The points of crits

Dear Artist, From time to time many of us are called on to critique the work of others. In the classic formula, the “critter” stands beside a well-lit easel as the paintings of a roomful of “crittees” are brought forward one at a time. With each presentation the critter may remark on a virtue or two, pick out a fault or two, and hopefully point out a fix or two. The silence while the critter’s brain reboots at the beginning of each new presentation can be deafening. For those works not already deemed perfect by the crittee, the most common wish, as far as I can tell, is that only a few minor adjustments will be needed to make it so. At the end of a devastating crit, crittees may dig in, fight back, or try to explain. Others slump in their seats in disgruntlement or disgust. Crittees are not allowed to carry heat. While occasionally valuable, group crits are a public broadcasting of what might be going on in a painter’s brain during a private act. The four main negative points are almost universal: Poor early planning Violation of basic rules Substandard drawing, composition or colour A lot of faults suggesting abandonment The last point is often a useful ploy — beginning again almost always beats repairing a failure. Well-considered abandonment is a trusted teacher. Better artists develop a strong internal critic. While they may let themselves flow, their process includes being tough on themselves with regular full-brain revaluation of work-in-progress. As well as thinking ahead and foreseeing future problems, the process includes deadly vetting at the end. The golden rule: “Crit on your feet as you go.” In my experience, artists with highly developed self-critical faculties are often referred to as “talented.” Whether in a group or alone, even a simply composed, half-finished painting will have plenty of points, both positive and negative. I use a system of keywords. Keywords can include gradation, homeostasis, flats, symmetry, asymmetry, depth, pattern, cropping, edgemanship, regularity, repetition, counterpoint, etc. These keywords aren’t gospel, but they do help the crittee dig deeper rather than dig in. Best regards, Robert PS: “If an artist has talent, he needs no other critic.” (Robert Brault) Esoterica: Some critters are better than others. Critters need to offer practical ways to fix things on the same terms and in the style and media of the crittee. Theoretical and intellectual critiques can prematurely drive folks into nursing homes or chartered accountancy. Stick to points, don’t be afraid to recommend abandonment, and never forget Marcus Aurelius: “All is opinion.” Try to show your crittees how to crit for themselves — to their own standards. When developed relatively early in life, the art of self-criticism is key to professionalism. It’s really the fun part; it’s good for the mind at any age and heads off the natural rigidity that can set in during the golden years. Better than waiting for the Jello cart to come down the hall. Nnadozie Gideon update: Nnadozie has been in touch with me by email from his Nokia smart phone. So far he’s sent his mailing address, a photo of himself and jpegs of several varying and unsigned paintings. I’ve asked him for jpegs of signed paintings, jpegs of his awards, and a note from one of his teachers. There are several Nnadozie Gideon websites and Facebook pages originating in Nigeria. My inbox has loaded up with artists wishing to give him art materials. Hundreds are also suggesting we ask him to prove himself first. I’ll let you know when he does.   Final update on Nnadozie Gideon

Nnadozie Gideon’s art award

On Sunday July 7th 2013 Nnadozie Gideon wrote to the Twice-Weekly Letter: “Hello, I am Nnadozie Gideon one of your subscribers from Nigeria. I am a teenager and I started drawing at age 3. In secondary school (or high school) I won art competitions at state and national levels. I graduated from the secondary school since 2011 and (being unable to get into the university due to lack of funds) I have been practicing the arts of painting and drawing with the poster colour set I won in secondary school. I went into oil painting last year while still trying to perfect my drawing skills. “Having been able to come up with great concepts I have been able to paint only a few because all I have is just my oil paint set of six and my few brushes. Please I have attached some of my recent works. Please advise me on how to take my art to a higher level and if you can support me with materials it would go a long way in helping my art. Thanks!”

