The flat trumpet of self-esteem


Dear Artist,

Back in the good old days, the Girl Guides used to get badges for accomplishments. Nowadays they’re also getting badges for loving themselves. The self-esteem movement is an epidemic that’s been sweeping parts of the Western World — claiming that even young girls need to feel good about themselves before they can do good things. I don’t think so. I think you have to do good things to feel good.

It’s particularly noticeable in the art game. In some quarters, we go to a lot of trouble to help others feel good. These days some of us are getting all sorts of praise for just trying. The Internet is full of it. Jack writes to Bill: “Right on, Bill — I love your fence posts.” Even though Bill’s fence posts are substandard, he still gets approval and encouragement. I guess it’s more democratic.

Instead of measuring work against examples of excellence, we now honour mediocrity as well. Actually, it’s human nature — it makes us feel comfortable, particularly if we’re mediocre ourselves. What’s going to become of a society that persists in this folly? No child left behind in the field means fewer peaks on the hill.

True professionals don’t stand for this nonsense. For one thing, they don’t listen to non-authoritative commentary or ingratiating praise. They try to decide what excellence is, challenge themselves and bend their bones to make it happen. Actually, the whole self-esteem thing leads artists into marketing courses before they’re producing creditable work. But just get reasonably good and the world will love and reward you. Stay bad and all the marketing in the world won’t help you — and you’ll end up thinking less of yourself, anyway.

Quality deserves approval and gets it. Quality breeds success, cash flow and, curiously, genuine self-esteem because it’s warranted. And while all artists, no matter how evolved, need a little perk from time to time, when you’re on top of your game, you can takes things less seriously.

We once attended a concert where little tykes played solos on the piano, cello, violin and trumpet. It was all pretty cute, and we all applauded like mad, especially when one of the little people was ours. At the end, every last kid got a trophy or a ribbon. Some system.

Best regards,


PS: “People thought that kids who felt good about themselves would get higher grades. They don’t. They only feel entitled to get them.” (Margaret Wente)

Esoterica: “Self-esteem,” says cognitive psychologist Martin Seligman, “cannot be directly injected. It needs to result from doing well, from being warranted.” Artists need to consider this when awarding and receiving prizes and honours. I recently juried an art-club show where in my heart of hearts it seemed to me that no one deserved even an honourable mention. “You have to give prizes,” the president told me, “or the club will collapse.” I didn’t. It didn’t. Fortunately there was another juror available, so they gave my job to him.


Honest esteem
by Dwight Miller, Boone, NC, USA


“Autumn on the Blue Ridge”
digital photograph
by Dwight Miller

It is all but impossible for me to bring back anything close to the number of examples that support your argument against uniform and unmerited self-esteem. But one philosophical premise — to value everything is to value nothing — is probably enough.

But because of our urge to be uniformly fair, we’ve been through schooling without grades, competitions without judgments, and certifications for even the most meager of accomplishments. In the U.S., there is the mythology that “You can be anything that you want to be.” This is not only a lie, but it is destructive belief. The better expression would be, “You can try anything you want to try.”

But back to self-esteem: the opposite of self-loathing is not self-esteem. The opposite of self-loathing is the absence of self-loathing. Once that is accomplished, we can work toward something that just might qualify us for honest esteem.

There is 1 comment for Honest esteem by Dwight Miller

From: Ralf, Long Island, NY — May 13, 2009

This entire discussion brings to mind an anecdote from the De Kooning biography. De Kooning was visiting with a friend who was teaching at Yale or Princeton and he told his friend — these students are terrible. Why don’t you just fail them all? and his friend responded — if they were doctors or engineers I would, but they’re artists.


A spade is a spade
by Lisa Schaus, Flathead Valley, MT, USA


“Last Sail of the Season”
original painting
by Lisa Schaus

This is one compact teaching we can pass on to our children, friends, and the rest of our family. I wonder when it became so difficult to call a spade a spade? I was in a business yesterday that sells terrible paintings that are mass produced for the decorator market. I was so assaulted by the energy in that space. I was quite honest with the employee about my reaction. She attempted to justify the plethora of horrendous canvases called “art.” I was a gentlewoman but held my ground and pleasantly left on a good note since I was actually there on a professional call. It felt just terrific to say “no” to something so obviously a “no” in the realm of educating the public about art.

There are 3 comments for A spade is a spade by Lisa Schaus

From: R Joe Hutchison — May 11, 2009

Lisa, wonderful, wonderful work in “Last Sail of the Season”, and I’m not just saying that, either.

From: Anonymous — May 12, 2009

Bottom line – that stuff sells.

From: Don Cadoret — May 12, 2009

loved the thoughts and superb Sailing piece…..


Respect is earned
by Bobbo Goldberg, Orlando, FL, USA


“Blue On Blue, Leucistic Alligator”
digital edited photograph
by Bobbo Goldberg

Your letter synchronistically summed up a conversation I had just today. The subject, very much akin to yours, was respect. The conclusion: respect is not demanded; it’s earned. Love may be unconditional, but respect is purely conditional. One earns respect in the same way that esteem is properly earned, by striving, accomplishment and excellence.

I understand and support the viewpoint that says one should imbue children with self-esteem. I think it’s important, since the child mind takes responsibility for things over which it has no control. Children in early stages are, quite properly, narcissistic. This two-edged sword makes it easy for them to incorrectly self-denigrate. So sure, let’s get them off to a good start by affirming them whenever possible. But just as children are weaned off dependency, they should be weaned off the early nutrition of easy affirmation. By learning that their efforts mean something, they can be inspired to greater efforts. They can experience a greater degree of true and appropriate power: the power over oneself and one’s own actions.

There are 5 comments for Respect is earned by Bobbo Goldberg

From: SUSAN-ROSE SLATKOFF — May 12, 2009

Respect should not be conditional! We must respect each and every one of us. That doesn’t mean that I have to like what you say or do, but it is a basic of human interaction. Respect comes from the notion of Namaste (the Divine within me salutes the Divine within you). Even an asshole can be treated with respect — there’s a person in there. Respect begets respect.

From: Roger Davis — May 12, 2009

All Painter’s are above average. Adapted after Garrison Keillor

From: Anonymous — May 12, 2009

Self-esteem is built through successfully creating something or working through a problem or earning something on one’s own. Coddling children by doing things for them or not letting them fail sometimes does not breed self-esteem, but dependency.

From: Barb — May 13, 2009


I disagree, we must be civil and tolerant – that’s unconditional, but not respect. Respect is a much deeper emotion which is often faked to be confused with civility. Respect must be earned – absolutely. This is something especially for bad parents and teachers to remember.

From: Darla — May 19, 2009

I agree with Susan — everyone should be treated with courtesy and respect. Being respectful to other human beings is a basic virtue, and it doesn’t mean you have to be dishonest. Showing respect is another way of acknowledging that we are all human beings, and the way you treat people says more about you than it does about them.


Meaning of self-esteem
by Dianne Bersea, Manson’s Landing, BC, Canada


watercolour painting
by Dianne Bersea

I am always disturbed by the attack on self-esteem. That’s the wrong target. Part of the problem with self-esteem is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means. I treat it as “having respect for self and others.” Respect is an appreciation of worth. If there is a problem with self-esteem it’s that the emphasis is not being put on the meaning of value and worth. As an art teacher I put a lot of energy into finding what is working, what has worth or value, and I point that out. I also indicate what may yet need improvement or additional work. I am also inclined to use the word “beautiful” rather freely because it astounds me what my students produce. There are mini miracles in every painting and if attention is not brought to the successes, a student has nothing to build on. And I put a lot of emphasis on the necessity of continuing to work, that good art practice is a product of practice, practice, practice.

My frustration usually lies in the student who minimizes everything they do. In fact it nearly makes me cry because I come from that background. I was taught to find fault with everything and I continued to do that into adulthood and even made a point (unconsciously) of surrounding myself with people who would also find fault with everything I did. Until I was able to see the successes even in the larger failure, I did not move forward, I did not grow in my work, I did not sell any paintings.

I agree that there needs to be a measurement against examples of excellence. But knocking the concept of self-esteem as the cause of too much over-estimation of worth, denies my understanding of that word. Respect for self is not about an uncritical assessment. It is about a careful and realistic assessment of accomplishments and acknowledging those that measure up.

