critique, part three
A good critique, I think, is an in-depth, constructive conversation about an artist’s work; my last post gave some ideas for facilitating that dialogue. Key to a good critique is a degree of control that the artist has over the situation-- choosing in advance what to show, and in a situation in which you feel at ease, open, ready to speak and listen.
But most of us have found ourselves in uncomfortable situations that I call pseudo-critiques. More or less unexpectedly, you are confronted with unsolicited and unhelpful advice, criticism, or analysis. A situation like that is not to be confused with an actual critique, since there is no genuine conversation. They are more like sneak attacks, and put the artist in a defensive position. It may help to be aware of a few likely scenarios where pseudo-critiques may happen. These include:
At a gallery reception
. It may be argued that when the work in on public view, it is open for criticism, and that’s fine in a written review. But I don’t feel that the reception is the time and place --it’s hard enough for the artist to stand around for two or three hours being pleasant and outgoing without having someone lecturing about what changes are needed in a certain painting or that the work is obviously derivative of so and so’s. (Both are pseudo-critiques I have endured at openings.) After all the artist has been through to put on the show, the reception is a time to take in some glory and celebrate.
During an appointment with a gallery director.
The gallery needs to decide if work is in line with its vision and client preferences, but criticism is uncalled for. A restrained “I’m afraid your work isn’t a good fit for us” is standard, along with some polite chit chat to ease the tension. Of course, the artist might decide to ask for reasons if the work is rejected, and that could be helpful and informative, but it isn’t required. Many will find the situation to be judgmental enough as it is. (Again, I speak from experience, having endured –years ago--a humiliating lecture from a gallery director about my lack of color sense…I had to wonder why she’d agreed to look at it in the first place.)
With uninvited studio visitors.
When a friend or relative decides to drop in to an artist’s studio, you are should steer clear of any urge to defend, explain, or apologize for what you have going on. Quite likely the current painting will be in a state of chaos and confusion—at least that’s how the timing usually works for me. But even if everything looks great, an uninvited visitor should wait to be asked before saying much—even positive remarks can actually be unwelcome (such as the dreaded, “don’t touch that, it’s perfect as it is!”) Again, you may choose to invite dialogue, if there’s a gut feeling that this is the right time, and the right person. If not, it’s easy enough to treat the situation as the casual drop in that it is, and talk about anything but the art.
When guests scrutinize artwork hanging in your home.
One time, a visitor of mine told me that one of my dark charcoal drawings too depressing for the living room. I couldn’t think of a thing to say in response. Would we criticize anything else in somebody’s house? I suppose some people would, but considering the personal nature of art and artistic taste this is not a good idea. At the risk of being repetitious-- there’s no need to defend or explain.
When passers-by comment on artists working in public.
Artists painting on location are usually not doing so to attract an audience or a steady stream of comments, and they’re under no obligation to educate or entertain. Some may choose to do so, but at their own discretion. Most will be trying hard to tune out any distractions.
These scenarios all put the artist in an awkward, distracted or defensive position. How to handle them? The same strategies that work against you in a legitimate critique setting (see my last post
) can come in handy when you really don’t want to encourage the conversation. Or a polite (if slightly sarcastic) “thanks for the feedback” and a quick change of subject will do.
On the other hand, in any situation you can also make the choice to engage in dialogue about your work, if you are so inclined--if you sense that there’s something of value to be gained. The hard part (I know from experience) is to keep your wits about you and not get drawn in where you don’t want to go.
The painting above, Blue Vestige, is 24"x24", oil and mixed media on panel, finished today.