Wow! That was quite an experience. After submitting my painting for your input in the previous letter, this Inbox jammed up. (On Friday morning, more than three thousand emails came in before breakfast.) Reading and gisting many of them one after the other reminded me of the time I had a two-hour session with a psychiatrist. When I stepped out of his office, I didn’t know whether to turn left or right. I forgot where my car was parked, or even if I had a car, and if I did, what kind of a car it was.
On another level, it was like being in the central spotlight of an arena with thousands of spectators pointing. And just then my briefs fall down. In other words, I thoroughly enjoyed the exposure. Thanks to all who participated, even those who were not as brief as requested.
While there was a remarkable consensus on improvements to some parts of my painting — the background tone, the spotty trees, the hole in the middle — it was also valuable to see opposite opinions in adjacent emails: “Your painting has so many errors it’s not worth going on with,” and, “Don’t touch a thing, Robert, it’s fine the way it is.” It surprised me that some folks went to a lot of trouble and Photoshopped various elements in and out. Thank you. An amazing number of people told me to put a deer in it. Thank You.
A very high percentage felt there were value problems between the main (dark) trees and the (too pinkish) background. To get the Full Monty, you really have to cruise our listing of representative opinions. Michelle spent Saturday assembling and condensing many of these for your interest. Other input ranged from reflections on the validity of committee work to outright trashing of me and my efforts. It seems that some people are coming from a position of theory and conventional wisdom, while others are able to see clearly with practical knowledge and sensitive eyes.
Lessons learned? No matter what you do, your accumulated errors become part of your style, and while others may copy you, no one can take it away from you.
As usual, some critics echo our own ruminations. Hopefully improved, thanks in part to your goodwill, my revised painting is at the top of the current clickback. Really, thanks so much for your input. It was a slice. Now, if I can just find my car.
PS: “We all admire the wisdom of people who come to us for advice.” (Jack Herbert)
Esoterica: A few years ago I was conducting a workshop and had noticed one young lady who was particularly in need of help. No matter what I suggested or pointed out, she continued merrily doing her own thing, fraught as it was with ignorance and wrong-headedness. When she abdicated my workshop prior to its valuable, climactic end, she was singing to herself as she carried off an armload of “paintus horribilis.” Later, I heard she had several successful shows with the stuff. This morning I looked in vain to see if she had anything to say about my own effort. She hadn’t. I don’t think she’s a subscriber. “The best advice yet given is that you don’t have to take it.” (Libbie Fudim)
Subjects of a mass experiment?
by Gail Griffiths, Ocean, NJ, USA
Robert, I find you interesting. You played this whole thing. I have to suspect with good intentions of your own. Were we subjects in a mass experiment? Did you take into account that some would react with distain and trash the painting? To find that some readers would like to lash out at you, is that disheartening? You stirred up the masses, your people. I saw two things, one in your painting which is still there and one in your personal characteristics. You were playing with the core of what you are about. Yet the finished product you put out gives no satisfaction to those taking time to help with your art piece. It was a big “Ha Ha, I’m going to do what I want anyway.” Actually, good for you as an artist, but why do it? Are you experimentalist or brat?
There are 2 comments for Subjects of a mass experiment? by Gail Griffiths
The mystery of success
by Sandy Bonney, Brookings, OR, USA
A couple years ago I went to Flagstaff AZ with a friend who was interested in buying a gallery. As we did a walk-thru amongst all the wonderful artwork, we noticed some rather insipid looking watercolors of florals and landscapes. Our first thought was, “That poor artist. I wonder if they ever sell anything?” Well . . . guess who was the top seller in the gallery? Even the gallery owner couldn’t figure that one out. But that is what keeps art interesting.
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Doing fine — ear okay
by Pam Craig, Memphis, TN, USA
I started reading your clickback and thought to myself, Oh dear… then I started laughing. I know quite well how everyone likes to tell someone else how to do things. I commiserated with you and felt like that old commercial YOU ASKED FOR IT — YOU GOT IT… Then at the end I read… “It was a slice… Now if I can find my ear…”
I thought OH!!!!! Did I tear into him? I thought I had really expressed how much I liked it and the potential it would have with just a few adjustments. I kept thinking I didn’t mean to make him feel ineffectual as Van Gogh, enough that he felt like he had been attacked and driven to detach an ear. Then I put on my glasses and realized you were looking for your CAR… whew… I am not such a bad person after all. Thanks for the fun of participating in telling you what to do. Hope you found your car so you can get out of Dodge.
