Creative Darwinism

Dear Artist, Recently, Jane Murdoch Adams of Toronto, Ontario, Canada wrote, “I’m part of a 55-member artist-collective gallery. New members have suggested that we create a process to critique and give feedback to those who want it. I’m trying to convene a think tank to mull over this idea. It’s tricky and could end in tears! We have so many questions as to how to do it. How, for example, do we make sure the process is objective, positive and encouraging? We don’t want to upset people. Is a crit forum even worth doing?” Thanks, Jane. Here are a few thoughts: Collective crits usually don’t work very well. There’s a tendency to be kind, supportive, gracious, inclusive and pleasant. To grow in art you need to be a rugged individualist who pilots your own spaceship. Kindly crits may not be much better than your mom’s. Further, as well as a vindictive barn-burner, there’s always a long-winded, self-ordained pontificator. As Lao Tzu (4th Century BCE) pointed out, “Those who know do not speak; those who speak do not know.” If you have to have a crit, consider an anonymous one. One way to do this is to put envelopes on each work and invite members to silently stew over them and anonymously put their brief suggestions on file cards. Upon opening the envelopes, artists can find everything from practical info to “This person should not be in this collective — he’s not ready.” It makes for a fun evening. Perhaps the most valued crit is one that is given by an independent outsider — a respected artist one day and an art dealer another day. The difference of opinion between these two critters can be alarming. Another useful and democratic system is to simply ask your own members to anonymously pick the five best and the five worst. You need a handout list of titles with a place to tick them off. With peer artists, hired gurus, or even folks off the street, no matter what the style or type of art, there’s often a surprising consistency of opinion. Just for practice, we’ve put a selection of Jane’s work at the bottom of this letter. We’ve included her email so you can correspond to her directly. If you want your remarks to be anonymous, send them to us and we’ll quietly pass them on. She’s tough — she won’t cry. Best regards, Robert PS: “What a genius, that Picasso. It’s a pity he can’t paint.” (Marc Chagall) Esoterica: Commercial galleries function best as dictatorships. In my experience the benevolent ones tend to fail. Collectives, because of their democratic nature, can also be plagued by lower standards. Dictatorships expel the weak and the imposters. The best-run commercial galleries maintain genre balance and artist bailiwick, understand their market, share the magic they believe in and dictate with their own character and preferences. Depending on their integrity and modus operandi, a few are known to regularly and brutally bump off weak artists or poor sellers — no discussion necessary. In artists and galleries alike, it’s survival of the fittest.   Jane Murdoch Adams