“Fruits or tea”
original painting
by Nnadozie Gideon

Further prodding has brought the following: “I was born in Lagos State, Nigeria to Mr Benjamin and Mrs Regina Nnadozie. I did my nursery and a little of my primary school there also. During my early education was when I first came in contact with pencils and papers then I started scribbling. I also messed most of my old book with crayon drawings because I loved making pictures. We moved to Rivers State where I completed my primary education and did my secondary education. My secondary education was done in Air Force Secondary School Port Harcourt, Rivers State. From my junior secondary school to senior secondary I was actively involved in fine art, even when I became a science student I brought art laurels. After graduating from secondary school, I have been doing what I call experimental fine art (drawing with some technical drawing skills). “I am the person in the photo attached to the previous mail I sent across to you. The only art competition award document with me is attached to this mail with some of my works. I no longer reside in the state where I did my secondary education.

Nnadozie Gideon

“I am the person who did the unsigned works sent to you previously. “My Dad is a business man and my Mum is a petty trader. My Dad’s email address is The address I sent to you is the location of my Dad’s office. Currently I do not have the e-mail address of any of my art teachers but if you can be patient I will mail them to you as soon as I contact them or someone close to them.” (RG note) Gideon Nnadozie’s email address is He uses his father’s office address for his regular mail:

original drawing
by Nnadozie Gideon

Gideon Nnadozie, Flat 1, Block B, Adamawa Court, Gaduwa Estate, Durumi, Abuja, Nigeria If you feel comfortable mailing art materials to Gideon, please do so. I sent him a boxed set of Golden Open Acrylics. I don’t recommend sending money. Looking at this tiny planet from a distance, can you imagine a time when everyone will trust everyone else? “You, you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one I hope some day you’ll join us And the world will be as one.” (John Lennon, Imagine)   The secret of sharing by J.R. Baldini, Niagara Falls, ON, Canada  

“Niagara Spring”
oil painting, 6 x 6 inches
by J.R. Baldini

I have group crits in my larger workshops — giving participants a few days to get their groove on. I’ve never had anyone become hurt, angry or argumentative. In fact, as mentioned, when paintings are ‘shared’ the artist usually is the first to critique their own work. This tells me the words that sometimes come out of my mouth over and over are sinking in, and they know the reasons why something isn’t working and are receptive to what suggestions myself or others in the group may give. This reinforcement works much better than if I got up and lectured. I love my job.     Learning on both sides by Lalitha   Self-criticism may not be possible for a very beginning artist. But with years of painting, one develops the talent to criticize what is being created that pushes her towards excellence. When our work is criticized by a critic, we learn to look at our work with a new perspective and that again results in excellence. Even a top critic needs to be a learner in some way, and the whole process of crits is that of learning on both sides. Life itself is a learning process, everyone is here to learn and creating art is such a small speck in the bigger picture.   ‘My name is Pete, and I’m an artist’ by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA  

Paint-by-Number painting with artist’s materials frame

I conducted a critique group for seven years. We met every two weeks. Attendance was 10 to 15 artists.I based my fee schedule on the price of admission at the local movie theater. It was a support group in a way. I encouraged everybody to speak. At first, I actually needed the money, but then I did not need the money, but I loved the experience by then, and it continued. It was almost like improv theater training for me. We all laughed quite a bit. But, we also cried. My favorite story from this experience was the night that the most straight-laced, grand-motherly attendee brought in a square painting of organic abstraction. It was primarily pink, and, to tell the truth, it looked like a partial view of two people making love. I put it on the easel and stepped back, and became cognizant of what I was seeing. My jaw dropped. There were twitters of quiet, nervous laughter from the group. After a long silence, one of the attendees said, “Well, Martha, do you have a new boyfriend?” After that comment, we were all laughing. I flipped the painting 90 degrees, and the laughter got louder. The image was now suggesting three participants in an act that was verging on the pornographic. When the uproar died down, Martha said that she would take the painting home and paint it over. Later, as everyone was leaving, I wanted Martha to feel better. I bought the painting. It now hangs in a special place where people under 21 years of age are not permitted. That is a funny story, but we live in a world in which a vast majority of artists work in isolation. When my circumstances changed, and I could not continue with the group, I encouraged them to keep meeting, and to just become a critique group and to help each other to see their own art with the aid of many eyes. That lasted quite a while, without me. All of us artists need outside opinions. We need other eyes, and that includes the best of us. Alcoholics go to AA meetings. Artists should be going to critique groups. We need to connect with each other . . . “My name is Pete, and I am an artist. Here is my latest painting . . .” There are 5 comments for ‘My name is Pete, and I’m an artist’ by Peter Brown
From: anne miller — Jul 18, 2013

I love the reference to AA. Although I have never been to an AA meeting, I love the simplicity of accepting who you are at this very moment. There are such rich places to go from here. . .

