How to give advice

Dear Artist, Recent emails asking for advice prompted me to give further thought to the business of giving advice. Believe me, I’m deeply honoured when people trust me with a half dozen jpegs and the question, “What do you think?” Further, it’s exciting to know that some subscribers are getting valuable advice from other subscribers. As noted by “Buttonwood” in The Economist magazine, “If you ask enough people you will eventually find someone who will tell you what you want to hear.” Recent studies show investment gurus make big bucks telling investors what stocks to buy, sell and hold. I’ve always suspected that these advisors make more dough by advising than by investing. We artists often give advice for free. Because of the unpredictable nature of life, humans may be hard-wired to ask for advice. A few others may be hard-wired to give it. Some psychologists think the main benefit of getting advice is to avoid personal regret — if someone’s advice is bad or disappointing, it’s their fault, not yours. Funnily, many advice-seekers already know the answer to their questions. They just want to hear it from someone else. But they also know that experienced eyes can often see faults and weaknesses and may be in a position to suggest fixes. I advise advice-givers to follow the advice of the Roman lyric poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus, generally known as Horace: “Whatever advice you give, be brief.” 1. “Your work is interesting.” You’re safe here because all work, even bad work, is interesting. 2. “This part is excellent.” There’s always a good part in any painting, and this observation relaxes the receiver and permits you to home in on what you think they need to know. 3. Now comes the part where you need to be of optimum value to the asker. Try to figure out the one main thing you think might truly be of use to them. It may be about composition, drawing, colour or whatever. Try to make your advice specific, illuminating and memorable. Don’t confuse people with lesser concerns. For what it’s worth, that’s my system. For the record, it would be great to hear your advice on the delicate art of advising. Best regards, Robert PS: “Maybe you can’t give advice to an artist.” (Louise Nevelson) Esoterica: I often think the best advice is what I call “Osmotic advice.” This is where casual remarks (particularly in workshops) are overheard and inadvertently soaked up. It helps if the remarks were intended for someone else, but in your private wisdom you secretly know it was intended for you. Here’s an example from the great workshopper Tony van Hasselt: “The ‘s’ curve can be found in the human form, in animals, plants, flowers, in anything alive. Keep the straight lines for structures, created from ‘dead’ materials.” You can take that sort of raw gold into your studio and forge with it. Tens of thousands of specific gems like this one can be found in our Resource of Art Quotations.   Tailor advice to artist’s level by Celeste McCall, Southlake, TX, USA  

watercolour painting
by Celeste McCall

It’s very important to know the level of the artist you are giving advice to (as a teacher you should be a good artist — student be wary otherwise). John Q. Public should not give advice nor should any artist seek their advice. Artists ‘see’ differently than most John Q. Public (Neurobiologist Margaret Livingstone’s book Vision and Art offers proof. Beginners need basics yet encourage them to move forward and only deal with design and techniques. Intermediate artists both want and need hard advice/opinions/examples to learn to ‘speak’ through their paintings by using elements and principles of art. Master artists don’t give one horsehair about what anyone else thinks. Who paints masterpieces? As Nicholas Simmons said, “If you have to ask, then you don’t know.”   Ask the artist by Cello Bennett, Cape Coral, FL, USA   In my dual role as vocal instructor and promoter of the visual arts, I am often asked for advice. I have recently learned that asking the artist, “How do you feel about your work? What do you think it still needs?” is an effective way to help her/him be part of the process, rather than merely someone receiving critique. This lesson was brought home clearly when I listened to Metropolitan Opera Conductor Paul Nadler, a good friend of mine, speaking with a young singer during an audition she sang for him. After general positive remarks, he asked her, “Where do you think you are right now, vocally and musically?” and “What would you like to achieve with your singing?” Then he used her input as a jumping-off point for offering suggestions on what direction she could take. Going forward I intend to use this approach whenever asked for advice. Instead of creating roadblocks, it opens up avenues to a fruitful dialogue.   When work is really poor by Bill Skrips, Blairstown, NJ, USA  

