Deep Thought Thursday: Seeking criticism (are you asking for it?)

Criticism: The analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of an artistic work.

Using the above definition, do you seek out criticism of your art from others?

How do you prepare yourself for it? What do you do in response to good and bad criticism?

Image ©Vickie Martin, Edge of the Universe

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24 thoughts on “Deep Thought Thursday: Seeking criticism (are you asking for it?)”

  1. Hi Alyson,

    What a great question. Over time I think we learn how to take criticism. Mike Dooley of says to listen to all criticism. I think you have to sift out the meaningful from the mean. Before I exhibit a painting I have a very knowledgeable friend, who understands my work who comes to my studio and tells me her thoughts on each painting. Her criticism feels more like suggestions, because she is diplomatic and kind. But if I follow her suggestions, I always produce a better painting. I think it’s vital to seek out criticism from people who “get” what you’re trying to do. They can look at your work subjectively and give you feedback that helps you grow.

    Great topic and great blog.


  2. Tricky question. I’m curious to know how people perceive my works and how they interpret my expression of concept/thoughts. There’s a lot to learn about your audience, yourself as an artist and your community – how you connect and communicate via art – when there’s a dialogue exchange arising from a critic or criticism of art. Of course, my ego can be bruised when I hear a negative criticism of my work. On the other hand, if I hear nothing but positive things about my work, that can be troublesome too. Because, ultimately, I’m looking for something to kick off a conversation. Those conversations can take my art down a pleasantly unexpected path of discovery.

    I also wonder from time to time, if it’s beneficial to work in a vacuum. Can criticisms taint my thoughts and creative process? How do they / can they change my work? I’m still trying to discover the right answer for me.

    Cynthia Fedor

  3. Alyson,

    Great blog topic. I have a good art pal from grad school who comes over to look at the work through a strictly formal lens. She does non-objective/abstract work as well so she knows what my intentions are. I get out a pad and pencil and she goes through each one telling me what she sees as the problem areas (again having only to do with composition, color, balance, etc). I don’t respond. I just write what she says down. Later, I look at each work with her comments and decide what to fix. It’s invaluable.


  4. This is a tough question, Alyson, because I don’t want to be overly influenced by what other people think of my work. Just the other day I showed images of two paintings to my mother, and she liked one but not the other. I happen to like the one that she didn’t, and I found myself questioning it, thinking things like, “Well, maybe it’s not so great after all.” And also thinking that maybe I should produce more like the one that she did like. But then everyone’s opinion is different, and I can’t please all the people all the time. So I try to stay away from other people’s opinion of my work, unless it’s a trusted friend who is only going to give me helpful suggestions on composition.

  5. Alyson,

    Excellent question! I prefer the term “feedback” to “criticism”, as feedback sounds like a good thing – criticism, not so good. If any artist exempts themselves from feedback/criticism, they are really harming the future of their work, as you need to be open to doing things differently to grow as an artist, or human being for that matter. I am not an artist, I work with them, but I have found that the typical artist, no matter how humble in general, really has an ego as big as the sun! They don’t find feedback very pleasant and it generally takes a great deal of time for some to realize that it’s for their benefit – and to turn it into an opportunity for growth. I often have to say. “Stroke your ego, or fill your bank account?” Some would still rather nurse their egos and call it “passion”!


  6. Alyson B. Stanfield

    Barbara and Constance: Good point. Seek criticism from the right person.

    Cynthia: I think all artists need to be in solitary confinement from time to time. They need to have their own space. But, then, getting out in the world–from a place in which it has been so protected–can be a bit jarring. There needs to be some balance.

    Cassie: Oh, Mom’s opinion is a whole other topic, huh?!

    Tara: (Just focusing on one of your comments here.) I understand embracing the word feedback, but I do think that artists need to get used to the word criticism. They don’t call ’em art critics for nothing. And there are PhDs offered in art criticism. I don’t want to dumb things down. We need to teach artists to use words that are used by the establishment.

  7. I’ve always found that getting criticism is a wonderful thing, and something that is vital for growth in my work.

    However, it wasn’t until recently that I began to favor the feedback from those that are not versed in the vocabulary of the visual arts. I still enjoy a good debate about my work, and the work of others, through the lens of academic art criticism, but I find it far more valuable to hear a phrase like “It looks like bird poo” when someone sees something I’m working on.

    Sometimes just having a phrase like that can really make you take a look at what you are producing, and often makes me work harder than when someone uses all the fancy schmancy art words.

