Crit crit


Dear Artist,

Yesterday, a young artist messaged: “I recently received my submission review for a juried exhibition, which was terrifying and exhilarating. Until now, it’s been the general public, family and friends’ feedback that have been hardest to sift through. Would you suggest I keep entering juried shows? Or should I use the juror’s crit to make new work before submitting to more?”


“Afternoon in Barcelona” 1958 painting by
Robert Motherwell (1915-1991)

Thanks for this. Inviting an artistic “authority” to parachute into your creative world for feedback can provide a valuable jolt of information. Submitting work for crit requires the ability to balance terror with the guts to uphold your personal path. Ask yourself a few key questions before deciding what to do next: Do you agree or disagree with the feedback? Can you see the juror’s points? How does it make you feel? And can these feelings be harnessed into something positive for your work? “Criticism is easy, and art is difficult,” wrote French playwright Philippe Néricault Destouches. With this in mind, here are a few more ideas:

To counter the risk of succumbing to a life of consensus taking, always be your own worst critic. It may take a little practice, but you should grow to understand what’s strong and weak. Summon the power to reject your poorer efforts. Weaker work is a springboard for refining ideas and recognizing bad moves. Be thankful for the lesson, then toss it to clear the path for brighter possibilities.


“Western Air”
painting 1946-47 by Robert Motherwell

All critics, curators, jurors, dealers and the like will have leanings you can’t control. “Remember that all is opinion,” wrote Marcus Aurelius. You don’t have to scorch your own earth because of someone else’s partialities. Instead, tweak and build an arsenal of knowledge.

As long as you make things, you’ll likely attract feedback. Those who don’t make, crit. If you have the stomach to proactively invite it, you can curate your jury box and use the wisdom to get outrageously good. Listen to the workers and learners you admire.

As for more shows, the time is now. Look for what’s interesting and enter the best work you have on hand. By always working and submitting, you avoid losing your creative flow. Try not to put too much weight on any one submission — momentum is the mother of outcome.


“Black Figuration on Blue”
1950 oil on Masonite by Robert Motherwell



PS: “I have spread my dreams beneath your feet. Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” (William Butler Yeats)

Esoterica: In the classic crit protocol, a “crittee” puts forward his work for a “critter” to assess for fundamentals, virtues, aspersions and possible fixes. The “crittee” may push back or rebuild after a devastating cut-down. All participate with the goal to improve. During one of our weekly class crits in art school, after listening to arbitrary softballs tossed between one student and the next, my third year painting prof suddenly lost her cool. “This isn’t a coffee klatch,” she huffed. “No more use of the words, ‘I like.’ Say something meaningful.” I had to respect her crit.


If you find these letters beneficial, please share and encourage your friends to subscribe. The Painter’s Keys is published primarily by a team of volunteers, with a goal to reach as many creative people as possible. Thanks for your friendship. Subscribe here!

“It’s not that the creative act and the critical act are simultaneous. It’s more like you blurt something out and then analyze it.” (Robert Motherwell)

In October 2015, to coincide with his centenary, Robert Motherwell: The Making of an American Giant by Bernard Jacobson was published. Motherwell was not only a painter, but also a teacher and theorist and always the intellectual among his peers. This biography, interspersed with illustrations, is an accessible introduction to Motherwell’s legacy.



  1. “Critics are like eunuchs in a harem. They know how it’s done, they have seen it done before but they cannot do it themselves.” ~ Anonymous

    I say, stay true to yourself. Beauty is personal.

    • I think you are SO right, Sheila, as is Sara…the artists should be very familiar with the basics of composition and drawing etc, study some of the masters’ works, see how they employed those baasic composition / design rules and practice that on your own paintings. I always caution myself that I will not please everyone so I now paint to please myself, the self that knows the ins and outs of design, colour etc. Really good art can evoke an emotion, not just copy a pretty picture. This is very subjective.

      • 84 years mostly full of painting…hundreds of juried exhibits…you win some, you lose some. Every judge is different. Keep working and entering. If it’s in you, never stop!

  2. Please tell me if you can answer the question posed at the bottom of this note. I’ve been looking… for years.
    When I was teaching Integrated Arts to upcoming teachers at a university here in Ontario, two things about “assessment and evaluation” were absolutely critical.
    (Assessment is dynamic. It’s the gathering of information. Evaluation is static. The end result)
    First… Build on a student’s strengths rather than focusing upon weakness.
    Point out and build upon what’s right rather than denigrate by focusing upon what’s wrong. The implications are powerful.
    Second… Use rubrics to level the playing field.
    There is no inherent bias in rubrication. Nothing ever smacks of favourtism. Everyone is ‘judged’ fairly on the same set of “up-front criteria”.
    So, we learned how to develop and use rubrics with a space on the rubric sheet for both teacher comments and student insights. Both of these focused upon identifying and building on strengths.
    Here’s my question:
    Has anyone anywhere EVER seen an art judge or panel use rubrics?
    P.S. As an aside… I just did a workshop for a group of wonderful professional artists. The whole session was built upon identifying strengths or “Hot Spots” in their own paintings and being able to articulate why this spot meant something to the painter … and then we moved on to how the artist can build upon this in future paintings.