“In the wall”
mixed media
by Bill Skrips

This is one tough issue. It is quite easy to give empty, general praise but where the rubber meets the road is to be constructively critical. Unless you are someone who is willing to pronounce devastation on the advice seeker, you have to work really hard and open your mind to find redeeming elements in some folk’s work. I recently heard about an NYU professor passing this off as advice to an artist: “If you think this work is passable, you are in the wrong business — have you looked into accounting?” Why not just refuse to give any comment and be a better person for it? In this I think is where we find teachers who excel: even if their students prove to be poor or mediocre artists, their mentors have tried to further their path as opposed to shutting doors in their faces. There is 1 comment for When work is really poor by Bill Skrips
From: Jackie Knott — Jun 19, 2012

I can’t imagine how devastating that comment by the NYU professor was to that student. Not cute, not constructive, and certainly not worth the ridiculous debt students and their parents shoulder and sacrifice for to attend university. That student came to learn not to be browbeat. Neither is that teaching.

  Try discussing content by Annie Cicale, Fairview, NC, USA  

“Illuminated Quilt”
watercolour painting
by Annie Cicale

As an art teacher for over 30 years, much of it in workshops where I meet people on Saturday morning and say good bye on Sunday, giving advice is dicey. I don’t know their background, and what they are capable of hearing, so I am cautious with advice. Many have not been to art school, so the language of design is new to them, as they are trying to learn to compose, draw and work with color all in one fell swoop. I’ve heard of more people having been turned off to “doing” art by overly zealous critiques in workshops than have benefited from them. So I limit my advice to just the topic at hand, rather than the big picture. I try to point out what I see, without a value judgement of, “That’s right — that’s wrong.” A few design pointers help, but I try to spend most of the time discussing content; does this image portray what you want to say? However, there are some basic mistakes that many beginner/intermediate students make, and I try to catch those if I can. Radioactive plants, with the ‘background’ painted as a contrasting outline before filling in the rest of the space, are one of the most common, although one student loved the idea that her peonies were radioactive, and developed a whole series of them. There is 1 comment for Try discussing content by Annie Cicale
From: Rose — Jun 19, 2012

Your painting is…Wow…

  Step away from the painting by Arnie Casavant, Chelsea, MA, USA  

“Luminious Soldiers Home”
original painting
by Arnie Casavant

Long ago I learned that a few kind words about someone’s painting goes along way and there are kind words for all. One should remember that when folks put the first brush stroke to canvas that they have entered into a love affair with that painting. Wiping away, or starting over, is a very difficult thing to do even if it were the best for the painting. They are married to that painting from the first touch of paint to the surface. I’ve enjoyed saying to my students, when they reach that, “I don’t like it” point, to “Step Away from The Painting.” Stepping away, like starting over, is difficult to do, almost as difficult as reaching for a tube of paint when the blob on your palette is running out. Stepping away provides the viewer and me with a different perspective where, most of the time, all I have to say is, “See, it’s not as bad as you think.” As you know, all paintings have a viewing distance (some of mine from a few miles away), but when we stand too close for the entire process we can dig an “unhappy” hole for ourselves. Not a good place to be for either the student, or instructor. So, my first comment when asked for advice on a painting is, “Let’s turn around, walk away, clear our heads like we have never seen the painting before and slowly turn and “look” at it for the first time.” It’s a wonderful moment of enlightenment.   Step up to encouragement by Lin Stepp, Knoxville, TN, USA  