  8. I work very hard to do my very best & then when I’m done I know, I really know, if something is good or not…If I think it is good, it goes out into the world, & no matter what anybody says, I know it is good…If it is bad, I paint over with a thin layer of one colour, & start again…
    I like to hear teaching information from outside, like, paint your edges, or the signature is unnecessary, or mix some white with your darks…More complex teaching is also welcome & I seek it out, from other artists, biographies of artists, & smart people…
    But, value judgments I don’t pay attention too as much…If you try hard & you think it is good, maybe for a beginner, but at your particular level, then it is good…for you…& that is most important to remember…

  9. I value any critique. It means a lot to me. It helps me to see things in a different light.
    I listen and then decide if I need to follow up on it. I don’t have to do anything about it, unless I choose to.
    It is important for artists to separate themselves from their work. If you are asking someone to tell you what the think about your work, then you are soliciting a response, so you should listen to it no matter what they happen to say. An unsolicited critique means that someone is interested enough to comment, and it is a place to start a dialog.

  10. If the person giving you criticism leaves you feeling like getting back in there and painting some more, chances are it was a good “crit.”

  11. If my galleries have some technical aspect of hanging or materials they wish to comment on I listen and as often disagree as agree (which means I take that particular piece out and bring another in). Otherwise, criticism is strictly opinion, not fact and I neither seek it out nor pay much attention to it. Being mostly self taught I’ve never had to submit to the intense competitivenes I have *heard* happens in BFA and MFA venues. I create because something wants to be created. I provide a conduit for it. Many times things I’m not in love with knock the socks off the person who eventually buys it. phblt to critics and criticism.

  12. I think it would be great to find a couple of people who were able to give some helpful criticism – but tricky to do that. Suggestions people give me are sometimes helpful – e.g. “Have you ever thought of trying to paint larger?” etc., but these aren’t particularly “critique” kinds of comments.

    I like Sari’s thought that if what you’re doing now is the best you can do for where you presently are, and it satisfies you, then it might be ok. But we probably will want to find ways to grow beyond that level – through reading, experimenting, and maybe listening to some criticism.

    I just saw a catalog of work that has been submitted for a local invitational fund raising auction – and I was struck by the thought that there weren’t a lot of very interesting pieces (to me). I know a number of the artists and can see that technically much of it is very good, but it doesn’t grab me emotionally – and doesn’t particularly look like it grabbed the artists either – but it will sell well, I suspect. I wonder what kind of criticism the works would invite.

  13. I invite you all to consider just what purpose art critics serve? Do they serve to “translate” or interpret the artist’s obscure work for the ignorant public? Hardly – one can seldom make sense of a professional critic’s diatribes, even with a thick dictionary to hand. Is it to make the artist’s work better? Hardly – they are seldom qualified to clean the artist’s brushes, let alone help them to improve their work. I put it to you: the professional critic’s goal is twofold: 1) Self-aggrandizement, (making themselves seem more important to others) and 2) Suppression of anything greater than they are (making themselves seem more important TO THEMSELVES.)

    A teacher may make suggestions in the process of teaching to try & help the student achieve what they’re after – that is not the same thing at all, as a critic rendering his opinion of a finished work. Whether the critic’s opinion is positive or negative, it is still destructive to the artist. Critics are poison, and should be avoided at all costs, regardless of the intimidation tactics they use to gain a foothold in the art world.

  14. I think this is an interesting topic too. I am always so surprised when I see artists ASK for a critique of their work. I never do. I went through the BFA, MFA drama. I heard enough criticism for a lifetime. However, sometimes I forget there are those without this experience and artists who are in the beginning of their careers. Considering this, I understand why some might ask for outside opinions. As for me, I have been an artist a very long time. I do not seek criticism (good or bad). I know what I am doing and I know it is what I want to do. LOL
    Sheree Rensel

  15. Alyson B. Stanfield

    Robert: I couldn’t agree more. Part of the process I use in The Relatively Pain-Free Artist Statement involves having a dialog with someone who isn’t familiar with art. You’ll learn all kinds of things!

    Miriam: I wonder how an artist goes about separating themselves from their work. I’m just not sure that can be done. I hear it being offered as advice all the time, but I know that my business is personal and I couldn’t separate myself from it. I’m not able to advise artists how to do this. Would be interested in hearing how you do it.

    Philip: Did you read “The Crit” chapter in Seven Days in the Art World? Great chapter!

    David: Tell us what you really think! 😉

    Sheree: Interesting. Criticism serves different purposes at various points in one’s career.