“The Broighter Boat: Finnoula”
acrylic/mixed media
36 x 48 inches


“Life Boat Toronto Harbour #4, Tugboat”
acrylic/mixed media
38 x 49 inches


“Stone Boat # 3”
acrylic/mixed media
31 x 38 inches


“Hallowe’en Fish Over Toronto Island”
24 x 36 inches


“JRA Toronto Harbour”
mixed media
31 x 22 inches


“Bird Energy Fervent”
mixed media
36 x 24 inches


“Milkweed Pods & Butterfly # 2”
31 x 22 inches


“Sky Boat # 4”
mixed media
25 x 25 inches

            Frank friends by Natalie Fleming, St. Charles, MO, USA  

“Fall colors”
watercolour painting
by Natalie Fleming

I belong to a water media society in which critiques are always kind, generous and not very informative. I also belong to a group of 8 artists who work in watercolors, acrylic, oil and fabric art. Their critiques are frank, often not complimentary, but with suggestions on what they think would make the work better. These suggestions are open to others’ opinions and can be accepted or rejected without hard feelings. We have all remained friends, and I find the fellowship and crtiques valuable.   Advice for critique groups by Russ Williams   Interesting and surprising letter. Critique groups often work quite well for writers (despite the same risk you mention), so I’d expect similar systems would work well for like-minded artists. (If you are right, I wonder what the difference is.) A key is to have a group which shares the common goal of critiquing their works so they can improve (as opposed to just saying nice stuff to encourage each other, and as opposed to just trashing each other’s works to feel smugly superior to each other — another common risk). Some useful techniques/rules: Make sure that the goals and procedures of the group are clear to all and accepted by all. Critique the work, not the creator. Say something positive if possible, not just all negative, about the work under critique. Say what does work as well as what doesn’t work. Don’t try to make the work conform to your own style or preferences: critique it in the context of the style, goal, intended audience etc of the creator. Don’t go off on time-wasting tangents (“This picture reminds me of a similar one which I saw on a trip in Japan in 2008, by an artist whose name I forget but it will come to me in a minute, I’m sure, anyway, it was a lovely woodcut print, blah blah blah”) The artist being critiqued can request any and all feedback, or request specific types of feedback (e.g. “I am unhappy with the faces on the people, so I welcome suggestions on how to improve them.”) There is 1 comment for Advice for critique groups by Russ Williams
From: Louise Francke — Feb 08, 2013

I belong to a group of 6-8 artists who are all professionals. We work in different media but our pursuit is the same – to become better painters and to explore abstract painting. We have been meeting for 2 years now. Our main emphasis is what is working, what isn’t, and why. Suggestions are made and can be accepted or left on the table. I must admit that we have ALL become better painters and remain a strong group because we respect each other and understand that we need different eyes to see more clearly.

  Friendly critics by Penny Markley, Winthrop, ME, USA  

“Storm Approaching Spanish Bottom”
acrylic painting
by Penny Markley

I have been part of a group that has been painting together once a week for years. We have a critique at the end of each session. We find it helpful. Even though we all paint in different styles and have different tastes, we can be helpful in suggesting something that is puzzling or unresolved. We also point out aspects of a work that we particularly like. We sometimes joke about painting by committee, but we each are free to reject any suggestion we disagree with. I find that during the critique of my work, I sometimes disagree only to find out upon reflection, the suggestions are worth trying. We do have a pontificator, but we bluntly keep him under control. We limit the works to be critiqued to two each. The pontificator used to bring in four or five. I have found that you shouldn’t bring a work for a critique, when what you really want is a pat on the back. It is most helpful with works that you feel have some promise, but that you are not satisfied with and are not sure how to improve. These critics have become some of my best friends.   One excoriates, one encourages by Donna Veeder, Utica, NY, USA   We used to have a painting group that met at a local art school, and painted with no teacher much of the time. Once a quarter, we invited one of the Art School’s teachers to come and do a critique for us, not always the same one. These critiques could be extremely different! One would excoriate us; another would encourage us. Most were polite, but that man who thought of us as reactionaries, figure painters (YUK!), was often not. I found his critiques not to be too helpful. We loved the one man who came who always found something good to say first and then gave his honest opinion. We respected his work as we did the man who was too tough, also. I think one always has to be respectful and then help the person on to the next step. One of our critics had been our former teacher. He was really good at seeing what direction your work was taking and telling you that, pointing it out to you. Sometimes we just do not see that. In a situation where the works are for sale, you do not want to let just anyone come in. That makes for a lower common denominator. You want a higher one. You need a policy on who you will accept. The group should keep the right to tell someone that she/he is not living up to standards. I belong to another arts center and, lately, we have had some shows of works by teachers of the “One day and you’ve got a complete painting” classes. (They do make money for the organization, being expensive for a one-day class, as expensive as 10 weeks of our other classes.) I feel it has dropped us down in standards. No one learns to paint in one day. You learn a few techniques. But this show has spawned another request by another artist who now wants to exhibit this kind of painting. Did we do ourselves a favor as a gallery? I think not. There are 2 comments for One excoriates, one encourages by Donna Veeder
From: Diane Overmyer — Feb 08, 2013

I love your ending paragraph where you wrote: “No one learns to paint in one day.” So true!! I have been painting for over 30 years and I am still learning. Best wishes with your group. Fight for what you believe in!