    • That’s good advice, build on a student’s strrengths. What a good idea on using rubrics, never used it before, I’ll try to make one for my students, they are from age 5 to adults. Thank you.

    • I know of a very competent juror who holds 45% of his judgment for technique and 55% for creativity and magic. So potentially a highly creative work with low technique skills would win over a highly skilled technical painting with little creativity or magic.

    • I used to be a member of the jury committee for the Society of Western Canadian Artists in Edmonton, Alberta. As the number of entries grew so did our panel of jurors. To standardize evaluations and preventing the rookie jurors from giving arbitrary points based on their emotional reaction to the piece in question we decided to set up a checklist of what to look for and taught them how we graded each point. It makes for a very mechanical crit but it works in the long run. After a couple of years the rookies got the ‘feel’ for jurying and were able to give consistent points depending strictly on merit and coherence to standardized expectations and not on personal favouritism or bias.

      • Judy Roberto on

        Sorry Carol – this makes my head and heart hurt …”preventing the rookie jurors from giving arbitrary points based on their emotional reaction” and “After a couple of years the rookies …were able to give…points depending STRICTLY on merit and ….standardized expectations”.
        This is why one should never take a crit too seriously, as it has thrown the baby out with the bathwater !

    • If by a “rubric” you mean a rating sheet with items like originality, design, unity, etc. then yes, of course. I’ve seen these used many times. If that’s not what you meant by rubric, please enlighten me.

  3. Mary Manning on

    Sara, This column stopped me in my tracks. Every national/international contest entered this year, I have not been accepted, but this has not stopped me from experimenting and selling my paintings. Feelings run deeper than ever, but a thicker skin allows rising above the fray and continuing to work.

    Another solo show coming in December so I have plenty of work to do! Thank you for this piece.

  4. Maritza Burgos on

    Hi Sara;
    Nowadays it seems everyone is an “expert” on ‘something’, so whatever your occupation you are at the receiving end of ‘crits’ . To be a creative soul requires stamina,perseverance and self belief, not the the kind of arrogant “I am great or exceptional” self importance, but the kind of self belief that comes from having a clear vision of what you want to create and achieve.When you choose to share your vision,creation, you let it go and invite in its place other people’s perception and subjective perspective of your vision,some of it will be praise,positive reinforcement, constructive crit, oyher will be less kind, it is then up to you to choose what to take on board, but I believe in the end what matters is that you keep dreaming and creating.
    Warm greeetings from ‘down under’. Maritza Burgos, Melbourne Australia

  5. I’ve just finished an MFA program here in New York; my work was critiqued regularly (it’s part of the requirement), both one-on-one, and in a group; Artists and heroes to me, such as Vincent Desidario, Steven Assael and Eric Fischl viewed and critiqued my work. Of course, it’s always great when they DO say, “I like,” but no matter what they said, what primarily became clear to me, is that they were all coming from their personal consciousness; the sum total of THEIR lives, training, experiences, etc., was what was primarily coming to the surface of their views-it quite literally had very little to do with me. Yes, of course, it most certainly is all opinion, and some more learned than others; but as long as I remembered that they were leading with THEIR own consciousness, I highly enjoyed the experience, and learned a lot.

  6. In this day of instant “like” a simple mindset is placed in motion and can easily carry over into art crit among peers…I’m building off Esoterica above. I wonder how many art instructors actually take the time to offer a course in constructive criticism. Several years ago I had the privilege of being in such a setting…a panel of professors offered an open critique with slides (remember those ) being show in a small theater with the artists attending. It was such an informative experience…artist’s were invited to give short feedback if desired. My textile work was given an astounding review and provided impetus for my continuation on this path of discovering my artistic voice. Just a personal thought and perhaps a process that can help enlarge the “like” component of our contemporary culture…

  7. As an artist and Professor of Art at a Major Eastern University I have experienced and watched how ” critics and jurors “make decision jurying art exhibitions. The juror was a major curator and director at a major museum. What the juror was most interested in , was how the total work he selected looked liked to secure his authority as an ” Art expert ”
    He was more concerned about his reputation and the look of the show , and picked works that reflected ” a look”
    rather that quality

    Same thing about applying to art galleries. Observe the style of work the gallery represents, is it super realism, impressionistic or abstractions . If your work is expressionistic figurative,, you don’t go to a gallery that represents Impressioniistic artists. Simple as that . Save a lot of wasted time and show leather ..