There are 4 comments for Meaning of self-esteem by Dianne Bersea

From: Terry Ow-Wing — May 11, 2009

I agree with your comments. I think there is a huge difference when society fills in the gaps of self esteem building for those who are in need to just fulfill the acknowledgment of self worth. Don’t we all remember that girls were always taught that math was too hard for them and that girls should not become scientist, architects, engineers etc. Of course if you are a professional artist you should be way beyond the “need” of empty compliments to boost your ego. I think blindly serving the idea of positive self-esteem is detrimental to society as a whole. I would rather live in a world where people learned to think in more positive manners that just criticisms for opinions’ sake.

From: Joan — May 12, 2009

I agree. In my opinion there is a difference between self esteem and feelings. I think that a healthy self esteem, ie appreciation of one’s worth, is a way of being that can enable one to tolerate and benefit from criticism. The criticism may make one sad or frustrated but a person with some self esteem knows that she/he is as worthy after the negative criticism as she/her was before.

From: Diane — May 13, 2009

I agree with you, and I notice we are all women on this comment. The problem with young girls right now is a huge lack of self esteem. If they don’t look like Barbie, do sports like an Olympic Athlete, sing like Myley…etc. Eating disorders and much quiet agony goes on here, as an art teacher I feel our society is really on the wrong tack with children, girls, especially. Giving children a little boost about their art is a good thing…we don’t need the “it’ll spoil them” of the previous generations…(following up on Garrison Keillor’s remarks last Sunday in Boulder, CO. “My Mother told me today (Mother’s Day) that she loved me. A new thing, for sure.” He’s over 60, typical of our generation.

From: Barb — May 13, 2009

There are women who would disagree. What I see are lot of over confident girls who try to do stay little girls well into the adulthood and late in life get crushed with the reality of having to fend for themselves. Something is wrong with the way girls are being brought up – I think that the fake self-esteem is as bad as patronizing.


The role of men
by Carl Erickson, Stillwater, MN, USA


“Memory jars”
by Carl Erickson

I think there is a bigger issue than misguided self-esteem presented to our children. As a society we have been bashing everything male for so long we have forgotten the important role men used to play in developing a person’s character and by extension their ability to judge the value, quality and meaning of their work and their place in society. Qualities of character that used to be part of manliness have been denigrated to liabilities. The father who was once confident and authoritative is now an egotistical, know-it-all. The mentor who expects technical knowledge and provides constructive criticism is seen as old fashioned and a fundamentalist. The demanding coach is now domineering. And if dad says no he is seen as emotionally abusive. When the man decides to step back and not exert his role in the family and society he is portrayed as bumbling, buffoonish and distant, unavailable. Meanwhile mothers are left as the perfect nurturing, coalition-building, healers. We need both “parents” in the home and in society as a whole and the art community by extension.

As children (we are all children to someone) we need an inner voice that provides motivation, demands and self-criticism when we are alone. These “male” inner voices used to come first from our fathers, then our coaches, teachers, mentors, and employers. All this has been stripped away and been labeled oppressive. Even “GOD the Father” has been emasculated and replaced with a kinder, gentler, nurturing persona. Without the balance of these traditionally male characteristics we lack the inner drive to push past our comfort zone, to work through obstacles, to discard what is not up to our abilities or to even know, question and push our abilities. When the only inner voice we hear is that we are great, that all we do is good, that we deserve a rest from all our good work, the work is all too often, just not that good.

We need those inner nurturing voices to help us as we push ourselves beyond what we thought we were capable of. We need those healing voices as we struggle with self-doubt and the inner criticism of our work. When we have both we will have a valid reason for true self-worth and a positive self-esteem.

There are 2 comments for The role of men by Carl Erickson

From: Darla — May 12, 2009

I grew up in the 60’s, when everything female was trivialized. What you are seeing now is a reaction to that mindset. But don’t be deceived — it is still around, just disguised. We still have separate aisles in the toy store for “boy’s toys” and “girl’s toys”. Generally that means action toys vs. dolls or bright colors vs. pink and pastels. There was even one man who posted on Freecycle giving away a pink game controller because his daughter had outgrown it and it would be “inappropriate” for his younger son to have a pink toy!

We need both male and female role models. To be masculine does not mean to be brainlessly domineering. To be feminine does not mean to be brainlessly dependent. We would be better off to teach our children to respect individual effort and earned authority.

From: Anonymous — May 13, 2009

This an eye for an eye mentality that the children are being nurtured in. Things do come around, so this can’t be good for anyone.


Keeping students motivated
by Joan Wolbier, Boulder, CO, USA


watercolour painting
by Joan Wolbier

My adult students are so afraid of failing, that to be “brutally” honest would keep them from even trying. We do critique, but I do not criticize. I have also taught young children (ages 5 and 6) who will not even try to do any visual art because it “won’t look right.” They are getting strong messages about being perfect and realize at an early age that it isn’t worth trying because they won’t be. So, in response, I do encourage “mediocrity” to help keep the struggling adults and children motivated. However, I don’t see it as mediocrity. I see it as part of the learning process. I have also attended recitals and listened to 20 kids play the same piece. But, having raised a child who wants to be a professional musician, I know how hard the daily regimen of practice, practice, practice can be. That is what gets rewarded at those recitals. I agree that you have to do good things to feel good, but, in art, doing “good” is relative to the experience of each individual. The true professionals realize the hard work that it takes and, for them, the reward is in their own skills and knowledge. And, like Pavlov’s dog, every once in a while we are rewarded with a seemingly effortless, successful artwork. But I don’t want to keep children and adults from experiencing the satisfaction of being creative.


Legendary ‘failures’
by Dustin Curtis, Decatur, AL, USA


“Wolf in water”
oil painting, 12 x 16 inches
by Dustin Curtis

Quality does rule in every part of life and it shouldn’t be any different in visual art. Sometimes I wonder why visual art is not viewed like other art, such as music. Average or below average musicians are not usually told that they are great. Ever watch American Idol? If someone cannot sing we don’t hear people saying, “Tell her she can sing really well.” It’s usually someone saying, “Someone should tell him he can’t sing.” You also will notice that many people think they can sing when they can’t sing very well. Why is it so hard to tell someone that they are not that good at visual art? For those that are worried about discouraging or “scarring” someone by telling them the truth, just read the biographies of the great artists of the past and even people outside of art who have accomplished great things. Most of them have a similar story of how they were told they were not any good and were not going to make it. Elvis Presley was told he couldn’t sing. Garth Brooks was turned down numerous times by record producers. George Lucas was discouraged that Star Wars would not be popular. Frank Sinatra was told he didn’t have any rhythm. It goes on and on. Many great visual artists have similar stories.

So, in my opinion, it has very little to do with self-esteem. Those that are destined to be great in any area are going to do it regardless of what we tell them. That’s the center of interest here.


Aspire to high standards
by Lyn Asselta, St. Augustine, FL, USA


“Palms on the edge”
pastel painting
by Lyn Asselta

Bravo! We all need pats on the back occasionally to keep us motivated, but holding one’s self to a higher standard is the only way to improve. Our work doesn’t progress unless we are always in the frame of mind that lets us know we can improve with the next piece. There are truly great artists out there, both living and dead, and they hold the standards to which we should aspire. If you are not continually trying to raise the bar for yourself, and you are content to think your work is fine the way it is, then I suppose you should consider yourself a hobbyist and not an artist. Even Cezanne was quoted to say, “When I judge my art, I take my painting and put it next to a God-made object like a tree or flower. If it clashes, it is not art.” What higher standard than the perfection of nature? We’re given this ability or gift to translate what we see and it becomes our responsibility to continually try to do it better. If we settle for what’s good enough to sell or what’s good enough to garner praise from the masses, we are only creating to the standards of the buyer, who quite possibly is only thrilled that your work matches his living room furniture. Good is never good enough.

There is 1 comment for Aspire to high standards by Lyn Asselta

From: Rick A Pilling — May 12, 2009

I think you’re on the right track Lyn. When I taught drawing classes I encouraged _all_ my students to be their own most demanding critics. Regardless of the success or failure of the individual works being created I asked them to assume in the early stages of a drawing that everything was at least slightly wrong. This was not necessarily because it was wrong (and I made this clear), but rather because it encouraged the students look for themselves at how they could make their drawing better – rather than rely on me to tell them what is wrong and how to fix it. By handing the judgment of the success or failure of a work to someone else, we stunt our own ability to learn how to judge.

