Giving and Receiving Critiques

13-bend-critique.jpgCriticism is a valuable part of our process as painters. Getting the opinion of others opens us up to possibilities we may have overlooked or not been capable of finding on our own. Being able to capably receive these opinions as well as dispense them is a skill we all need to acquire.

13-classroom-critique.jpgWe work hard on our paintings and do our best with the knowledge and skills we have. At times this makes it difficult to hear what others might have to say. Many of us are seeking validation and approval instead of constructive criticism. Before opening yourself up to scrutiny, make the decision to learn something from the feedback. You will be better able to accept what you are told. Get a wide variety of criticism whenever possible and scrutinize the source before accepting the feedback. Comparing the diverse comments and looking for repeated observations may help us to address ongoing issues in our paintings. Make sure that the critic is able to explain objectively the reasoning behind his or her opinion. Simply stating that he or she likes or dislikes something is a matter of personal taste and serves only to flatter or tear down the individual receiving the comment. An explanation of the “why” behind the criticism will enable an artist to learn from it. Seek feedback from those you hold in high esteem—it is hard to ignore. But keep in mind that there’s something to be gained from everyone. Many a good point has been made from someone that knows very little about painting.

When critiquing others, try to be objective. Create a dialogue with the artist and get a feeling for what it was they were trying to communicate; put yourself in the artist’s shoes and speak at his or her ability level. That way, you’ll be better able to explain constructively your comments and, with your criticism, encourage the artist to move ahead to the next level. Your purpose is not to make the artist more like you, but to help strengthen ability.

In the photo at top, the painters in my advanced plein air workshop on location in Bend, Oregon, meet for a group critique at the end of a long day of painting. Having feedback before approaching another painting day is useful; it helps solidify what’s going well and what needs work, and can help expedite the learning experience. (Photo by Elloe Jeter)

The second photo was taken during an in-depth classroom critique that I arrange every five weeks as part of an ongoing class I teach in Medford, Oregon. Much may be learned from critiques of other students’ work, and a dialogue is encouraged with the artist being critiqued.

Critiques are a useful artistic tool, helping us to better communicate
and offering a reality check for what’s successful and what needs
attention in our paintings. Always listen to your internal voice 
before handing your final decisions over to another. Remember, “It is but one person’s opinion.”

For tips on organizing (and operating) a local art critique group in your area, see the Professional Practices column, “The Art of the Critique Group,” by Schelly Keefer and Edward McKeown, in the December issue of The Pastel Journal.

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