“Delia’s Place”
cover design by Tracy Arendt
painting front cover by Jim Gray

Whenever you walk with some success in any professional venue, people often ask for advice. In creative judgment areas — often highly subjective — advice needs to be considered carefully. In a sense, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Even among pieces of art, writing, or music with popular appeal or timeless, proven value, we don’t all like it. Another point about people asking of their art, with eager eyes, “What do you think?” should be the realization that they are unsure of their work and its value. Self-esteem is at stake with the question. In some instances, they are questioning their own talent and ability, wondering if they should move on or not. When this is the case, words of advice are powerful and the content of that advice has to be carefully considered. Your tips on offering some positive affirmation before offering a specific tip for constructive improvement would be a good guideline for anyone who is asked for advice in a creative endeavor. Another effective method for offering advice is the “sandwich approach” which (1) Gives a positive comment or observation, (2) Offers a well-thought-out constructive comment in the middle, and (3) Closes with a positive comment of encouragement. This method sweetens the needed advice or criticism one needs to give in any situation — professional or personal. I utilize it in creative venues when asked for art or writing tips–in teaching, and in everyday situations. I like this quote by William Ward related to this topic: “Flatter me and I may not believe you. Criticize me and I may not like you. Ignore me and I may not forgive you. Encourage me and I will not forget you.” (RG note) Lin Stepp is a writer and a painter and her books are available on Amazon. There are 3 comments for Step up to encouragement by Lin Stepp
From: Nina Allen Freeman — Jun 19, 2012

We called this the sandwich method – I used it frequently when I was a counselor. It works well in all settings.

From: Suzette Fram — Jun 19, 2012

In business, dealing with staff, that was also a good method for evaluating staff and giving feedback on progress. First tell them what they’re doing well, then talk about where they could improve, and finally, discuss goals for the next year. In my experience, it’s always best to start with something positive, no matter the situation.

From: Rose — Jun 19, 2012

I always thought there is a difference between critique and criticism…

  ‘The Hamburger Method’ by Peter Wright, Vernon, BC, Canada   I was a member of Toastmasters International for many years. They have Evaluation Contests for speeches. Toastmasters recommends the “Hamburger Method” for giving advice. It’s a piece of meat between to two layers of bun. The first layer of bread is the “find something good to say” part like your example: “Your work is interesting.” (and why it is). The meat is the advice. I personally like to “add” to what the person has done constructively, if possible. The last layer of bread could be “This part is excellent.” With expansion on that. So, the advice starts friendly and encouraging, has something to add, and ends with more encouragement. All I did was rearrange what you already said. I’ve seen this method win many Evaluation Contests. For the receiver of the evaluation, it is really appreciated as it’s so constructive and encouraging. The end allows us to walk away with a smile, saving face.   Questions are the best advice by Bobbo Goldberg, Orlando, FL, USA  

original painting
by Bobbo Goldberg

Oh, advice. I’m an avid and willing listener, but advice is a different matter. When I trained as a life coach, some of my beliefs were reinforced. I’ve gotten encouragement elsewhere, too. 1) Most people know their situation far better than I do. Therefore, 2) The answers they need, in the proper timing and dosage, are within them. 3) Questions, not answers, are the road to good advice. 4) Sometimes all it takes is another eye on the problem, a different perspective, something they might have missed in all the angst. 5) Good idea to listen with eyes as well as ears. Note body tension, defensive postures. 6) Stephen Covey, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, makes two excellent suggestions: a) Diagnose before you prescribe, and b) Don’t impose your autobiography on others. Their lives are not your life. 7) What may work for you may be inappropriate for another. 8) There is no arguing with “yes, but.” Sometimes, despite claims to the contrary, a solution is not really desired. 9) People are more likely to act upon solutions at which they arrive, than those that come from another. 10) When my desire to help means more to me than it does to them, I’m doing it for me, not for them. Note that none of this is intended as advice. I mostly believe in good, active, empathic listening. Of course, evaluation of artwork, when solicited, is a specific kind of request, more a sharing of information than actual advice, or so it seems to me.   Advice for the receptive by Cindy McDonnell  

die on metal
by Cindy McDonnell

Rule #1: The person has to be open to the advice or don’t bother giving it. There is no upside to giving advice to someone who’s not receptive but there is plenty of downside. If they’ve paid for a workshop/lessons, they are generally open to it or they wouldn’t be there. Further, if you don’t have credibility, be careful about giving advice.              

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for How to give advice

From: marj vetter — Jun 14, 2012

I am fortunate to have a good friend and artist, Jeanne Theissen) whom when I ask for a critique, she tells the truth and has a great eye, sees the areas that need tweeking and tells me. And I always slap my head and wonder why I didn’t see it. Thanks Jeanne.