From: Anonymous — Jul 18, 2013

Perfect! Peter, I love this story, and it perfectly illustrates the group dynamic that can build not only skill and knowledge, but experience of others’ perceptions of your art.

From: Jackie Knott — Jul 19, 2013

The AA analogy made me laugh and is definitely appropriate.

From: Anonymous — Jul 19, 2013

What a great anecdote! Thanks for sharing.

From: Anonymous — Jul 24, 2013

I encourage all artists to allow themselves to be critiqued. It helps one, not to fall in love with one’s own work, but to fall in love with the process. Sit and hear the critique. Many people want it to be a time of affirmation rather than a time of learning. Critique MEANS criticize. How will we learn to be better unless we actually learn to hear about our weaknesses. After criticiquing my own painting, one student asked, “How can you do that to your own work?” My answer, “Easy, I am not in love with the product” I am in love with the doing”. There just happens to be a product, when I am finished.

  Keywords by Becky English   Would you be so kind as to elaborate on what you mean by each of the critical key dimensions you mention? (RG note) Thanks, Becky, and others who asked the same question. Actually, I just mentioned a few of the possibilities. There are about a thousand of these active, useful keywords. Gradation: A blended area from light to dark, warm to cool, etc. Homeostasis: objects or elements placed equidistant from one another. Flats: Areas of equal tone value, as opposed to gradated. Symmetry: Traditional balance, often centralized, sometimes monumental Asymmetry: Raucously offside and jarring Depth: Various elements from foreground to background Pattern: Essential gestalt — a compositional device to engage the eye Cropping: Masking or cutting to a new, smaller format Edgemanship: What’s going on around where the frame touches the painting. Regularity: A march of elements that may stabilize a composition. Repetition: The same motif or theme performed more than once. Counterpoint: Elements of colour or form that poke through foreground elements generally forming negative area patterns.   How to find the right workshop instructor by Claire Remsberg, McCall, ID, USA  

“Sand Man”
oil painting, 8 x 12 inches
by Claire Remsberg

I wonder if you have any comments on how to find a good art workshop instructor that is right for me. It is hard to dope out if the teaching style or talent is appropriate for what I want and need without a personal reference. Sure, an inspiring location is nice, but what I think I really seek is regular good teaching from a variety of instructors. I would like to treat myself to at least one such opportunity a year. I have had several duds recently, by artists who know how to paint but not how to teach or how to challenge a varied group of aspiring artists. Hard to tell by the course description. Have you ever heard of any kind of review central for art workshop instructors? (RG note) Thanks, Claire. I haven’t heard of a Review Central as you mention but it’s a darned good idea. We could have something like it on our site in connection with our Workshop Calendar. I’ll ask our elves to give it some thought. Perhaps an alphabetical list of instructors with critical reviews right after. Could be deadly.   The three C’s of critiquing by Michele   At a recent print making workshop I came away with much new technical knowledge and three little treasures that help direct my work. The three C’s are: 1. Composition 2. Content 3. Craftsmanship The composition of the elements of art and principles of design reign over content subject matter. Content is such personal matter that rarely will I comment on it unless asked yet it is often a primary focus of my own work. Craftsmanship is primarily a matter of media handling to support the entire work and it seems there are as many techniques as there are mediums. If I am personally familiar with the medium I may offer an opinion if asked. When my painting group gathers for crits at the end of the session I work down from these three C’s. Actually, I rarely move beyond Composition. When I am in my studio I problem solve from this same hierarchy.   An act of ultimate generosity by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada  