  8. Really good advice Sara. Love your quote: “momentum is the mother of outcome” and having what you call a personal “jury box” built on listening to those you admire and learn from. That’s why I love to get your letters – they help line the walls of my jury box with insights. Thank you, Jane

  9. Criticism. Nobody likes it. Everybody wants it. It is hard to be a selecting judge in an open competition. You go into it knowing you will have a certain number of entrants dismiss you as irrelevant. The only important judging goes on in the studio. You make it. You judge it, suck it up and put it out there. We have only our own criteria to help us explore the world and try to describe it.

  10. What I do is keep a running list of the best of the “jewels” of criticism. I tell beginners about my list. Two of mine that come to mind now are: 1. Is this an early one?
    2. Imagine how relived you’ed be if you just got rid of all of this!

  11. There is NO such thing as a critee. There is a critic who critiques, and an artist, who chooses how to respond to the criticism/critique. Nothing is being done TO the artists. They get to decide how to respond, whether the comments are points that will help them grow, or whether they (the artists) will continue to follow their own muses.

  12. Ole Pathfinder on

    I am just an old guy out in the sticks. I really am not too worried about what anybody thinks about my work as long as I am happy when I look at it. Of course, I haven’t been totally pleased yet and probably never will be. Having said that, there are a few people within my reach who’s opinion I do respect and try to profit from. My first foray into a juried art show resulted n one piece accepted out of three submitted. No awards for it, but it did get in. A side note, the one accepted was the one I liked the least and had only included it at my wife’s insistence Go figure. All three pieces were critiqued briefly. The crits were short, to the point and, for me, did open my eyes to what I now can see as weaknesses in my work. I also recognized the comment about classroom softballs. I am part of a studio that has been together long enough that we can be a little more real with each other. We do still remember who’s work is next and layer the tarts with plenty of “softballs”. Crits can be helpful but kindness is good too.

  13. When I have judged, I never say, “I like.” I say something like, “What works in this painting is a fantastic color scheme. I see a good use of contrasting values.” Or perhaps, “One interesting thing about this painting is what was left out.” I go on to explain what I mean. I might say, “This painting would be even better if the colors were repeated in other places. related to each other.” I have also been known to say, “You have a unique style that is working for you. Don’t let anybody ‘teach’ you out of it. “When I judge art, my chief concern is for the competitors to understand why I chose certain pieces for awards. I am one of the School Art Committee judges for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. I learned to talk about art in more objective language. I have now judged quite a few league shows. I try to give each artwork a good examination and to judge quiet effectiveness AND the”Pow” factor. I might add that I am not necessarily the best judge of my own art. If you really favor one of your works, try it with different judges or exhibitions.

  14. Literary criticism, properly, is the attempt to recreate what the author created but to do so in critical terminology peculiar to the medium, genre, and narrative form. –F. Armstrong Green

    Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, for that is taste. Beauty is the attractive power of perfection.
    –Ananda K. Coomaraswamy

    • Thank You for the last quote by Ananda K. Coomaraswamy… “Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, for that is taste. Beauty is the attractive power of perfection.” You just opened my eyes!

  15. Laughing – there was a classic joke. The teacher asked the Mother if she had any tips for helping her child be his best in class – “Easy” , she replied, “Just say something to the child next to him!” Your article made me sit up and take notice and go down the list of things that I KNOW I must correct on some recent paintings. Tee hee….that was fast!


  16. A: Entering juried shows is a path to recognition. You will never get in them all- so you’ll likely end up with a file of acceptance and rejection letters. Both are valuable. Some may have critiques attached. Read ’em and weep. Or jump for joy. And then get over yourself and grow up.

    B: This path to recognition is an honorable one- and may also come with awards attached. Beginners- see A. But AN AWARD is just that. Reputations are made over time. Work is created over time. So nobody gets off on getting just one. One is just a new beginning.

    C: Robert Genn repeatedly stressed the gallery system- and if that works for you- great. It’s simply an assumption that it will work for everybody. As a 40+ year male fiber artist- it’s never worked for me. So the juried show path can/may be viable for you- throughout your creative lifetime. But you can’t do that if you are afraid of being rejected- and in this world of trophys for nothing- as an adult- you may find yourself on the receiving end of that stick- and it can be a very big stick. So grow some balls.

    D: If you can’t take being critiqued- get out of the kitchen. Really. If you’re not actually intentional about being able to hear other’s views on your work- you’re living in a fantasy-land bubble. They may be valid views. They may be invalid. They are only opinions. But not hearing them means you’re either too weak to go on- or a pompous self-righteous ass. Take your pick.

    E: All-Of-The-Above.