I found there were very few students who seemed to simply have no “eye” for art – who honestly didn’t know whether their work looked right or not. When people speak of a talent for creating art as a “gift” the only quality that I would be tempted to agree and call innate is that of a keen eye. The rest can be learned with enough practice.

I was educated in art at a university in Canada… in many ways I emerged from both degrees wishing that I could have learned in a Russian academy – complete with the stereotypical hard-line instructor throwing away my drawing if it sucked. I’m sure I would have despised the process, but I also completely admire the technical expertise that seems universally present in artists emerging from that education. Yes, creating art can be extremely enjoyable… but no, we should not think that this enjoyment is enough. A Sunday painter may create art purely because he or she enjoys it – but this may be why he or she is a Sunday painter and not a professional. Artist’s enjoyment of the process and self-esteem will undoubtedly show in their work, and will tend to make it better, but it cannot be the only factor.

The conceptual artist Sol Lewitt once said “Banal ideas cannot be rescued by beautiful execution.” This may well be true, but I would also say the reverse is true… a great idea will only be diminished with banal execution.


False feedback not helpful
by Gail Seich, East Meadow, NY, USA


“Afternoon snow”
original painting
by Gail Seich

I was taking a portrait/figure class after not painting in that genre for quite a while. It was clear to me that I had gotten off to a bad beginning… really bad… so much so that I was a little surprised at myself. Although I was frustrated and a bit disappointed I decided to take a deep breath and reevaluate. The teacher came over to my work and praised me, telling me how wonderful it was… that I had a good handle on what I was doing. This critique came after I heard her tell another student that she recently read an article that suggested you give positive feedback toward your students’ work to give them confidence.

It was just the opposite for me. What she told me was false and far from the truth. Instead of feeling more confident I was a bit angry. How can I learn and correct what was obviously wrong if the teacher is telling me how good it is. She defeated her purpose… and I didn’t take any more of her classes. I love to paint, I have been painting for many years… and what I paint is honest. I don’t paint to please anyone but myself… so if my work is way off where it should be, I am usually aware of it. I don’t beat myself up over it and the last thing I need is for someone to praise me for doing poorly.


Encouragement helps
by Kelley MacDonald, Tiverton, RI, USA


“Red Candy Apple”
oil painting, 6 x 6 inches
by Kelley MacDonald

Having been a Girl Guide and also led a troop for a short time, I must say the ‘self esteem’ part is important because they’ve found that girls with low self-esteem don’t TRY for things, they get marginalized and they are more likely to get pregnant…

And about the art world, and bloggers, saying things like ‘good fence posts’ when any fool can see they’re substandard… it’s called encouragement. And people who get ‘honest’ feedback (“What ARE those sticks in the grass?”) tend to get discouraged and give up. The blogosphere is full of artists who recognize that it’s going to happen as you grow as an artist, particularly if you’re not lucky enough to go to art school — self-teaching is full of mistakes and struggle. But the encouragement and camaraderie keeps people trying.


Choosing awards
by Melanie Ettenger, Palisade, CO, USA

Today I was asked to judge an exhibit for artists over 55 at a retirement facility. The criteria you write about shifts radically for those that experience the process of aging and yet still choose to create. I have a master’s degree in art history and several years of doctoral research focusing on critical theory and historiography… in the long run, who cares?? I agonized over choosing awards but it really came down to acknowledging the attempt of individuals to express in the best way possible what it is like to live (even if in the later years of life their art is not so good?). If one is so blessed to be able to do so, the snobbery surrounding art criticism might need re-examination. I know that there was not one work that would be esteemed by the so-called legitimate art societies in the area — let alone the world — and the history of such critiques. So I chose awards in a fashion that allowed me to access sheer enjoyment of their art — those that will most likely allow me to find myself free of ever having the task of judging again.


Must be a balance
by Susan Thomas, Toronto, ON, Canada

I am a retired teacher, guidance counselor, social worker who has left the school system with concern about the sense of entitlement and self-absorption that has gripped our young population. While I truly understand the importance of self-esteem and encouragement, I feel that we have gone astray. There is so little recognition for excellence and the bar has been set lower and lower. While I detest elitism, class structure, snobbism and arrogance and applaud the need to create opportunities and provide motivation for every learner, somewhere there must be a balance.

It is important to recognize effort, risk-taking, the adventurous spirit, the willingness to reach out, up and beyond but in providing feedback, a thoughtful parent/ teacher/ guide/ critic should also suggest the next steps that need to be taken to get closer to that goal of excellence. And, yes, excellence can be tied to the product or to the physical, mental, emotional output required to create the product — and those differences must be defined!

There is 1 comment for Must be a balance by Susan Thomas

From: Anonymous — May 13, 2009

Well said, young people who enter the work force don’t stay employed for a long if all they have is their overinflated self-esteem. I was involved in an unpleasant discontinuation of a young woman’s contract outraged that her “brilliance” was not recognized and awarded. She even asked for a bonus as a “parting gift”. All she did all day was doing the most mundane tasks, cutting corners and gossip.





acrylic-mixed media painting
by Airynaa Tannberg, Australia


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 Pene Horton of Sidney, BC, Canada, who wrote, “I remember after we first came to Canada fifty years ago, my six-year-old daughter came home from school flourishing a prize ribbon — for running a race and coming in last. Also, on the subject of self-esteem… I prefer to use self-respect, because you can earn self-respect by doing good work, etc., etc., but how do you earn self-esteem? It’s like wood rot.”

And also Raymond Mosier who wrote, “This is the reason one of the large online communities of artists has fallen from my favor. There is a fine line between praise and encouragement. They are not the same. The opposite is true as well. When someone offers criticism of one’s work, it has to be done with a position of authority. This is how we move forward. ‘Truth is ever to be found in simplicity.’ (Sir Issac Newton, 1642 – 1727)”


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The flat trumpet of self-esteem



From: lyla — May 07, 2009

Ah yes, t’is time we earn our kudos.

From: Vicki Schroeder — May 07, 2009

I expect you’ll hear alot from this one. My $.02 is that many people developing their skills as artists need encouragement. Self esteem grows from mastery, mastery from doing and doing again and again. Perhaps the praise is better directed at lauding participation in the act of art-making, rather than at the substandard results.

From: Holly Dupre — May 07, 2009

Re: “claiming that even young girls need to feel good about themselves before they can do good things. I don’t think so. I think you have to do good things to feel good.”

There’s really not enough space to explain this. And I don’t want to point out that as a male, perhaps you do not understand what it means to be a young girl and constantly feel inferior — to boys, to Photoshop’ed ads, etc.

Girls feeling good about themselves is a real issue. It needs to be supported. It does not need cheap shots to make an artistic point.

From: Sylvia Tucker — May 07, 2009

Good for you, Robert, there’s nothing like a little tough love to add some pepper to the pot.

From: Pirjo Raila — May 08, 2009

The cat is on the table!

I truly wondered about this in the various art societies. After awhile I could see that the critique was actually very consistant. If you were clearly a beginner… nobody wished to discourage you… stop you from doing. The better you got, the sharper the critique. It is hard to master what others can take. I have grown in a tough environment and I am better for it, but I can understand that many would have given up.

My eldest son got in the university to study architecture, first try ( under 5% of the ones trying get in). He told us that nothing there compared to the comments he got at home. And we did not try to be hard on him. They do give it back too. My youngest is my toughest critic… he knows that I will not be offended. He will just say honestly what he thinks… to help me, not to hurt me.

It is all about understanding the motives. There are so many who intentionally want to take you down. Perhaps they feel unsure about themselves, perhaps they are afraid of competition, some are even mean. Some people need to criticize just to show that they know best what is quality. We should all learn to give and take support, but also the words that are helping to grow. If it is all praise I cannot feel honesty, so in the end it adds up to nothing.

From: namia — May 08, 2009

What about van Gogh’s critics, they were flat wrong.

The eyes of van Gogh’s critics had not developed yet to the degree of seeing his work as a masterpiece. He was ahead of their abilities to understand what they were seeing.

All critique should be given in a helpful, kind manner.

My art work does not hold my self esteem, God forbide, it’s art right? not brain surgery.

I’ve seen art teachers destroy people with their critiques and it bolstered the art teachers self esteem and left the student completely turned off to art for the rest of their lives…what a shame.