“Goat Mountain Summit”
acrylic painting, 20 x 24 inches
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki

I have also heard people use word “talented” where I would say “successful.” I don’t see a connection between self-criticism and talent. One is born with talents and affinities. Self-criticism may help us succeed in some endeavor, or become proficient, or professional, or a better person, but it surely won’t make us talented. I found your latter confusing in that regard. I have always considered crits by a sincere and knowledgeable person more than precious. When such person takes the time and energy to briefly step into your world and tries to help you with your next step is an act of ultimate generosity. This is not an entitlement, so the critees should be thankful and use the opportunity for a valuable dialog. They can later analyze what happened and how to make the best use of it. There are 3 comments for An act of ultimate generosity by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki
From: Marilyn Schutzky — Jul 19, 2013

What a marvelous way to express the value of the the crit. Thank you. Your painting is, as always, a feast for the eyes. M

From: Tatjana — Jul 19, 2013

Thanks Marilyn!

From: McCluskey — Jul 23, 2013

Thanks for sharing this beautiful piece, I sometimes have a problem with depth and this has tweaked my brain into action. Lovely.

  An enriching experience by Jackie Knott, Fischer, TX, USA  

“The Guadalupe from Mystic Shores”
oil painting, 26 x 32 inches
by Jackie Knott

However, I am reminded of a Nigerian acquaintance years ago who called us from the DFW airport. He was going home and was hit for extra baggage fees he did not have the money for. He asked to borrow $300. My husband met him at the airport and came home saying, “That’s money we won’t ever see again.” Eighteen silent months later the gentleman knocked on our door and handed us $300, plus a hand carved elephant, large as a soccer ball, as a gift of thanks. It really was quite nice and I put in on my mantle. The next morning there was a foul odor in the house that became increasingly stronger. I took it outside and left it in the sun for several days but even that didn’t help. I finally had to discard it. I subsequently found out its beautiful ebony color was produced by elephant dung. I regret not finding a means to eliminate the odor but our faith in human nature was pleasantly enriched. There is 1 comment for An enriching experience by Jackie Knott
From: Darrell Baschak — Jul 19, 2013

Thank you for sharing your uplifting story and this lovely painting, as subtle and complex as the human spirit.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The points of crits

From: Rick Rotante — Jul 15, 2013
From: Mike Barr — Jul 15, 2013

Well said Rick. Unfortunately, as Robert has noted before, self-deception is the stumbling block particularly for beginners but also for those who have been painting for many years. It seems to me that the longer you’ve been painting the more you can see the faults in your own work. The worst thing is those who can’t really paint seem to be at the front of the line in offering advice!

From: Susan Holland — Jul 15, 2013

Wanting to get a “star” from the teacher is very big, especially if you, the juror, is highly esteemed and your approval sought after. Competition is a squirrely matter. Less than “win” may be devastating. A lot of folks can’t take the heat of competition. They need to realize that there are no winners or losers at critiques..just paintings that are being analyzed, and which are part of a larger body of work done over time past and to be followed by many more paintings in the future. Take these same people to a show of the great artists, and see how many different ratings they get from the group. Love Rembrandt, hate Picasso; Love Warhol, hate Fragonard. etc.

From: ReneW — Jul 16, 2013

The critique can be positive , negative or ambivalent. For the artist it can be hurtful, uplifting or meaningless. There is a wide range of impressions of a piece of art. In the larger scheme the critique is judgmental. With that in mind, and you are giving a critique, you have to be civil and try to see something positive in the work or at least point out areas where the artist fell short. And offer suggestions where the artist can improve and continue to grow. Look at the piece as if you were the artist. Walk in that artists shoes for a while. Offer a kind word or two will work wonders.

