Art making is individualistic and thereby an isolating pursuit. No matter how certain an artist is of her intent and method, there is always some doubt about the outcome. Of all the feedback artists get about their work, feedback from colleagues should be the most valuable.
Looking at art postings on Facebook, I rarely see any comments other than congratulations or praise. Remarks such as “beautiful” and “love, love, love” are all too common. Rarely is there a question or substantive critique. I understand that Facebook may be too public a venue for art criticism, but even sites limited to professional artists seem resistant to true criticism.
I am reminded of a painful lesson I learned in third grade when a teacher asked for comments about a classmate’s piano performance. An avid piano student myself, I pointed out the flaws and problems. My classmates did not appreciate my honesty in the least and I became persona non grata for some time. I learned my lesson about the social value of keeping one’s opinion to oneself and stopped speaking my mind in class.
Honest criticism is sometimes perceived as unkind or even mean. In a public setting, people want to hear positive opinions. That has become the social convention to which the adage “If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all” applies. However, if something is worth saying, shouldn’t it be said?
I exhibited some of my sculptures at last year’s International Encaustic Conference. I was very excited about the work which consisted of monochromatic sculptural reliefs. The visitors to my corner of the lobby were very positive. However, I received a critique from one artist about contrast. The comment was so simple and “spot on” that I consider contrast every time I work in my studio.
Making a serious assessment of another artist’s work takes time and the effort of critical thought is really an act of generosity and respect. It is different from supportiveness, which I believe to be interpersonal: more about one’s relationship with the commentator.
I am not suggesting that we stop being positive and supportive in our comments. Support is very valuable but should not come at the expense of honesty. I would like us to be respectful of one another as professionals by being open and clear in our assessments of one another’s work. As artists, we have undertaken a difficult and competitive path that should not be deflected by negative criticism.
I think that a critique should consist of an attempt to understand the artist’s intent and evaluate success in achieving it. The artist’s technique should be assessed, as well as other considerations such as content or concept. References to other artists’ successful works in the same context can also be helpful.
I propose that we set aside a specific venue for an honest critique. The gains that can be made by a well-placed question or intelligent remark can be great. Let’s be honest – but in a place just for artists. After all, we do understand each other.