From: Jack Napper — Feb 09, 2013

Putting copyright info across paintings is pretentious.

  Options for critiques by Rodney Cobb, Scottsdale, AZ, USA  

“Autumn Storm Clouds”
oil painting
by Rodney Cobb

I have noticed that artists appear to seek critiques to gain information, inspiration, as well as recognition. Thus, you might want the artist being critiqued to pick one of the following options: — Only diplomatic positive comments. — Both positive and negative comments if thought to be diplomatically delivered and considered helpful. — Any comment relevant to the commentator’s opinion of how the artist being critiqued can improve. (While I prefer the latter, others may not.) Hopefully, the artist receiving the critique will gain more, either information or inspiration, if the artist selects the parameters. Robert’s suggestion of comments placed in the drop box may accomplish the same positive results… These format suggestions are based solely on my noticing vexations that seem to arise out of the typical “anything goes” art critique format. Sometimes artists seeking only recognition get hammered. Conversely, some artists seeking anything helpful may get only bog – ordinary diplomacy. If I “ruled the world” and had any power at all, I would select the format of either Robert’s drop box or the above suggestions; but you may want to discuss it with others. In addition, the person also being critiqued may only want comments from artists that paint similar types of paintings (although some notable artists, like Quang Ho, are representative artists who verbally apply art principles well to abstract art).   Constructive criticism by Judy Schroeder, Orange CA, USA  

“University of the Redlands”
watercolour painting
by Judy Schroeder

I have taught art classes to all ages since college graduation. However, my real training for critiques was honed much later. Two teachers in the workshop setting were absolute pros when it came to clearly and quickly getting to the heart of the matter. I would test myself when paintings were presented for the crit and do my own assessment before the leader began. During a brief time many years ago I was in a group and we gathered to show together, learn about the business of art and have group critiques. It became increasingly obvious that “good news” was expected. The varying skill at assessing paintings was all over the map. I’m sad to say that however much I enjoyed the company, it was not an emotional wrench when the group dissolved. I recently heard about a very talented and recognized painter who held critiques for students, charged a fee and let everyone “have at it.” Good grief! I admonish my students to be very careful who they ask to evaluate their work. Constructive criticism is very valuable and “be happy” platitudes inhibit growth. A painter who has few options would be wise to study design. It is often lacking, particularly in adult classes and workshops. There are 2 comments for Constructive criticism by Judy Schroeder
From: Prefer to be anonymous for now — Feb 07, 2013

I’ve participated in a couple crit groups over the years and found them to be uniformly banal and gratuitously, butt-kissingly positive. I kinda feel like if you as an artist really don’t know where you are in your skill level such that you need someone else to tell you how to make your work better, a crit group is quite unlikely to provide substantial help. I see it all the time, that area artists rave over each other’s work ( if you’re in their clique, of course, otherwise you may get cut to shreds) on FaceBook for example. I know one woman, a very lovely lady to be sure, but she can’t paint a lick and yet, all her artist pals go simple over every infantile, wildly amateurish jpeg she posts. That isn’t helpful to her. As a sidebar I’ve noticed over the years that many of these artists are in, ahem, upper middle class and higher income brackets — they almost all have a spouse who has a profession or owns a successful business; they’re not trying to make an income from their work. Nothing wrong with that, mind you, just have seen it repeatedly that if you’re not in that league with them, you don’t get the sugary comments and effusive praise. I make my sales just fine, I make a modest living from my work, thank God, so my value as an artist doesn’t depend on any validation from the folks I’m referencing, just think that sort of clique is the very sort of population that sits in many crit groups, lathering on the false admiration. I’ve learned there can be angels in Art, but just as many sycophants. And I think crit groups for artists tend toward the sycophants most. I haven’t seen this phenomenon so much for writers ( I am also a published author). I think perhaps there is a perception that Art has a higher ‘society’ value, so you may see more of that butt-kissing thing among those with a many-zeroes income. Just sayin’. I love this newsletter and read it religiously, always fascinated by other artist’s thoughts & perceptions. Thanks for the forum, Robert~ P.S. — I have many dear & close artist pals who’re not in the category I described, and we don’t feel the need to BS each other about our work.