    F: YOU are the only person responsible for motivating yourself to make fabulous art- but becoming fabulous takes time and is a hell of a lot of work. Do you have the self-motivation to make it to the top? Because quitting and giving up is the other option. While I know people who hobby paint (or quilt- or anything) I DON’T. I came here to challenge the starving artist belief structure- and ultimately destroy the starving artist paradigm. So if I die tomorrow because I don’t have any food- then it was just a good day to die. Then the prices on my work will skyrocket- as value after death is implied on every page of the starving artist handbook.

    G: Go for it. On the first day. And on every day thereafter. But invite criticism. If you can’t defend both what you are doing and why you are doing it- you shouldn’t be wasting yours and everybody’s time- doing it.

    In a few hours it will be one week since some ass killed 49 of my brothers and sisters in a GAY dance club in Orlando. I acknowledged my not/heterosexuality in 1966 at the age of 13- but I got attacked when I was 8 because I’m an ARTIST- and didn’t/don’t care about (perceived) masculine shit like sports and war. I’m an internationally recognized award winning MALE fiber artist- and I’m a fag. You don’t like me? I don’t care. Your god says I’m the bogeyman- the satan- the evil? Your god lies through your religionist teeth- because I’m a 100% Creative Original. Sorry Sara- sorry Robert. I’m done being nice.

    • Hi J. Bruce… I’m sorry for your loss. I enjoyed your passionate comments about criticism. If we’re passionate about art then we pick ourselves up and carry on… eventually. It’s also noted that it’s very hard to be ‘nice’ sometimes, especially after experiencing loss and pain. Fortunately being creative provides healing for most of what ails us. I hope for you and I, that we can regain our ‘niceness’ at some point in the future before we die! All the best… Anne.

  17. Thank you Mitzi. I had to look it up.
    Rubric: It has a number of definitions. One of which is the heading of a printed page, often in red.
    Rubr= red., the color.
    And it can be a list of criteria for judging.

    The best art critic I have met was a teacher. He had the knack of putting himself inside your mind and seeing what the direction was you were aiming to reach. He did not turn out students who did copies of his own style of work. We were a mixed group of adult students. Other teachers in that school thought we were worthless, amateurs. There was one woman in our class whose work looked to me almost naive; it was fluffy and romantic, frilly. I did not like it. But he saw something in it that made me take a second look. He saw something in her that I had not seen and encouraged her to go her own way and she grew. She will never be an academic painter but that was not what she was all about. He called her work “Sweet.” I had thought Sweet was not good. His work was definitely not sweet. But I learned to see her work in a different way, as unique, as I listened to his critiques. She was a very feminine woman. Her work was also very feminine. He told her not to try and change her style, in other words, not to let anyone teach her out of her own way. I do not know how she fared in Juried shows. I do not even know if she ever entered one. But she did make legitimate art. It was art that grew out of herself and her experience. I grew while watching how he treated the work of this woman. He saw her as she was, not by some set of rules. Donna

  18. I’m an older, self-taught artist and find that living in a cultural backwater is very demoralizing when it comes to showing your art. There are people who love my work and those who hate it. I am encouraged to know that if Kahlo, Dali, Bosch, Van Gogh and others were exhibiting in my town they’d get no praise. As I haven’t learned all the beloved ‘techniques’ my work will never be considered good enough to be considered for anything. This saddens me but I still enjoy painting from my subconscious and paint and exhibit whatever I like. This way I can satisfy my inner rebel as my outlandish and weird creations are exhibited with the usual landscapes and bird paintings. I do paint people’s pets and my birds are renowned, however, they are not my passion. I have been told many times that I should paint things that people ‘like’. Critics are a dime a dozen… Dali’s and Kahlo’s are rare creatures still idolized by many today. I’m not in it to be idolized but I won’t be told what to paint. One of the comments suggested a good judge/juror should basically ignore their ‘feelings’ about an artwork. hahahaha… what’s the point of looking at art that doesn’t evoke any feelings? I’ve been to galleries and walked out 10 minutes later not having felt a thing except disappointment. I have values and standards but I can’t abide bland.

  19. Pingback: The Art of Taking Criticism | Whidbey Allied Artists

  20. Charles Eisener on

    As a strict amateur, I would tend to agree with Anne. When I look at work another has done, I either like it or do not like it. The real question for me is why? What do I like about this piece? What do I not like? The analytical follows the initial visual/emotional response. The process is somewhat akin to learning from others’ mistakes, except that it may not have been a mistake in any sense of the word. Just because I did not respond in a positive way does not mean the artist failed; perhaps I have failed to appreciate their vision.

    Jurors are people too. They all have their inherent bias and soft spots. If you know prior to submission who the juror(s) are, do some homework! Submitting pieces in a genre that they do not appreciate would seem counterproductive; it may be better to select another show .

    It has been shared by others, and probably is the most relevant comment one could make – listen to the opinions of others, but be true to yourself.

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