From: Addie Fraser — May 08, 2009

Two people close to me have been totally discouraged and filled with doubt from comments from instructors. Many, many of the famous and valued art masters are filled with their own inner doubts about their work. It made their lives miserable but because of their great desire to create kept them stolidly on the path seeking the way to keep on keeping on with results that we marvel at. It may be that, lacking motivation, not ego, it is easy to be turned off if the way turns hard. With too much ego, a dabbler may think all they do is wonderful – right or wrong. No broad conclusions may be drawn and the individual remains individual.

From: chiropeg — May 08, 2009

I’ve been reading you for a while, now, and this is the first time I’ve had such a visceral reaction to what you wrote. Though I agree with your take on self-esteem, I think you’ve mixed apples with oranges in your examples. If I’d listened to harsh critiques, I would have given up when I first started painting 5 years ago, because my paintings aren’t traditional. Now I’m a self-supporting folk artist. Without encouragement, the art spark can be snuffed. Glad you’re not my dad.

From: Susan Avishai, Toronto — May 08, 2009

Robert, you seem to be focusing here on the feedback given for the end product. But the best teachers I’ve had were the ones who strengthened the “yes” in my forward motion to get to that end product. I’m not really talking about self-esteem — it wasn’t about me. It was more about the complete validity of the effort and the quashing of that negative voice that sits on your shoulder sometimes when you paint and says things like “that’ll never sell,” or “this isn’t as good as the last one,” or even, “what on earth are you doing?”

So before you get to feel good about doing a good painting, you have to feel good about the exercise itself, the worthwhile-ness of the effort. Not always easy, but should definitely be encouraged, doncha think?

From: Rene Wojcik — May 08, 2009

Constructive criticism is a means to show where and how you can improve your work not how to improve your self esteem. If your skin is so thin that any critique hurts your feelings perhaps making art is not what you should be doing with your time. Get a life and move on.

From: Bunny — May 08, 2009

I agree with Holly – not enough room here for an explanation to ‘feeling good by doing good’. Obviously, you have never been the victim of childhood abuse or trauma that totally devastates you as a human being. I agree….a cheap shot to make an artistic point.

From: Elaine Bailey — May 08, 2009

I agree with what you say to some degree. Yes, self-esteem must be earned, but how does it get earned if one is constantly criticized (or no comments at all). I do believe the effort is worthy of positive feedback, not everyone has to get “ribbons”, but everyone deserves support for trying. It takes courage to even try.

From: Melanie Ettenger — May 08, 2009

I hope you read this — today I was asked to judge an exhibit for artists over 55 at a retirement facility. The criteria you write about shifts radically for those that experience the process of aging and yet still choose to create. I have a masters degree in art history and several years of doctoral research focusing on critical theory and historiography… in the long run, who cares?? I agonized over choosing awards but it really came down to acknowledging the attempt of individuals to express in the best way possible what it is like to live — (even if in the later years of life their art is not so good?). If one is so blessed to be able to do so, the snobbery surrounding art criticism might need reexamination. I know that there was not one work that would be esteemed by the so-called legitimate art societies in the area — let alone the world — and the history of such critiques. So I chose awards in a fashion that allowed me to access sheer enjoyment of their art — those that will most likely allow me to find myself free of ever having the task of judging again.

From: vendi — May 08, 2009

An art teacher should say at the beginning of a course that the critiques will remain technical and comments by the instructor and students will be “for the sake of the painting.”

If a teacher has a sufficient grasp of rendering form, mark-making and color relationships and application, *because they’ve worked from direct observation for several years*, then there won’t be a problem.

The central problem is this: students actually need to be taught drafting skills, and many instructors aren’t sufficiently competent in their ability to render to be good enough guides for their students.

Some art teachers focus on creating a critique-free space because they do not have the means to aid/guide the student to draw or paint better. They think the alternative is to hurt the student’s feelings, but that is a false dichotomy.

Instead of fearing saying, or (god-forbid) say, or create an environment where untrained students feel free to say “that looks like a chicken leg,” the teacher should say “The leg may not have been drawn using foreshortening. If you use your pencil to compare the measurement of the head and torso to the leg, and mark it, and gauge the correct angle (which direction is that leg going?), and draw it, etc.,” the student would have not suffered personal criticism and would have learned another valuable skill towards becoming competent.

If art instructors want to create a non-critical environment they can (and should) spend most of their time teaching by doing. Every time they teach, they should be completing a long or short-term demonstration.

If a teacher creates a ridiculous “chicken-leg critique” atmosphere, that will prevent the student from asking for assistance and could even break down the classroom learning environment.

We need competent technically-focused instructors. We also need instructors who are free of severe personality disorders like narcissism and addictions like alcoholism.

Teaching is really a separate skill, and teaching methods have to be included into MFA programs. TA’s should be taught the student methodology that K-12 undergrads and grad students are taught.

It wont happen anytime soon (or anytime), but art departments in the US need to change because are very strange political entities who often focus on hiring teachers either are like the cozy-positioned administrators themselves or who won’t challenge the students for fear of loss of school revenue. Ergo art teachers who can’t teach art.

We have standards in the US for teaching math and science, but fail our art students by letting the blind lead the blind when it comes to teaching foundation art skills.

I’m not certain what university experience the author has as far as teaching, but the issue really isn’t self-esteem, the issue is foundation art instruction. Good, long-term academic instruction that focuses on technical issue (starting at a young age) makes the op-eds’ issues moot.

Sorry this is so long but as an addendum I would also be extremely hesitant to remark (as if one has personal knowledge when one doesn’t) the experience of young girls. And actually in today’s completely corporatized art environment, an artist often can be extremely successful “staying bad” (there is a uniform movement in last few years towards 1979-1981 high school yearbook design in the current post -“pictures generation” 20-somethings milieu).

Anyone who actually reads this, just keep learning and working. Work harder and try to learn more than you think you have to. I personally recommend continuing to work directly from life in some aspect of your study, because you learn to juggle contradictory ways of perception, which will improve your skill no matter how you create your “real” art and will keep your mind open.

From: Debbie Noland — May 08, 2009

Cheap shot comparing young girls’ self esteem to the “art game.” I won’t waste my time explaining how offensive this is. My time is better spent painting than reading this column. Remove my email from your list.

From: Nicole Carrie — May 08, 2009

Right On!!!!

After 2 years of instruction, my trusted mentor moved back to Hong Kong last year. I trust him because he tells the truth. On occasion I email him a painting I’m working on for critique – I’ve been told that my lotus pods looked they had bullet holes in them, that the branches of my trees looked like they were made of PVC pipe. I enjoy his unique sense of humour and accept his comments because upon closer inspection, the man is usually right. When I get an email from him saying he thinks the piece I sent him is “a real good one” I know he means it. The whole process forces me to be honest with myself and ultimately helps me improve.

From: DEL — May 08, 2009

Well said Vendi. Gotta know the rules to break the rules. Have to build a good foundation before the house is built.

As for self esteem the teacher must accept the level of the individual and work from there to enable the students abilities. Critiques are another thing. So valuable in the classroom if delivered without malice, using a combination of pointing out what is good, what makes one scratch ones head and what does not work and why, will give more encouragement than acting out sibling rivalry behavior.

One does not improve without some failures in the corner of the studio. Be your own best critic. Not everything is great but learn from it.

From: Mary Lou — May 08, 2009

Robert, from your email: “Do a good thing for your self-esteem! A Premium Art Listing in the Painter’s Keys Art Directory is the most effective thing an artist can do to be tastefully and respectably noticed. This listing–really a mini web page — costs $100 per year and we do all the set-up. Find out how well it might work for you.”

Ironic, that you choose not to “give” prizes for self-esteem, but that you will surely charge for it.

From: Robert Redus — May 08, 2009

We have produced a society that everyone is a winner, same playing field, same end result. I am a painter and have to do a other jobs to support myself. One of those jobs is teaching Karate to children. In this arena, the program is designed to uplift the child, make them a winner without them trying and in many cases not knowing this is happening, thus giving them a false sense of entitlement that unfortunately they will take with them for life. This entitlement will ruin a great many of them as at some point they will not get what they want and never figure out why the loss happened to them. I’ve taught for 15 years and found there are some children that intrinsically get it and others that never will no matter how the instruction is designed. Most of these children that don’t get it will never pursue it past 6-8 months, it has no value to them. It was designed ti be unimportant in their lives.