The stuff of wisdom
by Mary Moquin, Sandwich, MA, USA
I thought it was quite a hoot actually to ask the advice of a bunch of artists, especially considering the whole spectrum of experience and abilities. Having overheard several beginner artists critique works that belied their inexperience I can only assume you opened quite a Pandora’s box! I am reminded of what Plato wrote in The Apology. Socrates had been told by the oracle that he was the wisest man alive. Socrates found that hard to believe so he went to several different groups of people to quiz their knowledge. They were all opinionated in their viewpoints, yet none were exactly correct. Socrates finally had to concur with the oracle that indeed he must be the wisest man alive because at lease he is aware that “A wise man knows that he knows nothing.” I hope you have found your car.
There is 1 comment for The stuff of wisdom by Mary Moquin
Value of the collective response
by Karl Leitzel, Spring Mills, PA, USA
The many contradictory responses you got, and these mostly from actual artists, vividly illustrates why we can’t get hung up on one negative review of our work, or one rejection notice from a juried show. No art will ever connect with everyone, or satisfy the expectations of one viewer, judge, or art critic. A collective response, of course, is something to pay attention to, as a large part of why we create art is to communicate with other human beings as well as ourselves, and if no one connects, then there may be a problem. I always try to keep a lot of irons in the fire and applications and entries out there, so that the rejection letter one day is often followed by a glowing acceptance the next.
There is 1 comment for Value of the collective response by Karl Leitzel
by Polonca Kocjancic, Slovenia
This is just fantastic. And I think you also learnt the lesson behind it that no matter how many opinions you gather (and this indeed was a massive gathering), in the end you have to turn around, go inside and search your own essence and voice — in the end you have to refine it all and decide on your own. Looking at your final product, I dare say you did. You accomplished this task and it will always remind you of this incredible experience.
by C. Keith Jones
Years ago when my youngest son was growing up (around age six or so) he would often want to paint with me. I would prompt him as he decided what to paint and then would go back to painting whatever I was working on at the time. Naturally he would finish his painting in less than fifteen minutes and be back asking me how I liked it. As I marveled at his work and attempted to critique it to try to help him hone his skill, he was unable to see any problems with it, however he would come to my painting and proceed to pick it apart. At his young age, he could see things in my work that could be improved, but in his eyes, his work was fine. Maybe we are all born critics.
Won’t be posting work
by Gena Lacoste, Medicine Hat, AB, Canada
Robert, if what my Ol’ Uncle Pete says “God hates a coward” is true, God must treasure you! It takes a lot of courage to put your work out like that and invite criticism. I read the feedback with interest, and was horrified by what some people had to say… Mike Vandy especially! He takes mean to a whole new level, and was foolish enough to include his own work after very personal and mean trashing of yours and of you. I won’t get into what I think of his painting, but have to say that “Those who can, paint; those who can’t jump all over those who can.” I love your work, I loved the painting you submitted, and please carry on. I’m a watercolourist and have been painting steadily for the past 10 years, and am now teaching as well. You can bet I won’t be posting my work and inviting feedback. I do sometimes ask my class to critique a demo that I’ve done, but people who are in your presence are seldom as mean as they can be when sitting safely at their computer and sending their opinions out over the Internet. Every single one of your letters is a blessing.
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Fix your own habits
by Eva Kosinski, Louisville, CO, USA
If there’s one thing common to most humans, it’s the ability to always see everyone ELSE’s failings, but be relatively unable to push outside one’s skin enough to see one’s own with any clarity. If we could put a tenth of that effort into keeping good rein on our own habits and practices, all of our artwork would improve. Freedom and success are both the result of allowing others to take responsibility for, as well as bear the consequences of, their own actions or inactions, while exercising self control and taking personal responsibility for your own.
