Painting Evaluation | Know the Goals


The hanging of the Pastel Society of America’s 38th Annual Pastels Only Exhibition for 2010. Photo courtesy of Jimmy Wright, PSA.

Sitting in judgement of another’s artistic efforts should to be taken seriously and done with sensitivity. Everyone that picks up a brush or pastel stick is hoping to communicate with his or her audience. But, since we are so close to our works, we often lack perspective. This leads us to seek the advice and approval of artistic peers.

Two common means of receiving this input is through critiques and by entering exhibitions. It is imperative to understand our intentions before doing either. Are we looking for technical advice that may resolve a painting dilemma or are we looking for validation for the hard work we have done? Both are valuable but very different in expectation.

With a critique, we are interacting on a more personal level. A dialogue is established to gain advice and clarity. Be direct with the critic. Communicate your desires: Is it specific to the nuts and bolts of a certain painting or are you looking for conceptual guidance around the direction your paintings are going. A good critique can facilitate both (click here to see my earlier blog on the subject).

The goal in entering exhibitions is to receive the approval of painting peers and to gain exposure to a wider audience. When pastel was considered a minor sketching medium, groups of visionary artists banded together and formed several societies. These societies then mounted exhibitions to gain exposure. This has lead to dozens, if not hundreds, of “pastel only” exhibits every year across the United States and other countries. With the current popularity of the medium, the number of entries has risen. Being accepted into one of these exhibitions can no longer be taken for granted. Often as little as ten percent of the entries are selected. When it comes to the prizes, even fewer will be recognized. This should not discourage entry but add to the validation of acceptance and make us work harder.

Whether we are seeking criticism or entering a national exhibition, it is valuable to remember it is merely one person’s opinion. I was reminded of this recently when ask to be the juror of awards for a major national exhibition. The work was stunning and the task of placing awards daunting. After considerable time and effort, the award pieces were chosen. A few months later, I was in attendance at another major national exhibition and noticed that the painting I had selected as best of show was in the exhibit, no small feat considering the number of entrants, but had not received even an honorable mention. This didn’t lessen my opinion of the painting but instead reinforced my belief that whenever we place our work out for criticism or judgment, we are merely receiving one opinion on any given day; so keep it in perspective. Congratulate yourself when you win, console yourself when you lose, but remember tomorrow is another day in front of the blank surface.


Did you know that the instruction Richard McKinley has shared in the Pastel Pointers blog and magazine columns has been collected into a book? The book by the same name is available now for pre-orders and will be ready for shipping in late November. Click here to check it out in the new, expanded NorthLight Shop.

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3 thoughts on “Painting Evaluation | Know the Goals

  1. Vianna Szabo

    Great post Richard! I would like to add that there can be a big difference between local and national exhibitions. I began entering national exhibitions a few years ago after a series of rejections from local shows. A friend had mentioned that it was just as easy to get rejected from national shows and my thought was “what the heck, why not pay the jury fee to those who are well known and whose work I admire.” I have been fortunate to receive good recognition from entering on the national level. This has led to new contacts in the pastel world and has been a positive experience overall. So my thought on exhibitions is to look outside of the local art scene and test your skills on a national level. It can’t hurt!

    Vianna Szabo

  2. Vanessa Turner

    Thanks so much for posting this. A great article and certainly one which I need to come back to every now and then. It’s easy to get caught in a cycle where you validate your work and the worth of your work through juror opinions, exhibition critiques etc.

    Yet everyday opinions change and certainly the people viewing your work, the audiences, change so you never know what tomorrow will bring. It’s always best to simply stick to your art philosophy, keep your passion going and put your all into it,t he rewards will follow surely.

  3. Carol Eaton Preston

    I like the content of this blog Richard. I helps to explain the whole process and give hope to those of us who flog ourselves when we are not accepted in a juried show. Thank you