From: Jan Ross — Feb 08, 2013

Wonderful painting, Judy, and I mean that sincerely! I have to agree with the anonymous writer regarding ‘butt kissing’ critiques/comments. The best critiques for me are those given by skilled, highly-recognized professionals who’ve been in the business of making art for a long time, and who’s work I admire. The kindly comments by a neighbor, student or beginning artist are pleasant, of course, but don’t really help me grow as an artist. For this reason, I don’t ask someone’s opinion unless I have a high regard for their experience and their work. Additionally, a highly competitive juried show judged by an artist of that calibre, and who offers comments is a real thrill, and most appreciated!


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Creative Darwinism

From: Bob Cook — Feb 05, 2013
From: Julia — Feb 05, 2013

YES to outside, independent critic and an artist of really high reputation, voted by members of the collective, paid for its services. We tried that in the art club – it worked much better. Peers to peers works only if on voluntary basis and ends up to be positive anyway, not much value in it usually. Badly composed, overworked and with common subjects paintings are usually first to be sold. Sad but real.

From: Sibyl Minton Gallegos — Feb 05, 2013

Twice I have stood at the rear of a gaggle of people at a group show who were congregated around one of my paintings as someone held forth with, in one case, an opinionated diatribe, and in the other, a semi-humorous condescension. To my surprise, niether of these things bothered me in any fashion. I actually was quite entertained. Though, I’ll admit, and not to my credit, by being more entertained by the critical diatribe from the painter who had not been awarded second prize in the show, as had my painting. On the other hand, I learned a few things from the diatribe, but almost nothing from the condescending remarks, which, oddly, came from a retired art professor. I hope to be entertained again in the future. It is vastly superior to being totally ignored.

From: Sandra Taylor Hedges — Feb 05, 2013
From: Edna V.Hildebrandt — Feb 05, 2013

I think that when other people come and look at you are painting and make their critique and make suggestions on how to improve it and have different views it is very confusing and takes away from your own evaluation of what is lacking and errors you might have made.I believe it also distract your creative process.No matter how good their intent maybe it is not helping your thought processes in the progress of your work.Perhaps when you ask someone to view your work and ask his or her opinion it may also give you a fresh perspective on your work and you can see what errors or what is missing and make improvements on your own work.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Feb 05, 2013

Long ago, I devoted a couple of unpaid years to the establishment of a community art center and learned a lot. This was never designed as a cooperative. The three big lessons were these 1. Just because a person can get dressed in the morning is no proof of sanity. 2. “Look at what I did,” is primary among the thought processes of most artists. The corollary of this notion is “I am not all that interested in seeing what you did.” 3. Property rights are a clear road to dissent in group centers. Studios where there is adequate space to work with individual storage facilities work better than individual rental properties. When I returned to my studio after two years spent working at an open studio in Berkeley (ASUC) I packed up and left to continue my work alone. I could no longer pay the emotional rent.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Feb 05, 2013
From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Feb 05, 2013

There is a current truck commercial running using the catch phrase- ‘Go big- or go home.’ To all you artists out there who are afraid of having your poor little feelings hurt- GO HOME. To your mommy. She’ll hold your little hand while you have a good cry because somebody didn’t like your little painting. Enter a juried show and get rejected. And then learn how to have all of your emotions around getting rejected. It’s called growing up. Put your work up for a critique. And have somebody tell you their truth about why it does or doesn’t work for them. And learn to TAKE IT- and have all of your emotions around hearing somebody say something you don’t want to hear. It’s called growing up. God forbid you might have to grow up. We stupid humans- who are afraid of feeling difficut emotions and having our stupid feelings hurt- ARE THE PROBLEM. Dear Jane, learn to cry creatively- and then let go. It makes your art work better. And to you all- If you can’t stand up to anybody and everybody and actually defend your work- whether they like it or not- you will never be anything but mediocre.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Feb 05, 2013

