A selection of student paintings from a recent critique held during my weekly class. I learn as much, if not more, from these routine critique sessions than the students do from my observations. Plus, they provide much needed artistic camaraderie.
Painting is a lonely endeavor. The bulk of artists’ creative lives are spent interacting alone with their subject matter and artwork. While many of us put considerable effort into listening for what a painting might be saying to us while we are painting, the only voice we really hear is that of our internal critique. This critical voice serves a good purpose. It is at times our coach, teacher, mentor, and cheerleader. The problem is that the internal critic is only as wise and nurturing as the artist.
To create a balanced sounding-board for our internal critique, it is imperative from time to time to seek feedback from external sources. This feedback can be attained in a multitude of ways. If you participate in an organized instructional gathering, a critique will generally be part of the curriculum. Depending on the class structure, these can be open to student participation or just the instructor’s opinion. A social artistic group that regularly meets can also provide a means for feedback. These critique groups can be specific to a certain media, exclusive or open in membership numbers, and at times facilitated by a respected professional artist. This can be a great opportunity for working artists to get a wide variety of opinions from other artists that they admire. When an organized group is not available, invitations can be made to local artists for a one-on-one studio critique.
Another means of attaining critical feedback is by entering competitions. As we all know, sometimes we win and sometimes we loose, but if it is consistent over a extended period of time, it might be an indicator of our abilities. Attending exhibitions when our work is on display provides another means of gathering feedback. While the public may not be as well verse in artistic knowledge as your favorite painting hero, they certainly know what they like and at times can be very instrumental in pointing out simple flaws we have overlooked. They, of course, are also the ones that will be opening their wallets to purchase. When all else fails, it is important to compare our works to what other artists have been doing. This comparison can point out weaknesses as well as validate strengths.
No matter if your internal critique thinks you are the best or worst artist that ever picked up a pastel stick, feedback will be helpful. It can sort truth from fiction and keep artists grounded on their artistic journeys.
Read more about how to get feedback—especially if you’re an established artist and no longer in a classroom setting—in the December 2011 issue of The Pastel Journal available on newsstands November 15 or right now in the northlight shop. Click here.