view criticism as potentially helpful advice rather than as a personal attack."
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Roberta Murray, ASA