Jane’s work is true, rare and wonderful. It partakes of most the known worlds and aspires to the unknown worlds. I am pretty sure she comes from a strong place and is not crying, as you suggest in your straw (wo)man diatribe. She definitely should not be the target of such a bullying response; nor should any artist. She seems to be trying to create a level playing field among a large number of disparate artists who may have different levels of training. Not everyone has the benefit of the MFA system of critiques. She seems acknowledge the vulnerable area of every artists’ psyche while trying to create a supportive, not destructive, environment for working together. I am very offended by this bullying tone. I am not sure where it came from, some sad personal place I suspect. Identifying with the oppressor? Be nice.

From: Mike Barr — Feb 05, 2013

JBW knows, he talks, but he don’t paint.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Feb 05, 2013

The critiques I received over time were often confusing and sometimes funny. I think that the main key for being on the receiving end is to put oneself in the shoes of the person giving the critique, and try to understand where they are coming from. They are describing their values and knowledge which can initially be hard to grasp, or even may not be something we care for. The most useful nuggets I got were initially incomprehensible, and only unfolded over time through my learning process. I love those aha moments when I realize that what Bob said to me couple years ago (when I thought he was rambling), is a perfect help for today’s puzzle. Sometimes those words linger as an enigma until they eventually get translated to my artistic language and suddenly make sense. It may take years, so it’s better to file them then dismiss them.

From: Kathy Kaser-Nichols — Feb 05, 2013

I’m a quilter who loves to study art. The paintings chosen are interesting and mostly colorful. The Bird Energy painting makes me want to add some more color (and lines), although I don’t quite feel that way when looking at Stone Boats. I also like titles that add information or cause you to look deeper for something that you might have missed at first glance. I like whimsy and finding hidden objects. Sometimes I do things in quilts hoping someday someone will wonder, why did she do that? And I ask that about some things in your art, so to me, that is good. I like the unexpected use of color. Often I tell quilters that imperfections make things interesting, so don’t fear that. Uninteresting art of any kind isn’t worth doing. I could look at Jane Adams’ art a long time and still find enjoyment.

From: Yvonne Christensen — Feb 05, 2013

I love your idea of an anonymous collective crit! That is brilliant! What a super idea for art groups! I hate crits! I do enjoy a discussion about a person’s work as collective. The word “crit” brings out the worst. Having sat in on lengthy crits, I have found them a waste of time. It is more about some verbally expressive individual practising free flow public speaking on the masses, trying to sound intelligent. After politely listening and trying to follow their train of thought, I come away realizing they have said absolutely NOTHING! Anonymous responses would be honest, potentially useful even. 250.615.7344 2020 East Oona Boulevard, Oona River, BC V0V 1E0

From: Peter Lloyd — Feb 05, 2013

I enjoyed the selection of Jane’s paintings. Now, that’s a lot more significant than it sounds, because she paints in a style I do not like. But it is immediately obvious that, unlike many (maybe the majority ?) of those who paint in this style, she really can paint. Moreover, she has a unique eye and has something to say that is worth paying attention to. Her individuality is so strong that I suspect she is not all that disturbed by criticism, whether by one or a group! More power to her elbow. It is a pleasure to study work which reflects such a strong personality, carried out with passion and skill.

From: Mabrie Ormes — Feb 05, 2013
From: Jim Shannonhouse — Feb 05, 2013

Robert, In the spirit of your suggestions, I would be most interested to hear your critique of Jane’s paintings.