I think this self-esteem issue with artists is bred in many university art programs. Critique is from my experience done with kid gloves and often something of value must be found about a work before the critique is complete. In many cases there is nothing redeeming about the work. Many students are taking the “Painting” class because they need an elective outside of their Biology major, and hey, they were told at some point they could draw….by somebody…

As artists part of our task is to endeavor to persevere, we should be designing ourselves to thicken our skin, understand that credible critique is for our benefit, association with like minded thinkers and doers too will greatly benefit us and the more we work the better the work gets. Self-esteem is an acquired trait, not a right, we are far to gentle when it comes to truth, perhaps our nature, but I’d rather know the truth about what some one thinks of my work than some comment that is designed to make me feel good about what I’m doing. We can be trained to do anything except have passion and once passion emerges about a particular aspect of our lives, the self-esteem flourishes, becomes evident and does not need to be constantly bolstered. At that point the value of the pursuit perpetuates the self and we realize we get it……

From: crb — May 08, 2009

Another negtaive reaction to this letter. Don’t blame mediocrity in art on young girl’s self esteem, it has been a male dominated show for a long time.

From: Mick Davidson — May 08, 2009

How much I enjoyed this piece. Whilst I agree with the comment about how we need to make sure females do self-esteem (and you can thank marketing depts for that just as much as men – and marketing depts are full of women…), I think that far too many people in the art world think they have something to offer when they don’t. True quality screams out at you, even if you do not like the work. EG, Francis Bacon, I don’t like his work generally speaking, but you can see the quality in every inch of canvas. But go to exhibitions at all levels and you’ll see wall after wall of poor quality work masquerading as something worth buying. And that to me is the main point – there’s nothing wrong with trying to sell your work – but is it worth selling in the first place? For a lot of people the answer is no: it is not enough that you can apply paint to canvas, you have to do more with it. Sadly, as a lot of this rubbish sells, people start believing that they have something that has value when it doesn’t. It’s not about reaching for the highest standards, it’s selling something merely because it’s been created. Many artists forget that they are on a road, a long one full of bumps – sadly for many of us it might be many long years before we create something that really is worth selling. I know my opinion will not be well received by some, but I do see a lot of art, in galleries, museums, private shows and on the internet. Much of it is second rate but people still heap praise upon it. We have to be more critical and raise the standards every where, for every one.

From: Kathleen Neff — May 08, 2009

If you are an artist you know it. Whether the public thinks so does not matter to you. You ‘became’ an artist because you always were. Encouragement and praise for your work will have little effect on you ‘being’ an artist. You do this because it is your ‘self’. Now, whether you have the constitution to USE encouragement, praise, critique and criticism to further your art successes is a separate issue…Robert Redus says it well.

From: Leah — May 08, 2009

I completely agree with your core assertion that kudos should be deserved. This is a wildly separate issue from that of encouragement along the way on the journey of ‘effort out, goal reached, success attained.’ Entitlement cheapens the whole concept of the prize going to the best and gives a false front to quality.

From: Carolyn H Edlund — May 08, 2009

This is one of those sensitive areas. Encouragement without excessive praise for effort is, I think, merited, as a means of motivating continued effort. Certainly encouragement is preferred over raging criticism that may cause a screeching halt of all creative effort (oft repeated by former students who confessed to have given up for as long as 15 years after an instructor’s rant). The best and most satisfying lesson is, as you say, knowing that you did good. Gratuitous praise is empty, unsatisfying.

From: Janet Werdin — May 08, 2009

We all know that judging art is subjective. No two people will always agree on what is prize worthy. Sometimes politics are involved, sad but true. Why should the need to create be stifled by harsh criticism? Encouragement for the journey towards the goal of making art that brings joy, for example. Whatever your goal, go for it wholeheartedly and be around those who encourage rather than discourage. Put it out for reliable critics but don’t put a lot of weight to what they say, remember; it’s subjective.

From: Catherine McLay — May 08, 2009
From: Adria — May 08, 2009

I teach a class called Intuitive Painting. In that class, I try to teach my students not to use value judgments in talking about their own or other students’ work. I set the tone by saying that it is “research and development” – a sacred space away from the critic, whoever that critic is for you. There is a place for this kind of personal work, where you just need the space,time, and encouragement to find out what you want to make your art about. Too many adult art classes stop with the still life, and folks never get the chance to ask the ultimate question, “What is my own personal voice?” There is absolutely a place for hard-nosed technical classes, and no substitute for learning the basics. But there is also a void – a place where teachers can help students find out what they want to paint.

From: Laurel Knight — May 08, 2009

I read the other comments, and frankly, I think that some of you don’t “get” what Robert was trying to say. I am female….suffered from years of self-esteem problems, caused from abuse at an early age. And guess what….no amount of counseling, or encouragement from my parents, or kudos from friends helped me feel good about myself. What did is exactly what Robert said….”doing good things, made me feel good.” I raised my kids, and even one grandchild, and what finally made me feel good about myself, was from being able to put aside my feelings and help others. When I did that, and truly made a difference in someone ELSE’s life….my self-esteem soared! And generally when I wasn’t praised for it. It came from the inner-knowledge that what I had said or done for them truly made a difference! But having been married for 25 years, I do understand that sometimes men don’t explain their thoughts as thoroughly as we women do. My husband often will explain some idea or feeling to me, and my first reaction would be one of hurt or confusion, until I learned that what he said was the “edited” version of what he truly meant to say. He teases me that women speak nearly 6 times more words per day than men do, and so they have to use their limit of words more wisely!!

So seriously, I am a painter, self-taught and at 55, finally empty nest, can focus on my own dreams. I truly believe that what Robert said was “spot-on” as far as our generations’ teachings reflect….that the best way to self-worth is through achievements. I know that as a child, if you didn’t make the sports team, you tried harder the next year, and if you still didn’t make it, than you tried even harder, or found something else that you were good at and pursued that instead. I agree that the “politically correct” goal of making every child feel equal is flawed. Who will ever climb to the top of the mountain, whether it be in art…sports…business…or anything, if they are not recognized for their achievements at the level they truly are at. It you can climb higher than someone else…great! You achieved that.That doesn’t make them a lesser person than you, just that you achieved something they didn’t, due to your own efforts. Life will not be a level field….best to let our children know that right up front. Try your hardest…if at first you don’t succeed, then try, try again. Tell someone that you are proud that they tried….don’t sugar-coat the results. When my grandson wasn’t very skilled at baseball and cried easily when hurt, we discussed that he might be better off in another sport, so that he wouldn’t be embarrassed, as kids can sometimes be very cruel to each other. So, he tried archery, and he excelled! But not without trying his hardest, and learning from working hard at it. I believe that when my paintings are executed to the level that I feel proud of them, isn’t when anyone else praises them…it is when I look at them, and feel that they at the level that I had envisioned. But that doesn’t stop me from trying each painting to continually learn and progress. I can’t imagine how bad my paintings would truly be, if I didn’t have fabulous Masters….old and living….to compare my works with, to have something to measure my work against, so that I can continue to learn and improve.

And sadly, one only needs to go online, or walk into most galleries, to see the “mediocrity” that Robert is alluding to. There is a difference between “artistic subjectivity” as far as beauty goes, and unskilled work. Too many artists see mediocrity accepted as the norm, so they don’t try to improve. The same way our children will do if they are all rewarded equally for their efforts…the best old saying that my dad told me as a child…”nothing is worth doing if it isn’t done well.” And my husband and I (both artists) have a saying right in our studios…”NO COMPROMISE”. That is what we do in ALL we do!

From: Marilyn Timms — May 08, 2009

This is a delicate subject. I have critiqued the works of painters at all levels for many years now and I have asked myself the question, “why me – what do I know about this person’s experience, motivation or talent and why should they care what I have to say?” Setting oneself up as a judge of someone else’s creation is a scary place to stand and I refused to do it for a while as I struggled with this concept. I have returned to critiquing when asked because I am trying to help that individual, period. I struggle with ego rearing its ugly head from time to time, as we all do. I struggle with feeling tired when faced with the last two pieces after hours of intense focus. I struggle with the resposibility to be gentle with other people’s fragile egos. Yet, I continue because, once in a while, I can connect and actually help move someone forward a little. That makes it all worthwhile.

From: Rick Rotante — May 08, 2009

Laurel Knight — I applaud you.

From: Suzette Fram — May 08, 2009


You are displaying great conceipt in the belief that you are good, better than others, and that you are qualified to decide what is good art and what is not. It is not enough for you to believe that you are better, you would resent giving someone encouragement in their quest to become good. You ignore the fact that IT IS ALL SO SUBJECTIVE. All of it, the making of art, the judging of art, the giving of awards. Completely subjective, and subject to change over time.

