What does critique mean to you and your art?

Winter Swim • 6 x 10.5 Oil/Mixed Media

Winter Swim • 6 x 10.5
Oil/Mixed Media

When I was in college taking art classes my absolute favorite day of the week was critique day.  Oh ~ am I the only one?  Possibly.  While I proudly arrived in class and put my work on the display board and took my place up front, others sidled in, put their work up and either sat as far in the back as possible ~ or left the room all together.  I knew even then that those artists would never make it if they couldn’t withstand the pressures of critique.  Hmmm….maybe I started building that thick skin earlier than I thought.

Scary word, Critique.  For some it can bring to mind mean tenured professors picking apart and tearing down every inch of their creative soul, or snarky classmates, or insensitive gallery owners, or (insert your own scary image here).

For me, it meant “time to grow”.  I was excited to hear feedback on my work ~ what worked, what didn’t ~ and most importantly why.  I was also extremely interested to hear feedback on others’ work as well.  I knew I could learn from their strengths as well as the things they needed to work on.

These critique sessions also helped me to learn how to edit incoming opinions about my art ~ I learned how to evaluate with a cold eye what was valid and what to dismiss…I mean seriously, not everything everybody says to you in critique is WORD ~ just like you can’t simply dismiss all feedback, you can’t take it all to heart either.  There is an art in and of itself to discerning the difference that can only be learned over time and with much introspection.

Speaking of introspection, what about self-critique?

I got a lesson in this at my first real graphic design job…or maybe it was more self-editing (I think the two are connected ~ maybe the same thing…?).   I worked for a small ad agency and one of our clients was a car dealership.  I was excited to get to do a full page 4-color ad~ Wow! Color! Yay!.  And I went to town on the color….boy, did I ever.  My boss (who was an amazing mentor) looked at my masterpiece thoughtfully then simply said, “Just because you have all the colors at your disposal doesn’t mean you have to use them all.”  I swear, I still remind myself of this.

So how do you self-critique or edit?  How do you know when something you’re working on is done?  I wish I could give you a good answer to that ~ for me it is a gut reaction…I just know…the same way I just know it isn’t done.  If it is a painting, it has to evoke something for me.  There has to be a balance, a flow, a flavor, a feeling.  If it is a pattern or a surface design the same applies, but perhaps in a more graphic manner, less emphasis on the evocative, more on the tightness, the pleasingness. Cold wax artist Rebecca Crowell has said that she has criteria that her pieces need to meet for them to feel done.  While she can enumerate them for you, she admits to just “knowing” when they’ve been met.

And, as my husband will remind me when I struggle with a piece ~ They can’t all be home runs, you’re going to have some dogs.  And he is absolutely right.  That’s when I stop trying so hard and just put it away and move on to something else.  Now and again those dogs come out and turn into show hounds, but sometimes they remain mutts, no matter how hard I try to fancy them up

So what does critique mean to you?

This topic was prompted by an interesting blog post ~ a creative (and much more eloquent) conversation between two artists, Rebecca Crowell and Janice Mason Steeves ~ in regards to critique.  You can read it here.  (Janice is teaching a 5-day class in June at Cullowhee Mountain Arts in North Carolina, called Visual Language and the Art of Critique)