From: Marvin Humphrey — Jun 14, 2012

I like to imagine the advice that some of my favorite historical painters might give me. Looking at their paintings in museums makes it more real. If anyone asks me for advice, I ask what they think I would say, then go from there.

From: rena — Jun 15, 2012

Dr. Suzuki was famous for encouraging young musicians. One time a little violinist was playing for him, doing everything wrong and making screechy noises so awful everyone wondered what the Maestro could possibly say. When the child finished playing, Dr. Suzuki smiled and said, “You played the violin !”

From: Sarah22 — Jun 15, 2012

I usually ask the advice seeker if they had one painting they could hang in their home and look at everyday, what would they do differently?

From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Jun 15, 2012

Funny you send this letter now. I have a group of artists that get together to discuss the “business side” of the art. We will also be having a “critique” session and discuss how to critique. I will look forward to the responses to this letter. I also have a method that myself and just a few of my best art friends use. We are not allowed to tell someone how we would have done something in a painting. We ask what the artist was trying to accomplish. We ask them to tell us if there is anything that disturbs them. We also ask them if there is something they especially like. Now, having said that, if they are asking for specific compositional advice, we will pick out something (if there is something) and expound on the going idea (theory) that might help that area. We may also discuss temperature, aerial perspective, value, or color if the askee wishes it in the context of their painting. Our main thought is to find out what the artist was trying to say, and find out if they think it is successful or not. And, we want to see about three pieces, not just one.

From: bluehorsedancer — Jun 15, 2012

Re the Osmotic method: Ballet teachers have been doing this for centuries… in class the teacher calls out the correction with one student in mind. The entire class takes the correction…one can see EVERYONE “pull up!” “balance!” “breathe!” etc. Advice is uncontrollable. It’s how you listen to it and use it that counts. Ballet class was always a life lesson.

From: Carol McIntyre — Jun 15, 2012

I find it a whole lot easier to give feedback to an artist by asking them what they want to know? Put some responsibility on the artist and ask them: What are you trying to say in this painting? Why did you paint it? What question do you want me to answer? Otherwise, it is just a gamble and frankly, useless and a waste of time to respond to “What do you think?”

From: Linda C. Dumas — Jun 15, 2012

As a judge in the Visual Arts Scholastic Event – a Texas-wide event for students at all levels in art, we are trained to give “two glows” and “a grow” to each individual with whom we discuss her/his art. This is a wonderful way to look at art for the good things first. I just love interacting with these talented young people.

From: Leman Ludwig — Jun 15, 2012

Sometimes all an artist needs to hear is approval. Particularly at the beginning stages–you don’t want to discourage people too much.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Jun 15, 2012

Well, what I think is funny here is that Robert quoted a Female- Louise Nervelson! Boy-o-boy I’ll bet he never makes the mistake of only quoting men again. Of course, in order for females to get quoted they actually have to have said something interesting and important enough to BE quotable, don’t they?! And even more hysterical here is that Robert just wrote a letter on Shopaholicism- and the shopaholic was a Male. And then he didn’t quote a Female- about being a shopaholic!!! What? Couldn’t he find one? Where are those damn stereotypes when you need them!!!

From: Rene W. — Jun 15, 2012

Give advice only if asked. With that said, you must be diplomatic. Artists tend to be emotionally attached to their work and sensitive to what is said about their work. Being positive in your remarks can be helpful or asking where they got their inspiration to do the piece. Look at the work in terms of how would you do it differently and make remarks from your observation.

From: loretta hauser — Jun 15, 2012

I thoroughly enjoyed your advice on advice-giving. I am a college English teacher and use the same technique with my writing students. Students respond very well to that method. Many think they cannot write and give up before they start. Writing students often ask me to look at their first draft and say immediately, “I know it’s not very good, but I want your opinion.” I am more confident in my method now that I know another instructor–you–use it with artists and art students. I wish I could take your art class or workshop. Another professional artist and good friend of mine hooked me up with your e-mails. She was also my art teacher in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I struggle with composition more than anything. Oddly, I took a photography class–the old-fashioned, black and white, dark room and print paper type–and learned a great deal about composition. During every critique of our work she asked questions about formal design, focal point, contrast and leading line. It helped with my paintings which are often unfocused and too busy.