You are talking about self esteem and art making as if they have anything to do with each other. They don’t. Making good art and receiving kudos will not help with your self esteem if you do not have it to begin with. Lack of self esteem is a serious issue for many people, on a very deep personal level, and your comments show a disturbing lack of sensitivity.

Your example of the young people’s concert is a good one. They obviously did not produce ‘good’ music. Does that mean they should not have a concert? NO. They have a concert because they have been working all year and need to show the results of their efforts. The act of creation needs the sharing part to be complete. Singers need to sing in front of someone, painters need to show their work, even if the works are not masterpieces. What is wrong with letting them know that it was a nice effort. Would you rather say, it’s terrible, give it up?

Shame on you. You disappoint me today.

From: namia — May 08, 2009

What might be more important than crushing the self esteem of a potential artist, is to educate the public on what is “good” art and what is not. If the public were educated about art, they wouldn’t buy the work that doesn’t merit it.

It has nothing to do with gender, race, status, etc…

Personally speaking, if I have to see another sweet, technically good, sentimental landscape that’s been done 100 times over with nothing new and exciting about, I think I’d rather not see any more art.

From: wiglebot — May 08, 2009

Personally I have found the biggest followers of this self-esteem movement are very smart professional nerds. There are even popular tv shows like Bones, House and CSI that focus on smart people feeling ecstatic about themselves. They have convinced themselves their IQ gives them better judgement and they see themselves as brilliant at everything. I worked in Software R&Ds where 1/2 the managers were like this. They would perform karaoke at company meetings and think they are as good as Diana Krall. You would think IQ would help them understand the talent and hard work that Diana Krall has put into her singing, but their “I am a winner” attitude made it impossible.

From: Rick Smith — May 08, 2009

But there’s also a natural selection going on here. If you’re content to be a mediocre artist then you can set your own standards and do mediocre art and your friends and family will still applaud you for it. If you want to be a high caliber or professional artist then you must produce the corresponding type of work that meets the standards of the professional art world. You cannot play in the big leagues with mediocre work and expect to be accepted no matter how good you feel about yourself. Your mother might love your ho-hum work, but for the guy who’s looking to cough up fifteen hundred bucks for a piece of art work, it better be up to professional standards. I’ve met very few artists who don’t know what level they’re at.

From: Lisa Chakrabarti — May 08, 2009

Thank you for saying this Robert. This is a real ‘hot button’ issue and one that resonates strongly with me. There is only one true path to self esteem: be given a challenge, meet or exceed it, and go on to the next one, and the next one, etc. The rest, in respect of decency on the internet, I will not comment on!

From: Kimber Scott — May 08, 2009

This all goes back to the emperor and his non-existent clothes. I used to have a problem with it. I think I made a comment about it on here years ago. It doesn’t bother me anymore. Everybody knows the king is naked and people really do know quality when they see it. If it makes Bill feel good to have his friend admire his fence posts, so be it. Who cares? I’m sure his friend isn’t going to buy any of my art, or anybody’s for that matter. As for the kids, participation should be rewarded with a commemorative something, a sticker, a ribbon, whatever, but the winner should get the trophy.

From: Gregg Hangebrauck — May 08, 2009

Although I agree with Robert in regards to self esteem, His self absorbed arrogance in knowing ( his ) good art from ( others ) bad seemed a little over the top. Kindness & encouragement is a positive thing.

From: Suzette Fram — May 08, 2009

Regarding the comments on educating the public so they will buy the good art and not the not-so-good, is this person advocating ‘teaching’ people what to like and what to buy for their homes? One thing I have learned is that everyone reacts differently to any work of art, whether it is so-called ‘good art’ or not.

And besides, who decides what is good and what is not? Van Gogh’s work was not considered good during his lifetime, why did that change and why are they now considered masterpieces? Perhaps they were never good but some marketing genius created enough buzz and excitement that eventually people’s opinions changed. Who decides? The best amount us? Who decided that THEY were the best?

From: namia — May 08, 2009

Suzette- I’m not telling people what to like and dislike, only that the general public might have a broader knowledge of what to look for interms of the foundations of “good” art. We need more appreciation of art in our public schools, heck we need art period in our public schools. How is the public suppose to know what a art critic might look for in regards to training, technique, style, etc…

I would never tell anyone what to “like” or dislike, just what the standards are for an art foundation, from there the sky is the limit.

About van Gogh, my point was the critics crucified him most of his life and now he’s considered one of the masters, like it or not. How about Kinkaide? I wouldn’t take one of his paintings if someone gave it to me, but that’s just my personal likes and dislikes. I respect that some, OK, a lot of people love his work.

From: Tulip Panikofsky — May 08, 2009

A point elaborating on non-authoritative commentary: it is a quirk of North American democracy that there exists a notion that all opinions are created equal. This is manifestly, obviously untrue. Yet uninformed opinions abound and are enthusiastically shared. It is as if even the tacit admission that “I don’t know” about this or that, is an unendurable revelation. That most people, when confronted with vigorously asserted, yet profoundly uninformed or baseless opinion, will not point this out, seems to be the result of a set of conflicted social attitudes that might be impossible to wade through. It goes beyond mere tolerance and manners. Perhaps we’ve over-demonized general ignorance to the point that relative or specific ignorance is such a shaming thing that everyone is permitted to pretend to knowledge they do not possess.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — May 09, 2009

Right off the bat- Suzette- the guilt/shame paradigm is a dying dinosaur. Robert writes what he wants to- because he can. Robert supports this system you are using to bash him. It’s HIS system- not yours. Trying to shame him only indicates how far off the mark YOU are.

We live in a system that at best can only be referred to as a BULLY CULTURE. The swing of the pendulum has us on the other side- where self-esteem has become an issue- and where hurting anybody’s feelings has become less acceptable- and so now we give out ribbons to everyone for mediocre work rather than grade actual performances/skills/abilities. God forbid that anybody’s feelings- especially little girl’s feelings- get hurt/disrupted. I wish I had some sympathy for your plight- but since I am- as a not/heterosexual- the still utterly and absolutely last acceptable target for bullying- even bullying that results in death- you aren’t going to get much sympathy from me. You can’t grow up in this still all-pervasive bully culture and get anywhere in life without a somewhat thick skin. And though it might be seen that we are in a time of great change- the change totally away from a bully culture is still a long way off.

From: Suzette Fram — May 09, 2009

Bruce, thank you for your comments. I can assure you that you have taken my comments to a much deeper level of meaning that I ever intended to. And we are a lot more on the same side of the fence than you think.

Of course Robert can write whatever he wants. And so can I. We are lucky enough to live in a free society. My gut reaction to Robert’s comments was that he sometimes seems superior and condescending when he talks about ‘good art’ versus mediocre or bad art. Today I decided to say so. That’s all. I read his letters and the clickbacks all the time and enjoy them. I wasn’t trying to crucify him.

I totally despise bullyism in any form. I’m with you on that. I know that we are all human beings with the same needs for food, shelter and love, and why can’t we all live in peace. We are in total agreement.

I do think that young children need to be encouraged and see nothing wrong with giving everyone a ribbon for participation. It bothers me when I see youngsters playing sports where the only object is winning. The stars will emerge with or without special recognition, but everyone needs encouragement along the way.

And please, could we leave ‘little girls’ out of this discussion. Little boys AND little girls both need to develop their self esteem. Frankly, I found that comment, whoever made it in the first place, rather insulting to females. And by the way, your comments only make my point that self esteem is a deep personal issue and not to be made light of.

So thank you again, Bruce, for your heartfelt comments.

From: Suzette Fram — May 09, 2009

Namia, I understand what you’re saying and the public does need to be educated in art appreciation. But what I have found is that a person will see a painting and something in that painting will speak to them. They will be fascinated and unable to turn away, they will just love it. They will not care what “an art critic might look for in regards to training, technique, style”. Whether it is technically good or not, they will have to have it. And that is why they buy art, because it speaks to them, not because it is, according to someone’s standards, good art.

Art and how people experience it is a very personal thing. Everyone sees and enjoys something different. And thank goodness for that.

From: Gene Martin — May 09, 2009

Amen, amen and amen!!

From: Gordon Sonmor — May 09, 2009

Interesting discussion. As to children – our society awards kids all manner of bogus awards gifts for just showing up. This belittles their contributions and gives confusing messages. All arts activity for children should heartily encourage enthusiastic participation, but stuff the prizes and gifts. Simple applause for performance or ‘group praise’ as in: “Your classroom looks great with all those colourful pictures.”, should suffice.

