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When is an art critique useful? (or) To critique or not to?

Yesterday a blog friend posted a work and ended the post with 'what do you think?'. That innocent question immediately caught my breath because as a viewer and an artist, I think I might be harsher than the normal blogger. The question causes me consternation because I try to be honest and real. I can't stand polite vapid wasted interactions for any length of time. If someone is going to ask my opinion why would I want to lie? So do I risk giving it if it isn't all accolades? The blogger might appreciate it but will everyone else leaving comments think I am a scourge? How do I know if someone is looking to grow or change? How do I know when I am supposed to just say beautiful and leave it at that? And ultimately how can anyone judge another person's work? Aside from technical aspects who can say something should be other than what it already is?

So here is the thing, this isn't really about their work so much as how that question brought up more issues that lurk inside of me pertaining to art and art shows; how delicate it all feels to show people your work that is open for feedback and interpretation. I don't know the artist well enough to know if they really want feedback if it's not all yummy. I liked the piece but I did feel like it wasn't completely finished, it felt like a safe thing to say what I truly liked about it but to also delicately interject what I felt could be an area that tweaking might help.

It was just last Friday I went out looking at art and when I came home I told my roommate (he was with me looking at art) that I felt like I have been lying lately. The more I go out and look at art I find myself holding back what I really want to say. ( I call that a lie if I am only saying the good things but avoiding the not so good). Because there were flaws in pieces that were so obvious on a technical level that it was like a pink elephant that no one wanted to talk about. (interesting enough in reading the book last night 'Art & Fear' it referred to imperfections and that no art can be perfect if made by human hands so get over it and enjoy it) Right now I feel I am in a phase of my career/self that I am just noticing away. Observing and taking in all kinds of art and situations and trying to get a collective sense of it all.

When you have an Art Blog, if you are going to post pictures of your work chances are people will either not say anything if they don't like it or they will just leave monosyllabic comments with lots of exclamation points. I'm not saying I don't appreciate it when people do that, but I always appreciate more the comments that actually talk about what it is they like, or even go so far as to ask questions about it. I mean really, I am not here just to have a show and tell and entertain everyone. I'm not posting work to have applause as much as sharing what I have done and yes, actually assuming people will click to my website and find work they like and buy something. It has happened already and that was extremely rewarding!

And I think I have more sympathy for non artists looking at art than ever before. Part of all the awkwardness and strangeness of attending an art opening surely has to do with issues of how much do you say? What if you don't love the work? What is expected or desired from YOU the viewer? If you were more 'educated' about the work/artist would that help you to understand things? Would it made a work more interesting to you? Do you even know what to think or how to feel when you look at art? Are you aware of any of that? I could ask a page of questions. But maybe I should give in to the fact that showing art is much more complicated than I could have ever imagined. I never thought about this shit before. Never went to art openings. Never had any idea. I just thought when I saw art, wow that is expensive. How can they charge so much for that? I never really looked, never considered the journey of the person who made this. If the work was the beginning of that artists journey into that genre or the middle...the end?

Remember a few posts ago I said the gallery I am in is going to have a speaker talk about my work (and 2 other artists)? Well I had wondered if the critic was going to want to talk to me first....ask why I made what I made etc. The gallery told me that basically I have to trust that they hired this speaker on both the gallery's and my behalf to sell art; and that if I am going to risk showing my work 'out there' that I have to be willing to be at risk for critique ...good OR bad. And I do trust that I'm not going to be embarrassed, but I also am reminded again and again that by dint of showing my work anywhere (online, galleries, etc) I am indeed risking people not getting it, not liking it and not cheering me on. Bottom line, I have to be willing to hear good and bad. Is it important to only show work to people unless I feel good about it? Much as I don't like to admit it, I've learned more when my one trusted art 'critique' sees a piece and tells me what doesn't work about it for him than when ten people oohhhh and ahhh it. Sometimes its impossible to be confident about is vulnerable stuff. Sometimes negative feedback is more necessary than positive. I guess for me, an art critique is useful when it comes from a place of encouragement, honesty and trying to teach or educate me on how it could be better. It is up to me to take it or leave it. It is my responsibility to recognize if I feel I've done all I want to or can with the piece or am I willing to push myself a little bit more and aim a little higher.

I'm still sorting it all out. This post brings up even more questions for me. To be continued no doubt!


Unknown said…
I struggle with this about photographs and writing. I get my feelings hurt as much as the next guy but it is also a challenge to always read between the lines as in, oh, no one commented on that one, maybe it sucks.
I did review a book by an author I had been blogging back and forth with. Last I ever heard from her. Coincidence? I doubt it since I gave the book an honest and not 100% glowing review. Sigh.
I'll never tell you I liked your piece if I didn't. I still doubt I'd have the guts to pan it.
PennyBlue said…
I think it's important to be honest, when asked your opinion. AND it can be done kindly and still with honesty. I think if you have any respect for artists that you should be honest. It's all good in the end, as different people see things differently. So whether the blogger takes you advice/opinion to heart is not really essential. You are simple offering them another interpretation or opinion of their art. Personally I think you did quite well. (wink) And I believe there is more waiting for your wonderful insight! lol Love ya STA!
paula said…
sarala: I think its important to let viewers know IF you even want 'feedback'. The blogger yesterday asked, innocently or not, what do you think? If I post a piece and I don't ask that, one could assume that I am done with it, pleased by it and you can take it or leave it.
I guess if someone feels compelled to say something negative about it by dint of me showing it that is the risk I take. I admire you for having the courage to give a critique and be honest. You aren't a spiteful person so I have to assume you did it in an innocuous way...too bad you never heard from them again.

Complicated isn't it? You might not like a piece I made based on your own personal asthetics...but if you don't like it because of a technical issue I can't take that personal can I?

Even so...if you dislike something strongly enough it would probably behoove me to know what it was that hit you wrong. :)

Blue Jude: 'simply offering them another interpretation or opinion of their art'. I like that. thank you. thanks too for inadvertinly starting an interesting dialogue!
Anonymous said…
You know, I find your gallery's reactions to your questions about the speaker to be a little naive. If the goal of having the speaker is to generate interest and sales (and why else would the gallery do this0 then it makes complete sense to have that speaker do his/her homework about the art and artists. Asking you to "trust" is plain stupid. Marketing isn't about trust, it's about preparation.

As for critiques, I'm never a big fan. I'm curious about how others react to my work, but their do not effect WHY I make what I do, or how I make it. What one person sees as a glaring technical flaw may be the heart of my idea. It may not work for them, but as long as it works for me, that's what matters.
paula said…
this is an interesting learning experience for me. you get to see once again, an artist who isn't quite sure what they are doing but wanting to get exposure. I know this guy isn't going to blast me because he is trying to sell the work, I did what I thought was a good thing by asking if I could talk to him, or at least wouldnt he want to talk to me. No go. I'm not going to pull out of this based on that. I'm looking forward to it, but I am disappointed that there isn't the kind of involvement I would have hoped for on my end.

I agree with you about the critique stuff. Sometimes I personally need to bounce off a piece to someone and not so much to be told something as to see their reaction which sort of confirms something I already knew but couldn't or didn't want to face.
I think this is a fascinating discussion you've started here. I think in a blog context, I would only offer criticism if the blogger specifically asked for it or if I regularly visited that blog and commented and had something small and negative to say about a piece that I also had good things to say about. I generally try to say specific things about why i like a piece when commenting, but sometimes its difficult.

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