From: Sandra Taylor Hedges — Jul 16, 2013

A long time ago I realized that many painters see in their paintings similarity to the subject far beyond what the rest of the room can see. It was for this reason that I put that criteria in the dump bin when it came to critiquing another’s artwork and focused only on the Elements of Design. In my opinion if the work succeeds in as an overall design then I should shut up about whether or not the face looks like Marilyn Monroe or Frankenstein with a wig.

From: Marvin Humphrey — Jul 16, 2013
From: jim noel.. — Jul 16, 2013

After decades of painting with acrylics, I have decided to give oils another go. I recently bought a small set of walnut oil colors and have started a new painting. The first thing I have realized is how dependent I have become on the quick drying aspects of acrylics. This has led to laziness in the planning department. Any major changes in composition or color can be applied in minutes, rather than hours as is the case with oils. So, I sit and wait for the Jello cart…

From: Jackie Knott — Jul 16, 2013

We must be our worst critic and be merciless in self evaluation. Never be completely satisfied; there is no other means to become better artists than to continually strive for excellence. Fragile ego and artist is a terrible combination. We not only have to withstand rejection we must have a clear compass where we want to go with our work. Agreed, I look at my own work and know exactly where the problems are, and the older I get the more critical I am. The best critique is matter-of-fact suggestions HOW to solve a particular problem. It takes more than “You should work on your half tones.” Oddly enough, when some professionals complete their respective schools/education the degree holder is licensed or well trained enough to engage in their craft. Art is a lifetime pursuit and we never finish learning – that’s why it’s called art.

From: Anon — Jul 16, 2013

There is one lesson I learned after years of painting and occasionally participating in shows and consulting with artists that I respect. Never ever take any advice from someone who financially depends on teaching art. No disrespect intended, as they say – some of my best friends know people who teach art. In a best case scenario objectivity is inherently lacking since teachers always stand behind their choice of methods and values. Worst case scenario, they just steer you to take their classes. Robert’s advice to go to your room is the best one I ever got. That and the experience of being accepted in shows and galleries and eventually placing art with collectors. Everything else is more or less fluff.

From: Frank — Jul 16, 2013
From: Babara Kerr — Jul 16, 2013

Your critique remarks sum it up —- beautifully.

From: Carol Fetherston — Jul 16, 2013
From: Norma Sumner — Jul 16, 2013

I do paint off and on with a group that has a critique at the end of about less than 2 hours of painting. Many of us are not finished, of course, and we have to keep saying “it is not done”. Some of it is helpful, but when I receive about 5-10 suggestions, it ruins the painting for me because it is too confusing and most suggestions are not what I have in mind. Consequently, I have stopped putting my work up for a critique unless I am really stuck.

From: Edna V. Hildebrandt — Jul 16, 2013

In our open studio, members of our art group meet every Wednesday to paint together and we have become friends and we often ask each other about our work. Some of us have had certificates or graduated from art schools while some of us are amateurs whose training is taking workshops or from self study from art books or online. I am reluctant to give my opinion about someone’s work while some give theirs solicited or unsolicited. Sometimes they ask me to give my opinion and I usually see an image of an animal or other shapes formed by the work that were not obvious but by the way colors and values are set together, just like when looking at clouds we see shapes that resemble animals or ships and other forms. They would ask me where I see them and when I point it out they then see it. Some of them will change the spot or they like it and leave it. I don’t tell them whether it is a fault or it is good. I just tell them what I perceived or saw in the painting; would that be negative critic?

From: Christine Versteeg — Jul 16, 2013

So very heartening that I am not alone is abandoning, or destroying, a piece of work that is bad. Sand paper and gesso work wonders to soothe after consigning a piece of work to destruction.

From: Louise Francke — Jul 16, 2013

For the past 2 years, I have belonged to a group of 8 artists. We come together every other week. The group varies in our backgrounds; but, we are all professional exhibiting artists. These are lively discussions. We originally laid out the ground rules: to be critical but without malaise, to say why we liked a work, to vocalize what we didn’t think was working, etc. Each one of us would feel remorse if we had to disband. All have definitely proffited from the experience. Although we are ruthless with our own self crits, it helps to see how other experienced eyes view a work before sending it out for its debut.