As to the esteem of the adult artist, one should strive for a clear understanding of where one fits in the art world and share one’s work accordingly. Accomplishment and success in exhibition and/or sales speaks loudest but there is room for objective commentary from respected sources.

I think we sometimes confuse criticism with critique. To me, criticism is subjective, an expression of opinion, often regarding observed ‘faults’. It is as meaningless as empty praise. Criticism is based on no relationship.

But critique should be objective and based on a relationship of trust. It is what teachers, instructors, curators and others engaged in producing and showing art works offer the artist with shared intent to improve one’s product or performance. At its best it is done openly as private dialogue never with an audience, always with discussion.

If I seek your instruction or assistance in exhibition, your right to critique is assumed and is no one’s business but ours. Poor instructors or curators criticize instead of critiquing and so break the trust. Listen only to those who you have invited to comment and discuss it with them. Ignore all others and paint your best. If it is good the acceptance of the work will provide self esteem naturally.

From: John Towell — May 10, 2009

The psychotherapist, Albert Ellis, a great debunker and rational thinker, believed that self esteem was unimportant. There are two aspects of our selves; how we do and who we are, and they should never be confused.

We can never properly rate ourselves, our core, as good or bad, clever or stupid, since we are multifaceted, and have both good traits and bad traits. We simply exist, and cannot be rated.

However, what we do most certainly can. It is most important to be able to judge our own actions, regret some of them and work towards acting better in the future. Criticism is vital, providing it is criticism of what we have done and not who we are.

Both children and adults will benefit from clear guidance and feedback on behaviour but erroneous beliefs of being bad or inadequate may taint entire lives. Indeed if the core belief is secure, one can cope with criticism in the creative and functional way that you promote.

From: Catherine McLay — May 10, 2009

Thank you, Gordon and John! I was disagreeing with Margaret Wente’s argument, that Girl Guides should not get badges for self-esteem (the jumping-off point for Robert’s discussion). I do not agree with the current educational theory that all children should be praised & promoted to the next grade despite what they actually learn. Overpraise is as bad as underpraise in preparing children (and adults) for the real world.

From: M. Chapman — May 10, 2009

My life work as a doctor did not allow for “feel good” only good work then you could feel good. As an artist and at my age (72) I can take the criticism however it is given. Look at what is said and take the meat from the criticism leave the cuttings and press on. “Entitlement” by our younger people is disaster. Who said life is fair. Yes, there is something to benefit by letting the “children” have fun, getting prizes for mediocracy but when you become a teenager and older you are in the real world and it is a struggle and one needs to push for excellence.

From: Laurie Leehane — May 11, 2009

I grew up with an overbearing stepfather who constantly told me I was worthless, a failure and would never amount to anything. Usually during drinking episodes. Nothing I did was ever right. I certainly didn’t build self esteem by doing good things as no one ever acknowledged them. I have been battling low esteem all my life. In my thirties a met an older woman artist who took me under her motherly wing and encouraged me to start painting again. I would show her a new piece and she would ooh and ahh and say it was wonderful and to keep it up. She always said it was important to support creativity. My early work embarrasses me now. It really wasn’t that great. Thanks to her I got excited about art again and strived to do better each time. My insecurities are still there and I am hard on myself but this is what keep me wanting to evolve in my work and try for better quality.

As for critics. I don’t give them credence. Most have their heads up their you know what’s. Mediocrity will always be around. Art is subjective.

From: Ruth Rodgers — May 11, 2009

Wow, you really hit the emotional buttons with this one, Robert! I appreciate the condour and care evidenced in so many of the comments. I love John T’s clarity in discriminating between who we are and what we do. As a teacher of teachers (college system), this is an issue I find myself discussing frequently — how to encourage continued learning (supporting the individual student) while providing teaching on how to improve (focusing on the actual activity/skill etc. being learned). A critical difference, and one the best teachers understand. One of my favourite approaches as a pastel teacher is to ask the student to tell me what he/she is happy with and why, and what (if any) areas he/she would like to improve — and then I try to assist with the specified areas through technical information. In this way, self-critique skills are built at the same time as technical skills. And that’s always my goal as a teacher — to make myself unnecessary, because the student has progressed to the point of being able to critique her own work and improve it to her own satisfaction — and THAT builds self-esteem, as Robert points out.

Great discussion!

From: Vivian A Anderson — May 11, 2009

Heck, I’d just like to be noticed, good or bad, thanks.

From: Donna Herrick — May 11, 2009

Finally, someone said it out loud: as a society, we are mired in a situation where no one is allowed to fail or be less-than-perfect. We are so busy being politically correct that mediocrity has become the standard of excellence. You can’t get better in your chosen field, be it welding, accounting, or art, if your half-hearted efforts are embraced as meeting industry standards. You cannot grow if you are told you have succeeded with your first attempts. Someone has to say it’s not good enough. Someone has to say you could do better. Someone has to say we will no longer accept mediocrity.

From: Walter Smith — May 11, 2009

Your “flat trumpet of self-esteem” is a cancer to all manners of achievement. It is showing up as the cause of our failure of our education system. Education standards are reduced to the lowest common denominator so that everyone gets a diploma.

Thank you for expressing this universal failure to recognize that the accomplishment of a task well done is the real source of happiness.

From: Sandy Haynes — May 11, 2009

I recently was invited by a former student to an art show, at a local prestigious University in town. The student had a triple self-portrait in the show… She was very proud to show me her work, and introduce me to her favorite painting instructor. It was a large painting, approximately 36″ x 40″. I commented on how nicely it was done, and tried to be very supportive… I then asked her how the students in her class got the drawing from the photograph onto the canvas… She replied, “We projected it onto the canvas, and then traced it.” It took me a minute to process this, and not “over-react,” but I might have had a stunned expression on my face. I spoke to a former colleague about this practice. (She is the head of the art department at the high school where I taught.) She seemed to think that this practice is becoming more commonplace. To me, this says that drawing skills are not necessary, in fact, a waste of time. I believe that in the commercial art world that might be so. The old adage, “The end justifies the means,” might apply, but not on a university campus, where I believe we should be teaching students skills for their hard earned dollar…

From: Pat Cale in Australia — May 11, 2009

We certainly live in a time of self-congratulation – a time where ‘the artist in everyone’ is celebrated in a frenzy of commerce. History will sort it out but that is small comfort for the life-long artist making work that is determined ‘difficult’ by the galleries, competitions and funding bodies.

I laugh – a lot. And I love your sound common sense that hits my screen regularly enough to remind me that I am not alone – thank you.

From: Lori Woodward Simons — May 11, 2009

I used to teach art marketing workshops but I felt like a hypocrite because I realized that many of the students, whose work was not good enough to market, thought that all they had to do was understand keys to good marketing – then that would lead to success.

I decided to stop taking their money. I kept emphasizing that the competition can be fierce and that the work has to be good to make a living as an artist, but that fact seemed to go over most heads. One woman… very organized and doing all the right things with her marketing plan, had only amateur work. For some reason, she couldn’t tell the difference between professional and amateur work.

Yes, I did sell some work when I was less than professional, but it still had an appeal, and my prices were low. I’m really confused when I see some artists assuming they’re going to make $150K next year, when they have sold nothing this year. We artists need to look at our work and business plans a bit more objectively.

From: Suzanne Partridge — May 11, 2009

My self-esteem at the moment is lower than a snake’s belly. I’m getting no-where in my pursuit of exhibitions or recognition. There are plenty of talented people out there, no reason for success to be mine, as I feel, the competition is vast.

Maybe I’m just mediocre. Am I to think anyone who gives me praise is mediocre? I’m not sure that talent and working hard, constantly challenging oneself and raising the bar is necessarily gonna get you any nearer you goals. Unless your goals are pure and simple “To make better work.” (Doesn’t pay many bills though.) Being talented and working hard will not necessarily be recognised.

I feel my applications for exhibitions fall on deaf eyes. Maybe my work doesn’t appeal to a wide enough audience. Does this make it mediocre? If so I’ll take all the praise I can get.