From: Julie Demers — Jun 15, 2012

A perhaps not-so-new trend now in education is ‘descriptive feedback’. Rather than telling someone that they did a good job or that their work is great, the focus is on describing what was done well, e.g, The way you used analogous colours in your painting really helped to create the quiet mood I think you were going for in this work. This type of feedback lets the recipient of the advice know in a very clear manner, what was done well, or what exactly that person needs to do to improve. Try this out yourself the next time someone tells you that you’ve done a great job. Ask them what they mean and when they get over their initial shock (because we rarely ask this kind of question), you might be surprised to discover that they like something you may not have considered was a strong point in your work, or that you both love the same thing about your work.

From: Terry Krysak — Jun 15, 2012

I don’t like to critique artists work in general, but this helps out very much.

From: Alex Nodopaka — Jun 15, 2012

Thank you for expanding on the saga of downsizing & scissoring masterpieces to sizes they deserve being. I mean $100 million for pieces that were not sold during the lifetime of the artist shows the absurdity of the art condition and their absurd propagandists. Here’s one more advice I’d name the mother of them all. Now, not to be funny but art collectors should take their garden shears and double or triple the number of chefs d’oeuvres they possess. After all it could be a lottery & doing so would increase their odds to finally own something extraordinary. Of course I hope in the process of size minimizing their blades get diverted into more than all the inappropriate sections and I hope they save the leftover to make collages and name the new creations Reductivism or Reducisim or to be really fancy Perdurism (from perdure), the art of making art last… lol. In doing so they might expand their knowledge of art and how difficult art making is.

From: Rick Rotante — Jun 15, 2012

On the one hand, many appreciate the advice you give plus the general benefits of your site. Whether the advice is taken or not it serves a valuable service. Doubts rattling around in your head are sometime cleared up when you can hear it from someone who has a shared experience.- note all the “social networking” done today. On the other hand I absolutely reject any advice from a stock broker- whose sole purpose is to make money for himself while losing yours. Keep up the good fight.

From: Roxanne Rodwell — Jun 15, 2012
From: John Ferrie — Jun 15, 2012

Dear Robert, I found years ago, I guess it started in art school, I was very concerned about what people thought about my work. I would take my paintings over to someone, often counting in the dozens, to hear the thought and pro’s about my painting. Acres of canvas, hundreds of exhibitions and thousands of triumphs and tribulations later, I really don’t care what people think. I mean, of course I want them to like it and buy it and chat to their friends about my work. But I don’t seek out peoples advice about my works anymore. I have a wonderful partner who is encouraging of my works and will do this odd “pause” when he knows and I know, a piece needs more work. But I do get asked to comment on peoples work all the time. It seems people really only want to hear that I think their work is great. I have painfully tried to steer people towards their strengths. And you are right, there is something good in every painting. But at the end of the day, people never listen to good sound advice about working through weaknesses in their works. Artists need to resolve themselves to the fact that 90% of the population won’t like their work…Yup, that’s right, 90%! Are you listening…anyone??? John Ferrie

From: Susan Greer — Jun 15, 2012

I find your advice on giving advice particularly interesting. I especially loved the part where you suggest preparing the artist for constructive criticism by providing at least one warm and fuzzy comment. Another iteration of this is the “compliment sandwich:” give them a compliment, give a critique, then give another compliment. Lastly your final comment on keeping it concise is brilliant since most folks can only take in so much at a time.

From: Kristi Grussendorf — Jun 15, 2012

just my two cents…Advice shouldn’t be given at all unless it’s asked for!

From: pam schader — Jun 15, 2012

Often, in critique situations, I encounter a work which just does not “click.” I refer mentally to the elements of art – color, line, form, texture, value and space. Immediately the missing ingredient is identified. An otherwise successful piece can be missing “Line;” the addition of which can bring it into resolution. Bingo.

