Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Critique: Making the most of it!

by Judith B. Carducci
Chair of the Cecilia Beaux Forum

When I started painting again after a 35 year hiatus, very quickly, greatly to my surprise, my work was much better than it had been when I stopped painting in my 20s.  One reason for this is, I am convinced, that I no longer had a teacher to tell me what and what not to do, so I had to critique my own work and figure it out for myself.  That is a wonderful learning experience.  However, it has its limitations.  As the old saying goes, “He who treats himself, has a fool for a physician.”  While we expand our own knowledge, it’s good to seek out others’ as well.  Here are some things I find useful to think about in seeking critiques from others:

Marie Gabrielle Capet, “Atelier of Madame Vincent (Labille-Guiard)” 1808
Courtesy of the Women in the Act of Painting blog, written by Nancy Bea Miller


Why do I want a critique?

•   For praise, affirmation/approval?  

•   Or do I have a specific problem I want help solving?


•   If affirmation, whose opinion do I respect and value?

•   If I have a specific problem, who would best have the experience with solving such a problem?

•   Will the person I seek understand and respect MY work and not trample on my vision and try to influence me to paint like somebody else?


How will I find such a person?  Some places to look:

•   Locally, who do I know and respect?

•   In publications, whose work speaks to me?

•.  In professional societies that have critique programs and vet the artists giving the critiques (The Portrait Society of America offers critiques for members)

•   Faculty at workshops or art programs or artist professional societies and meetings

My responsibilities…

Prepare for the critique. 

•   Be clear about what help I want and need

•   Be clear about the intent of my work – what I wanted to achieve

•   Know whether I want technical help or help in clarifying my vision

•   I will accept their comments graciously without becoming offended or defensive because I understand that I have asked for criticism and that may be exactly what I get.

•   I will thank them for taking the time to look at my painting and for giving me their thoughts and ideas.

My rights…

I am the artist, it’s my work and my goals, and therefore my responsibility and right to make the decision about what I find helpful or unhelpful in the critique and whether or not to adopt any of the suggestions.

My plan…

I find it useful, after having a critique, to spend some time alone (at the very least, “sleeping on it”) looking at the work and imagining it with the changes suggested. Sometimes I will decide to make a change, and at other times the contemplation helps me to solidify my thoughts on why my work is better without the change.  This is a good cerebral/aesthetic exercise that increases one’s self-confidence that s/he knows what s/he’s doing.

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