by Karen Gillis Taylor, Niwot, CO, USA
Painting from memory, (as you said this work came from, a small remembered sketch,) requires imagination and far more personal input than painting from life before you or from a photograph. It is far more difficult in some ways, and more fulfilling, more liberating than others. I found it interesting that so many responders to your invitation to the critique overlooked this fact and jumped in full force to analyzing the painting in academic terms, though that is quite a first accepted reaction. My questions to the artist would be, “Do you think this painting represented your initial inspirations for painting it in the first place?” Paraphrasing John Marin, after you “bow to the landscape,” did it bow back to you? Only the artist can answer the question, did your exploration in the form of this painting fulfill your hopes for expression? When we paint from memory or imagination, we lay ourselves open to critique of another dimension. We are exposed for what we dare to express on canvas, but we also can say, this is my own creation owing nothing to a real scene or place except for an initial glimpse. Say what you will. It is still my dream laid down in paint. Then we stand by our dream, and move on to the next painting, just as you said you would. So bravo, do another!
Modified computer images
by Ansgard Thomson, Edmonton, AB, Canada
I love your painting. As a digital artist I always look at all art through my computer screen how I can enhance the composition and color. As you had asked for advice I rather gave it a try on your finished work. I will delete it after sending it to you. I hope you can enjoy my loving critical eye.
(RG note) Thanks, Ansgard. I did appreciate your loving, critical eye. And thanks to everyone who sent imaginative and loving digitalized versions for me to study. Of interest was that no matter what people did with the painting, the thing still tended to retain many of my personal errors and wrongheaded stylistic tendencies.
Too many decisions
by Dyan Law, Pipersville, PA, USA
Rather than critique your painting, as requested, I waited to see what your readers replied. I was quite confident that you would get comments which would dissect every nook and cranny followed by every nanny and crook! And voila! I believe in and always encourage critiques for myself and my students. However, I also think it’s possible to look too far into the artwork as easily as one can overwork it. Looking “too deeply” is similar to looking into a never ending black hole! I try to put a lot of thought into constructive comments, leaving out all that may be considered non constructive… allowing the artist to respond to any “question marks” on his or her own. If you give someone all there is to comment about, you are merely giving them a major headache! I say leave a few open options to think about when critiquing… enough good stuff to question and “toss around.” Most artists will then invariably go after that which they knew required more focus in the first place! None of us are gurus to all. However, some are willing and ready to help as you saw by the numerous responses. Unfortunately with too many critics offering too many suggestions, there may be too many decisions to make. The outcome… too much confusion and too little gain! After all, isn’t “improvement” what we are chasing after? Congrats on your improvements, Robert, and for your reward… I have your car!!
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Not so bad now
by Ellen Langas Campbell
I wanted to participate in your painting critique, but when I looked at the original, I was overwhelmed. I just didn’t like it, but I didn’t know what it was I didn’t like about it. To me, it seemed masterfully created… I think it was the gentleness that turned me off. So, deciding that my minimal art capabilities were not worthy and wishing to avoid writing anything negative about a perfectly good piece, I did not weigh in. Today I see the “reveal.” It’s the same scene, but with its new attitude, I love it. How very odd. I’m attracted to the rugged manner of painting compared to the original serene style. The emphasis of pink that seemed sickeningly sweet has been removed, yet now reduced to merely a spec of color, it makes its point. I think I learned more from this simple exercise than you or I might have anticipated. Thank you!
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 Teri Peterson who wrote, “My delight came in two parts — the subtle wit found in your letter and the amusement at how seriously some of us take ourselves. The seriousness of distracting silliness. Hence, the giggle. It is good to laugh at oneself.”
And also David Evanson of Gibsons, BC, Canada, who wrote, “Since subscribing to your letters, I have found it either interesting and well written or very interesting and still well written. It is unfortunate and unnecessary that your experiment was trashed. That is pretty dumb and obviously not well thought out.”
And also David Lloyd Glover of West Hollywood, CA, USA, who wrote, “Aren’t our best paintings really a collection of a thousand mistakes nicely arranged on canvas?”
And also Pat Vicari of Toronto, ON, Canada, who wrote, “I laughed out loud when I read of your experience of receiving thousands of opinions on how to correct (or not correct) your painting! Wow! Artists are really opinionated people.”
And also Gudo Hallstone of Fresno, CA, USA, who wrote, “There are too many different opinions and likes and dislikes to worry about. Just please yourself until you can love it for yourself.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Lessons learned…