I was just commenting mini-ranting on a post on Alyson B. Stanfield’s Art Biz Blog. I have been following her artbizcoach.com site for a while now and bought her terrific book I’d Rather Be in the Studio! The Artist’s No-Excuse Guide to Self-Promotion. This post got me cooking though, on a sore subject for me… art critique.
As an artist (writers, dancers and musicians also count), how many times have you received unsolicited critiques (with the best intentions) by relatives, teachers, and complete strangers? How many times has it been suggested that you do ballet after your tap recital? Show your wares at the fruit and vegetable market even though the price point is not compatible. Heard these comments…
Hmm, hmm, uhm. Hmm. What does it mean?
Why don’t you paint some pretty flowers?
Can you paint my cat/child/husband/motorcycle? (said while they admire your abstracts)
Can you make one for me in green? I like green.
What were you thinking when you painted this (were you high)?
Then there are the unspoken comments…
But that doesn’t look like a pear.
The perspective is all wrong.
Why doesn’t she make it more realistic?
Why is it so expensive?
I don’t understand this.
Why on earth would someone want to have this in their living room?
But that’s just my point! Sometimes art is ugly!
Every artist has to follow a path to what feels right to them (you might say that art should be good, acceptable, technically proficient, marketable, etc. but I don’t think that’s the point).
The process begins with a learning curve that can’t be skipped. Seeking out teachers (not the general public) during this learning curve can help the artist decide what THEY BELIEVE will help them towards their best self expression. They may choose to disregard standard, generic teachings and stretch for something else, something unique or even anti-art.
Once you reach a certain level with your art, I think it’s useless to ask for or react to criticism. Your path as an artist cannot be affected by “The analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of an artistic work.” This would presume that there are standards and practices that artists should follow and get scored on. That’s not true and it’s counter-productive.
How in the world would an observer know if your art were on the path to its zenith? Maybe if it was a pretty color, or looked realistic? I don’t think so. There have been too many artists rejected for creating works that were merely ahead of their time.
So, no, I never ask for criticism. When I was learning, I had many teachers (and artists I could study to decide my own path) but critics served only to de-motivate me. Now I am the best judge of what I create. That’s as it should be. The real question is “Who is art for, the viewer or the artist?” I believe it exists for self-expression. The viewer’s reaction is secondary and might be quite unfavorable. That doesn’t make it any less “art.” I know Alyson understands this because she has museum experience and business experience both, so I was a little surprised by her post (she doesn’t give her opinion about asking for criticism in the post.)
The best art affects the viewer coincidentally, a bonus for the artist and the viewer. The best art can make you feel euphoric — or it might make you feel awful but you know it’s the truth, and the truth hurts. The best art is the artist turned inside out. For you, the artist, the best art is yours and yours alone, unconditionally.