    All: I wonder if those who have learned art through a process involving crits are more open to them? Or, as with Sheree, less open to them? I wonder if there is a fear of the unknown from those who didn’t learn art in a formal environment.

  16. It isn’t fear of the unknown. Fear isn’t involved (at least for me). It’s a recognition that my art is what it is. What others think about it is an *opinion* no matter how much (if any) art training they’ve had. Why should someone else’s opinion about my work out rank my own opinion about my work? I’m with David Lloyd Stewart.

  17. If you have an open mind, you will learn something from almost everyone who comments on your work. It doesn’t mean you have to change it, or let it direct you in any way. Sometimes we get so close to our work that we don’t know what it’s saying to others. Asking and listening, and absorbing others reactions can deepen your satisfaction with a work, send you in a new direction, or show you things that you were missing. That kind of feedback is invaluable. You, as the artist, simply decide where to take it from there. Without comments, or critique if you prefer, there’s no dialogue about the art. Without that, what’s the point?

  18. My! What a discussion!
    I can only speak for myself, but I like to hear how others interpret my work. Even from an “expert”, I may not take it as a “thumbs-up/thumbs-down” be all and end all. If there’s something I like about it, it stays! (Course I’ve never had an art critic comment on my work, so what do I know?) All I do know is I want to hear what others take from my work, so I can see if it’s close to the intend message.

  19. I can definitely see wanting to get feedback from your audience – art is, after all, communication (or perhaps more accurately, the QUALITY of communication). That is one of the reasons I continue to participate in fairs & art markets where I can interact with customers directly, instead of selling only through galleries.

    But asking for a critique is asking the viewer to TRANSLATE your art into verbiage, where the art loses every time. I definitely believe we must be open to feedback, but observing reactions from the public, firsthand, is all the “critique” I need to improve my work. In fact, I love it!

  20. Every artist has to follow a path to what feels right to them (you might say that art should be good, acceptable, technically proficient, marketable, etc but I don’t think that’s the point).

    The process begins with a learning curve that can’t be skipped. Seeking out teachers (not the general public) during this learning curve can help the artist decide what THEY BELIEVE will help them towards their best self expression. They may choose to disregard standard, generic teachings and stretch for something else, something unique or even anti-art.

    Once you reach a certain level with your art, I think it’s useless to ask for or react to criticism. Your path as an artist cannot be affected by “The analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of an artistic work.” This would presume that there are standards and practices that artists should follow and get scored on, that’s not true and it’s counter-productive.

    How in the world would an observer know if your art were on the path to its zenith? If it was a pretty color? Or looked realistic?

    So, no, I never ask for criticism. When I was learning, I had many teachers (artists I could study to decide my own path) but critics served only to de-motivate me. Now I am the best judge of what I create. That’s as it should be. The real question is “Who is art for, the consumer or the artist?” I believe it exists for self-expression. The viewer’s reaction is secondary and might be quite unfavorable. That doesn’t make it any less “art.”

  21. Tara, I was taken aback by your comments:

    “…I have found that the typical artist, no matter how humble in general, really has an ego as big as the sun!” and

    “Some would still rather nurse their egos and call it “passion”!”

    I think you should have stopped at “I am not an artist.”

  22. Criticism comes with the territory folks. I don’t think any of us “seek” out criticism in the negative sorts… but, being artist’s we are bound to run into it in our careers.
    It is so important to have a thick skin or even more so, to remember that NOT everyone will necessarily like our art. Or maybe NO one will like our art – does it matter? Create art, for artsake. Not for others.
    Words I live by…
    “My greatest enjoyment is, once I put the brush down and “show” someone the painting… it is no longer MY experience, but THEIRS.”
    -Jennifer Phillips

  23. In college, I had a printmaking prof who insited on in-depth critiques that had to be at least 50% positive. Sometimes, you really had to rack your brain to find something good to say, but it was an excellent exercise that has always stayed with me.
    I am not given to sweeping statements anyway, but you can usually find something positive about a piece of art. As for my own work, I seek feedback from people whose opinion I respect, then I take it or leave it. Other artists can definitely give you a different view of your own work, and that’s a good thing. It keeps you from becoming complacent, as well.
    I don’t ask for critiques from people who know nothing about art. It serves no purpose. I have friends who judge art solely on subject matter, which has to be “pretty”. I don’t ask them what they think of my work. Occasionally, when we come across a piece of art by a third party, I hear, “that looks like a 5-year-old did it”. I hide my irritation and don’t pursue it. Life’s too short.

  24. Pingback: I’m glad this isn’t my EKG « MosaicMoods

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