From: Andrea — Jun 15, 2012

I have a friend who paints animals very well but they’re always cameos. I have said ‘why don’t you put them in a setting?’ as I’ve noticed the prize winners are dogs on porches next to rocking chairs, cats in baskets etc. She won’t, or can’t or doesn’t want to. I’ve given up, now I just say ‘lovely’.

From: Barbara Pence — Jun 15, 2012

I have always liked the approach of one of my favorite workshop teachers, Fred Graff of Ohio. In giving critiques at workshops, he basically followed your procedure, i.e. first pointing out the good things about the painting. Then, honing in on the one thing he felt most needed work, rather than using negative terms, he referred to the thing the artist could do to “strengthen the painting.” I thought it lowered the artist’s defenses even more.

From: Mike Young — Jun 15, 2012

We all have an opinion on what we like or do not like when it comes to Artwork. There is no bad art, just degrees of appreciation or indifference. The fact a work, or a part of a work, does not appeal does not invalidate it, or make it bad or even incorrect – its just different. So to advise someone else on matters relating to aesthetics is to express one’s own values – amounting to no more than a personal opinion about the degree of appeal it has to you, or may have to a wider audience. The vast majority of artists take aesthetic advice, though, as it offers an easy route to improve the odds of getting recognition. Also in a classroom or workshop sessions advice is appreciated because the student has coughed up hard earned money for an expectation of getting advice. That said, there is a place for advice: advice on technique can improve the efficiency and effectiveness by which an artist can achieve their desired result. Maybe the tough question we should be asking ourselves is, “Why do we believe there should be rules about what is right or wrong concerning aesthetics?” Outside of commercial considerations and a craving for recognition, aesthetics in artwork really affects no one in any absolute way. The approach using the good news (get ’em listening), the bad news (where you failed, failed), and the good news again (pick ’em up) technique – was once perfectly described to me as a “shit sandwich”. An excellent approach to turn people off.

From: Regina Calton Burchett — Jun 15, 2012

I always take advice better and try to give advice to other (requesting) artists in the “sandwich method”: First say something good – then give some constructive advice – finish by saying something good again. And never, ever say how much someone has improved! It’s a backwards way of saying they weren’t very good before and generally just sounds condescending.

From: Cindy Michaud — Jun 15, 2012

That’s why (when I am the student) I say up front: it won’t hurt my feelings, I paid the $$ for honest input. Others simply need validation and it is hard to know who wants what.

From: Brenda Behr — Jun 15, 2012

This is a tall order. When I am hard-pressed to find anything redeeming in it, there is nothing I hate more than critiquing another artist’s work Here are my three pieces of advice for artists. 1. Be slow to judge. 2. Draw every day. 3. Value value. There is no such thing as a failed painting, there is only practice for a successful one. I need to add, as long as there are artists who paint better than I do, I will remain a student. I expect to die a student.

From: Marion Boddy-Evans — Jun 15, 2012

I think it’s important to sprinkle in a handful of “I think”, “I feel”, etc. in to remind the person listening that it’s only one person’s opinion, not The Whole Truth. Advice shouldn’t be absorbed without thinking about what was said, who said it, whether you agree or not, and whether it fits with your vision for your art, no matter who’s giving it.

From: Lina Jones — Jun 15, 2012

I think your advice on how to give advice is excellent. Just one thing I’d like to add and that is if I see something glaringly wrong with someone’s work at my art group I always first ask permission to make a comment. I add that this is the way I see it, and it’s up to them to make adjustments or leave their work the way it is. And of course I always point out the parts of the painting that are working well. I have only ever had a positive response by dealing with advice-giving in this way and people are grateful to be treated with respect and sensitivity.

From: Elizabeth Gaye MacDonald — Jun 15, 2012

I’m teaching workshops, and giving advice is sometimes difficult. Because I have little time to get to know the participants it is difficult to know how far I can go with constructive criticism. Some people can take things very personally. How do you know what “not” to say?”