From: Valerie Norberry VanOrden — Jul 16, 2013

I remember a critique of a painting I did over red underpainting (landscape) and the Critter said I “had rhythm”. I liked that.

From: Mike Barr — Jul 16, 2013

Frank – not one in particular – there are an army of them!

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Jul 16, 2013

Yes- and we’ve met the army and they is us! And I should remember who I’m ripping off- but don’t… And don’t bother with the bad grammar comments- it was intentional- I’ve know many a newbee who thought they knew it all… Takes years of work just to discover knowing it all isn’t possible.

From: Mike Barr — Jul 16, 2013

So sorry Bruce – ‘there is an army of them’ or ‘there’s an army of them’. I personally don’t give crits, as the truth will often offend. Artists who ask for crits are usually asking for praise.

From: Anonymous — Jul 17, 2013

I think that beginners are more free to share because they experience lack of meaningful input from those that are busy with their own prosperous careers. This panel is exception, especially the amazingly generous Mr. Genn and many contributors. Maybe my experience will be helpful for some as well. I have a non-artist friend who follows my work and every once in a while says – this painting is great, why don’t you send a pic to this or that person (good friends that are established artists) to get feedback. I always refuse, and he comments that I am “too proud” or “too insecure” .something silly like that. My opinion is that those people couldn’t care less about seeing my work or of anyone else’s who is not on their game level. And why should they. “there’s an army of us”. My friend is appalled at this idea and blames it on my insecurity, supported by the fact that networking/mentoring is very lively in his profession, while I am always alone making art. I sometimes put something in a non-profit show and get hints from mature artists that “I am showing too soon” even when I win awards or sell. They say – “you will know when you are ready” (implying to pack heavy for a long wait). I have decided long time ago not to listen. I was born ready, never hesitated to jump into the cold water, and that works for me. There are actually collectors out there who only want paintings from emerging artists. They won’t collect anything that looks slick. I know this because they buy from me. Picasso once said that he would never ever want to get slick, and he is one of my dear teachers. It’s worth mentioning that there is no “graduation into art market”. If there was one, I’d have followed that path to find out what could be learned. As it is, I follow my own path and don’t listen to anyone. I would encourage all emerging artists to do the same.

From: Arlene G. Woo — Jul 18, 2013
From: Jane Ross — Jul 18, 2013

As one who has lived/worked in the up-country regions of West Africa, I understand very well the severe limitations aspiring young (and not so young) people face. When I shared pencils – or a plastic carrier bag – with young people in some of the villages of my experience, they were almost delirious with their joy of the small gifts. I do thank you for your openness to mentioning and assisting Nnadozie Gideon. There is so much talent in those countries – it is really encouraging that you sensitively and boldly open the windows so other people can think and respond about development of a different kind – it is all about the art of human being.

From: Jerry Ho Lee — Jul 18, 2013

This is one of your best letters. Thank you and keep them coming.

From: Penny Bongiorno — Jul 19, 2013

I am always put off by anyone who self describes as an artist, rather than as a painter, sculptor, or what have you. I make allowances for those involved in assemblage and performance, though I personally find those disciplines unappealing and often, well, undisciplined. But more to the point, I have found art in many different pursuits. I’ve seen art in knitting and quilting, normally considered (mere) crafts. I’ve seen it in carvings generally described as “outsider art”. While a firm believer in pursuing technique, I believe that art and technique are very different things. Sometimes they compliment one another, sometimes not. What I have definitely found is that a bio that includes formal art education does not guarantee that there will be artistic content in any particular product. On the other hand there are “outsiders” who cannot seem to do anything that doesn’t include artistic content. I wish that anyone who wants for a manner of expression might have the opportunity to try. I stopped a day job to write a novel. I hated the process and failed, jumping willingly back into another day job. But my pastel work– I love it. Will it ever be art? I don’t know. I can only hope and work. But since I love that process, the hope is secondary. Until art reveals itself, I’m happy with the simple pastel landscapes.