From: Janet Eskridge — Feb 05, 2013

The paintings don’t look like they are done by the same person. In order to get a sense of an artist’s style, I always look for some commonalities that tie the work together. I like that. I didn’t study each piece in depth. That is just my impression after looking at the group of pieces. Love your letters, Robert. It is a treat to read them and they always make me think. I like that, too. Lincoln, NE

From: Lim Cheng — Feb 05, 2013

A helpful suggestion from a wise and seasoned artist is very valuable to those of us who mostly struggle alone.

From: Samuel McCabe — Feb 05, 2013

Recently I had a group art opening at a new gallery in Brattleboro, VT, where I reside. One of the artists exhibiting, sat in the corner with a laptop and alternated between manipulating images with Photoshop and signing prints of his digital artwork. I chatted with him about his art and asked questions I typically ask other fellow painters like, color inspirations, subject matter, and composition. It was very hard for the two of us to relate on aesthetics. It also seemed that he cared little for aesthetics other than pixelated color and distorted photos. Is this the democratization of art that you mentioned in one of your earlier emails? I try to be open-minded about digital art, but I find it hard to take seriously. It appears that all the articles and blogs online applaud the democratization of the arts. Where can one find the other side of the coin? Are there books or article that offer a little criticism of this new phenomenon?

From: Kathryn — Feb 06, 2013

A 55 member artist-collective gallery —-hmmm? I think there may be something else going on and no one is being direct about it — or not. But I bet someone is thinking it. Surely, not everyone belonging to this group creates work of the highest quality. There are always some hobbyists who have money and want the chance to be a “real” artists. Artists with low quality work brings down the group. Buyers see novice work and keep away. So people drop the idea of having critiques in hopes to elevate the work and draw in more people. Others do this because they want to create a social environment. As said previously, this can be problematic. Personally, If I want advice, I go and ask someone their opinion. They know they can be brutally honest with me because I don’t take criticism of my work personally. If the issue is quality and not socializing. I think it is time to look for art students or people with promising work. This is tough because you will absolutely offend people. Perhaps starting a small group within the group of the highest quality artist and building from there will be best. I say thumbs down on critiques. If your in a gallery you should be professionals and not deal with student type activities to deal with socializing or not dealing with a bigger problem.

From: Kent Wilkens — Feb 06, 2013
From: Sue Hill — Feb 06, 2013

I publish the newsletter for a small art group (about 20) people in the midwest. When the decision was made to critique one another’s artwork we lost several members. Which was sad. Remaining members were from entry level 1 to absolutely out of this world -no number needed members. The challenge was to have members on every level to bring art and to expect honestly. In the newsletter, I wrote this – who better to critique your work than someone you know has every reason to want you to succeed. I used different phrases each month, but the message was the same. Our members are kind, but, not patronizing. Suggestions made have caused members to really go after ‘getting better, learning more, and yes – selling work’. In a small group, friendship binds us together. Everyone gains from improvement by the least member…then it hits you – there is no least member – only members needing a boost. Honesty builds trust and suggestions tried builds the heart to attain more. Critique is no longer feared but, absolutely demanded.

From: Rhonda Bobinski — Feb 06, 2013

As a high school art teacher for the last 15 years, I have to say that if we didn’t go through the grueling art critique process, then student artists would not gain a critical eye. There are several approaches to the critique process that can be beneficial to many. One way is to have, like you had suggested, an opportunity for everyone to write what it is they think about the piece they are critiquing. I take it one step further in my classroom. I have the students write one compliment; a meaningful compliment (not just “it’s cool” kind of compliment) and a constuctive piece of criticism. Not only do they have to point out what they consider to be “flawed” but have to give some suggestions as to how that problem area can be remedied. Then I take all of the comments in, and type them out before they’re given to the artist to learn from. Yes, it can be time consuming to do this, but then the comments are truly anonymous since hand writing can definitely be recognized. This allows the students to have the liberty of being genuine. Another way of critiquing your own work, if you’re too self conscious of having others comment on your work, is to take a photo of your art piece. There’s something interesting about seeing your art as a photo that changes your perception and allows the problem areas to stand out more distinctly. Better yet, take a photo and then look at it upside down. When you do this, your artistic eye is forced to really critique in terms of the elements and principles of art instead of being swayed by the power of symbolic imagery. Ultimately, you can’t be a sensitive person when it comes to the critique process. You have to be willing to take the comments and use them to your advantage and learn from them. Otherwise, you’ll just be sitting at home with a lot of paintings that nobody is really interested in looking at besides yourself.

