Critiques Along The Way

Critique_Grop_TNFrom our days of shouting “Look Ma, no hands” when we first balanced a two wheeled bike, we’ve looked to others to recognize and hopefully applaud our accomplishments. As artists we would be advised to seek constructive criticism from others who are sensitive to the process of creating art and are aware that our art is a personal expression of who we are.

I believe as oil painters we travel the path to master our craft with a common goal of accurately expressing our view of the world with our own recognizable style. Some of us have been on the path longer than others and have reached this specific goal. It is not a race and every artist travels at his own pace.

When one declares themselves an artist they become one with other artists who understand and appreciate the process of laying bare your emotions on canvas. It would be unfair to compare a beginning artist with an established artist; realistically, to compare artists is like comparing the “incomparable” apples and oranges.

I offer two critique stories about my art work and the lessons I learned. As a young artist I was thrilled to even call myself an artist. I moved to the desert southwest, immediately connected with a gallery and an article was written about me in the newspaper. New in town I hoped to meet other artists and soon an offer came to sketch and paint at the home of a local art patron, Winifred. Winifred, known as Win, loved the arts and artists. She built a state of the art studio behind her home, hired models and invited local artists to her facility.

After several weeks I felt comfortable with the group and was approached by Win’s daughter, also an artist, who suggested I might bring some of my paintings for Win to view. I agreed and thought it might help me progress to the next level. So I arrived at the next session with six of my freshly painted desert scenes for Win to critique.

I lined them along a wall and Win began to pace back and forth in front of them. It seemed like ten minutes went by and the suspense was unbearable. Then, what did my naïve, wondering, artist’s ears have to endure? Scathing, emotional, colored words spewing from Win’s mouth. I couldn’t believe her vicious tone as I gathered up my paintings and fled, resembling a beaten dog dragging his tail between his legs as she yelled after me, “How you think you are able to paint at all is the ultimate question!”

After the attack I came back the next week to sketch because I was afraid I would never create art again. It was my last visit. I realized her attack was unprofessional. A critique would have suggestions about composition, perspective, edges, color harmonies or some useful hint to improve. And if someone had forewarned me, I could have tried to thicken my skin to tell the old “Win Bag” she was in no position to critique art. Her critique was emotional, lacking constructive criticism and thus was not a critique at all. So there!

My second critique story is short and sweet. At a workshop at Kevin Macpherson’s studio in Taos, his class was outside painting around his pond. I could overhear his suggestions to the other students and every comment he offered was very positive. When he got to me he told me an area in the upper left of my 8 x 10 painting had some nice qualities to it. I actually thought it was messy looking but realized it conveyed more emotion than the other more precisely painted areas. Near the end of the workshop I told him about my observation and asked if he ever pointed out something wrong in a student’s painting. He said, “I encourage the artists with the things they are doing right and hope they will figure out on their own what isn’t working for them.”

What a contrast between these two critiques: one tore me down and the other built me up. I learned that a critique is really just an opinion. However, when expressed by a professional artist who has painted acres and acres of canvas and speaks from that experience with positive suggestions, it is invaluable. Learning to paint is a process and patience is to have its reward when all the disparate elements of creating art come together for you to create the art you dream about.

As a footnote, writers are artists too and the majority of the OPA Guest bloggers are practicing artists sharing their knowledge and insights, much like Kevin Macpherson did with me. OPA’s talented web designer has created this blog for us to enjoy with a simple way to send a comment to the bloggers to let them know if they connected with you.

Feedback inspires us and everyone benefits from reading other artist’s comments.

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