From: Maureen Brouillette — Jun 15, 2012

I will strive to keep my crits a little briefer and simpler. Thanks.

From: Linda Anderson Stewart — Jun 15, 2012

I have always thought being told my work was “interesting” meant the viewer hated it! Now I cringe at that word.

From: Nancy Hagood — Jun 15, 2012

I have been in a workshop and heard instructor say how great a piece was when actually it needed help! That one comment seemed un genuine, and made everyone else doubt the instructor! A very tricky situation! Whenever I give advice I say what I really feel might help, otherwise I just keep my mouth shut! Very interesting topic for us to ponder!

From: Elinor — Jun 15, 2012

I was wondering if you had some advice on switching from one gallery to another. I would like to find a new gallery in the same geographical area and hope you could give me some tips on how best to make a transition without burning bridges. I have been with a gallery for a few years now. I was very happy with the original owners, but they sold. When the new proprietors took over, my art still sold quite well, but there were all kinds of professionalism issues. I gave them the benefit of the doubt and figured they were just going through a learning curve. I’m not going to list all the issues, but things have not become any better, they are actually worse and it has become a very stressful situation for me. Thing is, they are still selling enough of my work. I’m afraid that if I begin approaching the other galleries …and of course it’s not a sure thing that they will take me on….that there may be repercussions. I’m guessing you may have had some similar predicaments over the years and would really appreciate some words of wisdom.

From: Claire Remsberg — Jun 15, 2012

I often realize in hindsight that I already knew the answer to the question that I was seeking advice for, but somehow the process of hearing someone else’s response helped me to trust or acknowledge my own intuition. This answer can be in agreement or counter to the advise given.

From: Madeleine Wood — Jun 15, 2012

This is a most surprising letter, instilling a quiet confidence in myself. I feel its truth, and glad that I didn’t go to you all those times I kinda knew the answer. It’s way too easy to second guess ourselves, assume someone else knows better, etc. We’re trained for this from a young age.

From: Bill Dolmage, Eire — Jun 15, 2012

When you “overhear” advice, it takes on a generic quality, which goes a long way toward the overhearer’s possible acceptance. Overheard advice does not trip on the barrier of the ego.

From: Jenny Linn Loveland — Jun 16, 2012

So many good comments here! I’m like-minded with Marsha Hamby Savage, 6/15. When another artist asks or seeks my opinion, I take this as a challenge to my listening skills because I’m most interested in what they already know. If they don’t tell me, I ask ‘what they like best’ about their work. The response usually puts them into a line of thinking where they identify what is bothering them about the work too. I may not agree, but I know ‘where they are’ in the spectrum of their development (knowing that being an artist means always seeking ahead). If there’s a bigger opportunity for them to consider, I’ll ‘own’ my observation by stating, “yes, and also…..”. “Osmotic advice” is so real

From: Trish McFadyen — Jun 16, 2012

“keep straight lines for buildings..” does not work if the Art Gallery of Alberta (in Edmonton) or any of architect Douglas Cardinal’s buildings are your subject. They are full of organic curves!

From: John Crowther Los Angeles, CA, USA — Jun 16, 2012
From: Catherine — Jun 16, 2012

Another issue: We should never make the mistake of providing advice to someone who hasn’t asked for it. Nothing I hate more than a fellow ‘artist’ who constantly knows better and provides unsolicited advice. A waste of time for all concerned. I agree with the advice to ask before providing advice or critique. Otherwise it should just be “how interesting”.

From: Gail Caduff-Nash — Jun 16, 2012

There is an artists’ website i go to that has a critique corner. It asks that we all do some critiquing and be critiqued as well. So i have. But recently there’s been what-i-would-term as really bad art on there and i don’t want to comment on it at all – which i realize IS another kind of critique. And i’m not usually like that. But there’s so much of it (some bad drawing, some bad ideas, some complete inexperience, some computer ‘art’ posted as hand drawn, etc.) that i just want to back away slowly. Many artists, including myself, are just shy and want to show work slowly, get the toes wet, before jumping in to the large audience. It’s good – your suggestions. No need to be mean to anyone generally. Unless i see one more unicorn . . . !