From: Susan Easton Burns — Feb 06, 2013

Once I was asked to critique an entire grade school of art for a statewide competition. I can still hear the criticism of my choices if I try real hard. We are working together weather we like to admit it or not. In my present critique I attend once a month, we always ask what the artist wants to know about their work. Some artists bring something framed. They really don’t want to know anything, just have everyone look. That’s ok as long as they know it. And my response in critique usually starts like this, “If this were my work of art, I would do this…” Everyone can teach us something, but no one can teach us everything.

From: Nigel Clements — Feb 06, 2013

Susan: Trouble is, many artists want to know what’s easy to fix in their work. Many need to be told to scrap this particular work and begin again.

From: Rick Rotante — Feb 06, 2013

Many who belong to art clubs or those starting out are artists who haven’t put in long hours (years) of study with a qualified teacher. Add to which, those who have a teacher don’t take the criticism when given by that teacher. They want to paint and methods and techniques are a minor nuisance. It is easier to get someone they admire to tell them what is wrong with their work than try and work it out in their head, classes or studios. Professional artists, for the most part, already know what is wrong with a piece and don’t rely on outside input. If they can’t figure it out, something is lacking in their training. Or they haven’t fully realized their concept. Practically speaking, when after painting for 20 or 30 years, the experience of failure teaches you to know when something is wrong with a work. Also after many years of painting, hopefully, you put your ego aside and critique your work honestly. Anyone wanting outside critique is fishing for compliments and doesn’t really want to hear what is seriously wrong. Another point here is- when you ask another artist to give pointers, invariably, they will speak from what they themselves believe to be correct and subsequently have no value to the person asking for help. Painting is a process of (self) discovery. When you stop asking what’s wrong and acquires the knowledge and experience to know what’s wrong is when your work improves. Here is a hint to where the problems lie: composition, form, pattern, paint application, subject, value or concept.

From: Jackie Knott — Feb 06, 2013

There are three elements at work in any critique: foremost are the ego of the artist and the ego of the one doing the critique. The integrity of those two personalities will split the difference whether anything productive comes from the exercise. The artist may or may not want to become a better artist (the third, and most desirable element) … but more often they simply want validation. Afraid to hurt feelings, that kind of critique is empty praise and does no one any good. Or, the one doing the critique, normally in smaller groups, succumbs to an ego-serving effort to elevate their own work above that of the artist in question and is unduly critical … psychology 101. It is a rare and wonderful thing when really good critiques are given by competent artists. It is positive with one goal in mind – to solve specific problems that can be identified. Therein is where one must start: “What are we trying to accomplish?” From that input you might determine the negative personalities that haven’t grown up yet, those who truly want to hone their skills, and your group arrive at the best critique model that will serve your members. Personally, I lean toward group critiques because you can throw out the worst and the best, and hopefully arrive at some meaningful observations. I’ve seen anonymous critiques turn vicious and feel if you’re not willing to put your name to a comment maybe the critique isn’t valid. Also, group critiques often turn into lively discussions the whole group benefits from. Good luck.

From: Marvin Humphrey — Feb 06, 2013

I guess it’s time to get in touch with my inner bailiwick…and, to repeat a well-known artist’s quote: “Don’t talk, painter, paint.”

From: Anon — Feb 07, 2013

It takes a sound character to make good use of anonymous communication. Anonymity should be used by removing one’s identity as irrelevant, and communicating sincerely and sensitively as if speaking in person. Respect of oneself and fellow artists needs to come across clearly if an anonymous contributor is to be taken seriously.