From: Cora — Jul 19, 2013
From: anonymous… — Jul 19, 2013

for jim noel…. Walnut oils are known to be very slow drying… try using some Liquin with them and it will help a lot. Next time use a different brand of oils.

From: Jack Leatherhead — Jul 19, 2013

Nnadozie’s mailing address is at the top of this clickback, right after the RG letter. I’m going to take a chance and send him something too. I wonder if he will thank each and every one of us?

From: Charlotte Schuld — Jul 19, 2013

To Michele’s list of the “3 C’s” I would add a fourth-“Creativity”. A favorite artist of mine, Cheng-Kee Chee (illustrator of “Old Turtle”) uses these 4 C’s when he critiques his and other’s artworks. I have found the creativity aspect to be hardest as it forces me to delve beyond what I initially thought I was going to paint.

From: Rick Rotante — Jul 22, 2013

As a post script for me- the other day I sat a gallery with an aspiring artist who asked my advice about one of his pieces hanging in the gallery. I resisted giving advice with excuse after excuse, but he persisted. I told him I don’t give advice. He could take my class and I would be happy to assist him in future works. But, he kept at me until I saw I had no choice. I either critiqued his work or he would not leave me alone. So, (being very kind) I started with composition (I will not bore you with his) moved into spatial symmetry and finally tonal values. All of which where not supporting the work. Before I could finish, I could see he was formulating his rebuttal even before I finished speaking. Which means he did hear a word I said. Which was his reason for asking me in the first place. Which reaffirmed why I don’t give advice.

From: Rick Rotante — Jul 22, 2013

p,s, Artists do not really want to hear what is wrong they want to be told what they did well.