From: Gail Caduff-Nash — Jun 16, 2012

“No tigers; no drums” – i’m going to call my next painting that! ;)

From: Jackie Knott — Jun 17, 2012

Some artists ask for advise when what they really are asking for is praise or some kind of validation. Ditto to the above comment, “What do you want to know?” A constructive critique is when the artist knows there is a problem area and asks for input in how to improve or solve that specific problem. Such as, “I know there is something wrong with these shadows but can’t figure out what.” Now you have a baseline what to address. Whatever you say, refrain from “Now this is how I would have painted that ….” You didn’t. They did.

From: Ed Lank — Jun 17, 2012

Yes, there is a large amount of art on the Net that is so unworthy of making a comment on. It simply defies advice. It may be a fault of our times that people do bad things just in the hope that someone will praise what they do. This may be the result of the general very low critical standards for current expensive art.

From: Chris — Jun 17, 2012

I might ask for a more technical approach to advice from an artist (eg other options of colour I could have used to produce a certain effect) just to contine improving the quality of my workmanship. However, it is my observation, that asking an artist if they like your work is not the best option. Even the best are not truly objective enough to answer that question. Advice that is helpful and may not have to come from an artist is also good (eg. if I drew a small cart carrying logs, someone might ask “are those wheels big enough to hold that load? ……or that the apple on the left looks like it is going to fall off the table any minute. Most people are astute viewers. If someone decides buys my work, then they ulimately they have connected with what they saw ……..I am content with that. Of course, we will all second guess if that piece was ever good enough.

From: kongo — Jun 18, 2012

Andrea, your friend is most likely never going to listen to your advise. Real artists don’t. Likeliness of a real artist following someone’s lead is none. In fact your suggestion is offensive. Why don’t you paint those things yourself if you think you know how they should be done?

From: Tatjana — Jun 18, 2012

Years ago I remember getting jurors notes for declined works – the poor people were obviously forced to write them. They ranged from dull to amusing to hilarious. I remember a comment about a painting of two cats – “we love cats but yours look ominous”.

From: Michael Cole — Jun 18, 2012

As a physician, I also am asked for advice outside of the office. I always preface my answer with ‘Remember that you get what you pay for.’

From: Paulette Matlosz — Jun 18, 2012

I love your column, and appreciate your free advice, immeasurably valuable to me. Thank you for your honest, direct approach.

From: Public school teacher — Jun 18, 2012
From: Dabeny Mahanes — Jun 18, 2012
From: Hugo — Jun 18, 2012
From: Karen Gillis Taylor — Jun 18, 2012

I like to temper criticism with something hopeful the artist can think about. There is enough difficulty in the making of art. Pointing a way they might move forward into a possible positive direction is my idea of being helpful. Niwot, CO

From: liz — Jun 18, 2012
From: Tatjana — Jun 19, 2012

That’s a good story by Hugo, thanks!

From: Bernard Fierro — Jun 21, 2012

Tony van Hasselt’s comment about using only ‘s’ curves in the human form and in animals and plants etc. is nonsense. These forms often become much more interesting when combined with using straighter if not down right straight lines that can be found or exaggerated in these natural forms.

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Evening sail

oil painting by Wendy Chaney, MI, USA

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Richard Woods of Sparks, Nevada, USA, who wrote, “People who think they know it all are really annoying to those of us who do.” And also Susan Greer who wrote, “One bit of value I would like to add to your suggestions is the following quote: ‘Before you speak, think — Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence?’ (Sai Baba)” And also Karen Weihs of Asheville, NC, USA, who wrote, “Teaching is hard work, and you have to know a few psychological tricks to help with the art-speak. It is a different form of art; it teaches you. However, it is not for lightweights.” And also Kathy who wrote, “Please help me receive your weakly [sic]letters.” (Editor note): Read what artists have written and what Robert calls “Zingers” here.

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