From: Bill Abel — Feb 07, 2013
From: Capertee — Feb 07, 2013

Group critique just might smother a person. Some things are better learned on your own. I think framing your own questions of areas you feel your paintings are failing might be useful and perhaps out of that someone might be more honest. Artists are competitive so I think it is wise to be alert to any other motives other than respect for you what you are trying to do.

From: Ruth Beeve — Feb 08, 2013

Thank you for posting these gorgeous paintings. They seem filled with light and life. This is the type of work I strive to do. So, I keep working.

From: Susanne — Feb 08, 2013

Look at the little people on horseback at the bottom of Payne’s canyon! I would have been just as convinced of scale without them. But I was happy to discover them there, as if by surprise.

From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Feb 08, 2013

This is an interesting combination of responses. It is also a worthy discussion. I have belonged to a group of about 5 or 6 artists that decided to have a “critique” group. But the word critique was not exactly perfect for what we did … or so we thought at that time. We each brought two or three pieces and took turns putting all of them up for discussion. The artist of the work was expected to talk about them as a whole, and also each individually. They were expected to tell (1) what was the intent of each one, (2) did they feel they accomplished it or not, or somewhat, (3) where were they heading, (4) what did they feel was working and what was not, (5) did they have ideas of how to move forward? The other members were only allowed to ask questions. They were not allowed to say how they would have done such-and-such. No one said “if it were my painting, I would do …”. If a question was asked from the showing artist on how to accomplish a specific painting theory … then if one of the other artists felt competent to speak on how they do it in their own paintings, … okay … but only after all the members had shown their work, and had their moment to discuss where they were and where they were wanting to go in their journey. It was a wonderful group … but three of them have moved to different parts of the US and we no longer meet. We are still friends, have all moved to higher levels of competency, but all are still actively learning and trying to hone their skills. And, we help others anytime we are asked … but first finding out what the artist is wishing to know or learn.

From: Pierre Lachance — Feb 08, 2013

As part of creative Darwinism, one of the great survival skills is to learn to cooperate with others. Artists who would survive and thrive need to quickly ingest the wisdom of the past. Only then can they go on to a great future.

From: Terry — Feb 08, 2013

Nice paintings. They don’t take me anywhere I haven’t been. They are very very safe. The informational content is severely limited. Sorry ! No cigar this time.

From: PETA N RICHKUS — Feb 08, 2013
From: Lies — Feb 08, 2013

Those are fantastic paintings. Much to be learned for those who are sensitive enough to see subtleties.

From:Russ Hogger — Feb 10, 2013

You have to allow yourself to make mistakes. Experience teaches you which ones to keep.

From: Joan Hoffmann — Feb 11, 2013

Crits can be about the painting: shapes, values, colors, warm and cool and brushwork, and not about the artist. There is no way to crit “I wanted…” or “I thought…” Let the painting drive the critique, because we do not all like the same paintings but like engineers we must know what is adequate, regardless of liking it.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Feb 11, 2013
From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Feb 11, 2013

To Susan Kellogg: Be nice? I’m nice. I’m NOT nice- TOO. You don’t like my not/nice part? My REAL part? My dead blunt honest part? I don’t really care. I’m not trying to be your friend. Being nice in a critique situation will never help you learn how to have ALL OF YOUR FEELINGS creatively and constructively. Our society/culture wants you to shut down any emotional thing it can’t handle. I don’t.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Feb 11, 2013
From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Feb 11, 2013
     Featured Workshop: Don Getz
020813_robert-genn Don Getz workshops Held in Pensacola, FL, USA   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Pronghorn Prairie Watch

oil painting, 18 x 24 inches by Bruce Berry, 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 Kellianne Land of Fergus, ON, Canada, who wrote, “You don’t know my mother… sometimes I need a good critique to get me unstuck… or to see how a yellow mark can make the rest of the painting sing.”