From: Blanch Paulin — Jul 25, 2013

Robert, I love reading your letters which are so packed with interesting verbiage. I have many comments to make regarding my several curious experiences in just about every area discussed by previous commentors, so brevity will be difficult. If an artist’s work pleases him or her, and it pleases others enough so that they want it or buy it, then that should make the artist very happy and satisfied. Although art has always been my passion, I have had little time and money to pursue marketing it due to the many crises in my life. At this point in writing this, I have had to get up and attend to some emergency several times. I have an adult mentally and physically disabled son who is bed-bound. We are going through a change in his 24 hour attendant care concerning caregivers and agencies, as well as, an ongoing health issue he has. As an artist, everything I do is done artisticly, whether drawing, painting, writing, sewing, decorating, building. Yes, I have also drawn house plans and done the overseeing of building and shopping for building supplies. Yes, I have written and self-published a 300 page book of poetry and essays. All this I have done without any type of formal education in any of these areas. This is commonly referred to as “self-taught”. I call it “God-given talent”, which can only be “discovered, developed, and exercised”. When I stand back and look at something I have executed with my mind and physical dexterity, I am amazed and wonder “how did I do that?” The answer always comes from within, as God’s Spirit gently says “I did that through you.” What I look for in a completed work is “balance”. I don’t know all the correct verbiage to define balance, but I know if a work has it or does not have it. My work can be viewed at I prefer doing realistic work, but I can do abstract. I applaud Nnadozie and his beautiful work and his perseverance. I never had encouragement at home with my art as a child. It was viewed as child’s play by my self-sufficient, poor but proud, hillbilly mother of seven. I was the youngest and began my work ethic training at age two and a half years, alongside my mother and siblings picking cotton as independent migrant field laborers. It has been a long, hard journey to this point, but now and then I get to do something artistic that I love and that others appreciate. I have never had the time to participate much in groups, especially critique groups. I have on occasion entered my work in fine art shows and the experience was enlightening. I learned, as a previous commentor expressed, that education in art does not necessarily mean one is an artist. On my first exhibit, I entered a lion portrait and put a copyright sign by my name, as I had read in a book that it was the appropriate thing to do. The judge of that exhibit, I overheard saying, “It was nice of the artist to put a “copy” sign signifying that it was a “copy” of another’s original.” I timidly approached her and said that it was a “copyright” sign, meaning it “is” my original. She stared at me as though I were a nonperson and said nothing. Another exhibitor’s husband became very agitated and was indeed making a scene, saying that his wife’s painting should have won an award. Her painting of a farmyard with a couple cows, a barn, a pasture with a huge perfectly round tree, was done in a very colorful and pretty primitive style, which I thought deserving an award. The judge’s comment to the husband was “Trees are not shaped round like that.” Well, I thought that in a primitive style, a tree could be shaped any way one desired. Rather, I made a comment that trees are indeed shaped just that round if they are growing all alone, as can readily be seen in any cleared pasture or field, where no other trees or buildings obstruct any area of the tree from sun, and especially if the cows keep the underside of the tree trimmed. Again, I got the stare. This woman judge has remained a constant in the art community leadership as judge and teacher. Once upon a time in the 70’s in Atlanta, I read a flattering writeup with favorable art critique in the Atlanta Consitution Newspaper of an artist who was exhibiting in a fine restaurant. I went to see this amazing artist. Most of the pieces were done in about 30 x 16. They were all the same theme. Jungle. The backgrounds were all black. The green of the foliage was bright. The animals were all peeking through the foliage with cartoonish features. Every piece was tagged at $20,000 or more. I couldn’t believe that people would pay that much money for a cartoon that was so much like another cartoon hanging next to it. I like cartoons. I like color. I Like exotic animals. I would not have minded having one of those paintings, but not at that price. That was my first art exhibit ever attended and I couldn’t understand the monetary value placed on that art. So, eventually, I learned that art is a category of “opinions”. And unfortunately or fortunately those “opinions” determine the value. So, it is well enough that the artist loves his work and does it for the love of it, and it is even better if his work brings some pleasure to others. If it accomplishes this much, then pay no attention to the naysayers. Once, I read an accomplised artist’s comment, “The best thing a school can do for an artist is to kick him out, because all a teacher does is to teach others to do art the way the teacher does.” I have found this to be true. As I stated, I have no formal education in art, but I had occasion to sit in a couple informal classes of artists and indeed they were teaching to paint as they painted, and the class had to each paint the same subject. It was boring to me and I didn’t want to participate. What I needed to learn was how to apply paint, because I didn’t have paints in my youth, I only hand pencil and paper. I didn’t want to draw a bowl of grapes and a bottle of wine. I wanted to draw live things. So, I had to learn by trial and error, the way I have learned everything else. The power was already within me, the searching it out was mine to do. God Bless.

From: anon — Jul 27, 2013

I’m sorry, but I have to disagree. If one is painting for the process, truly only for the enjoyment it brings, the only critique they need is whether they succeeded in achieving their goal. Anyone else’s input is irrelevant unless you have another agenda, for example, sales, or the approval of your peers, or you’re not sure about what you’re trying to accomplish or why you’re doing it, etc., etc., etc. I think relying on someone else to tell you what your work needs in the way of improvements only weekens your own ability to see that for yourself. I could be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time.

From: anon — Jul 27, 2013

weakens … weakens … It’s three am and the neighbor’s dog is keeping me awake!

From: jenny meehan — Jul 28, 2013

What an interesting read…The best I have had for ages! I think one important matter is how well the person giving the critique knows the person whose work they are looking at…If there’s a supportive relationship there with trust and respect both sides, then the comments can be very useful indeed. A person-centred teaching approach, which seeks to both identify the aims and objectives of the individual, and suggest possible avenues for development/ways of experimenting/further examples to study can be very enriching. I agree that the problem sometimes is that there are good artists who don’t have such great teaching skills…Happily I have only run into a couple of these myself though. A good painter/teacher should be able to embrace many different approaches, not just the one they personally prefer. I think focus on the formal aspects of design, use of colour etc…summed up well by “composition” helps things not to get into a “judgemental” kind of mode. Also I agree about the importance of process, though final result does matter, every painting is just one step in a journey…I always say this to my own students, as it helps them to be both kind and critical of their work. I found the memory device offered “Composition, Content, Craftsmenship” very helpful.

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