From: Joanne McSporran — May 11, 2009

Just because another person has a better voice doesn’t mean I can’t feel the health benefits of singing. Just because another person paints a more realistic looking apple doesn’t mean I can’t run colours together or love the magic of watching paint and texture come together, using the form of an apple to experience one of those little ah-ha moments that make life so worthwhile. Just because Leonard Cohen writes whole songs with the power of haiku poetry crashing in wave after wave, doesn’t mean I can’t write my journal or fun letters to my friends. But all these are things that we are discouraged from doing by people who like to point out that we aren’t so hot and don’t deserve the self-esteem necessary to undertake such small challenges.

OK, so maybe I’m not the best at anything. But I’m pretty good at lots of things. Too bad it took me so long to accept that truth. Too bad it took me so long to accept that that’s good enough. Too bad that I grew up in a time and place where self-esteem was held in such low regard.

I am worthwhile. So are you. If I ever see you (the collective you, everyone around me) falling into depression and self loathing, I will try to help you back to healthy self-esteem. I will encourage you to try activities that make you uneasy and afraid to fail. When you fail, I will show you other perspectives. Failure is only failure if you let it stop you. I will promote mental and physical health in you if I can. Most of all, I will encourage you to find healthy self-esteem so you can continue to grow and learn.

From: Peesh — May 11, 2009

I am a late bloomer in the art field. For many reasons… had to have a “real” job to provide for my kids, didn’t have time, money or space to pursue all of what I wanted to do with my life.

But now I do have time and space and enough money to splurge a bit on papers, paints, books and all that one thinks one need to make art.

Consequently most likely I will never be excellent… I am getting to be better and even good at times. I am asking myself: Should I show my “work” (it is still hard to call it work)… should I sell it? What I have decided for now is that I will not paint to sell. I will paint only because I enjoy the process and perhaps have something to say and listen to what people say about my paintings, but trust mostly in my own inner critic. I could go on and on. And I will show some of it!

Also… I have a delightful daughter who is mentally challenged. I believe that everyone has some reason to have good self esteem about something. That’s the art… finding the true gems in a person’s personality and finding something to excel in. She has good self esteem, she is socially gifted… she really does make

people feel good about themselves and has a unique sense of humor. She has won some awards for her artwork. When you look at her art, it has a childlike freshness and stands up to a real critique by objective judges.

My point though is, she was never made to feel as though she could never be good at anything, but no one ever falsely praised her math skills.

It seems that telling someone who’s art is substandard “the fence posts are nice” is honest. You’re not telling them that the painting stinks… you’re giving them room to grow. Wouldn’t it be a shame if you told them how awful the work is? Though maybe that’s just what someone who is cocky or nasty needs to hear. So each situation is as different as each person.

Life is always on the grey scale… hardly ever black and white.

From: Carol Hama Chang — May 11, 2009

Margaret Wente’s words ring true. Even fifteen years ago kids got awards at school for their mere presence, and excellence itself was downplayed. As a result we now have a generation of people who on the average do not even attempt to excel at anything, because mediocrity is in their eyes, “excellent”. I see this in aspiring artists who balk at being told how to improve their paintings, because they think their art is so wonderful there needs to be no changes. As a result their artwork never seems to improve. I sincerely think that people like that know deep down, in their hearts, that what they do is not REALLY excellent, but just mediocre. But don’t try to tell them that! I just hope that in MY heart of hearts I am NOT like that. I humbly accept any constructive suggestions. Hopefully that will enable me to grow as an artist!

From: Tom Lockhart — May 11, 2009

I imagine the Master Artists, that came before all of us, wouldn’t even allow many of us to paint with them, let alone show with them, ENTITLEMENT didn’t exist then. Their criticisms were tough, I am sure (they were the authority at the time). They were there to help their contemporaries and their students grow to be much better artists. Whole colonies of artists grew and thrived because of this method. Everyone wanted to learn from the Great Ones. We lack this today – everyone wants in on the game. It’s fun being an artist. I’ll bet the world’s greatest artists didn’t always have fun with their work. They enjoyed what they were doing but they took it very seriously.

I recently judged a Regional High School Art Show. I was given a multitude of ribbons to be handed out so I wouldn’t offend or leave anyone out. I refused to do so. I awarded the finest students with the sponsor money and ribbons for the best body of works produced by these students. Why? Because it showed me they were involved and interested in Art, not just making one happy accident. I told the crowd in attendance, this is why I chose this method. I praised the few students who showed the most talent. I encouraged others to continue if I felt they showed promise. I didn’t receive one single objection. I guess because I was the authority this time.

The Internet is a tremendous tool for exposure and instant fame. Let’s not forget the lessons from the past. Nothing worth having comes easily.

From: Vicki Ross — May 11, 2009
From: Judy Wray — May 11, 2009

“No child left behind in the field means fewer peaks on the hill.”

yes, exactly…when I first began what I was doing for the last 20 years, I thought to myself those around me y mas further, would be glad to see those that are different..That there was no venue for the differences..those that are different create their own venue. The subway stations provide great acoustics and mucho persona as well. The forgotten places of a neighborhood become found venues for the hungry.

hola Robert from Tepoztlan, Morelos, Mexico where I am finding a hearty bienvididos, un dia al tiempo.

Judy Wray in the mountains of Mexico

From: Janet Morgan — May 11, 2009

When lecturing art therapy students here in New York at the New School, I told them that even though we tell our clients that everyone is an artist, that it is not true. An artist is proven by perseverance, study, challenges, spirit, and more perseverance. There is a term in Art Therapy called sublimation, which is about that balance of expression and control (skill?). Sometimes I wish every one of my patients had the audacity and directness of my brain tumor patients, or a bit of more of the OCD-ness of my leukemia patients. It is the balance and the play between the two that keeps the art lively.

From: Brigitte Nowak — May 11, 2009

Art isn’t dentistry. People practise it for many reasons, all valid. Some people paint for relaxation, some to reproduce a flower in their back garden. Some people do it as a profession, and they should certainly be held to a higher standard than a “hobbyist Sunday painter”. There is a world of difference between encouraging participation in the activity, and acknowledging success in the result. But the question remains: who decides what comprises excellence in art? Is it the artist who sells $100,000 worth of paintings, or more, annually? Is it the artist who has been awarded a major prize, or a government grant? (since grants are “peer-reviewed, the people that tend to get them are those that paint like the people on the grants juries.) Is it the artist whose work looks most like a photograph of its subject, or the image that is so obtuse no one can recognize what it represents? Is it the artist whose work is in major museums? Commercial art galleries? Is it the artist whose work is moving and intuitive? Who decides? How does one decide?

There are always going to be different levels of talent, commitment,determination and pure dumb luck. Every one of those little tykes playing their solos deserved their ribbons and trophies: they had the mettle to practise, over and over again, the determination to memorize the notes, the courage to get up on the stage in front of strangers and to show what they had achieved. Likely, not one of them will end up as a concert pianist, or a rock star, but they committed (or their parents did) to persevering, to putting in the effort, while their friends were playing hockey or drawing pictures, and they deserve to be recognized.

As far as the Girl Guides are concerned, I believe that the badge you refer to recognizes the recipient’s “good body image”. I think that a badge for this, for impressionable young girls, is appropriate. You have to love yourself before you can love others. After all, the media has been rewarding anorexic models and skinny actresses for their unhealthy body image for a long time. The other thing I’d like to quibble about is the term. It is called “self-esteem”. I think we can, and should, encourage our youngsters, our colleagues, and our fellow artists. We we need to encourage them to be the best they can be. And that isn’t something we can determine for someone else: only you know if you have done the best work you can.

From: Mary Harnett — May 11, 2009

For many years I have been somewhat intimidated by the “everyone gets a prize” syndrome and the entitlement it breeds among youth and adults. I have occasionally and reluctantly brought it up with the result being narrowed eyes and heavy sighs of “sorrow” at my misunderstanding and rejection of this social norm. When it comes to artists, of which I count myself one, many of us are creatures dependent on the least bit of positive reinforcement regardless of its source or true meaning, after all our friends want to make us feel good and we just keep on smiling. Artists often do not wear humility well and we can become self absorbed and forget the compelling artistic need to define artistic quality and even art itself for ourselves. For me, my self esteem suffers even more than usual when I have the burden of false praise to carry about and try to ignore.

From: Judith B Jones — May 11, 2009

The “self-esteem” movement has bothered me for a long time. Self- esteem grows from with-in and only blooms after years of much practice and work in what ever activity one has chosen. Another essential ingredient in self-esteem is failure. One needs to know how to fail. How to pick ones self up and try again – harder. If you aren’t allowed to fail, you have nothing to compare your work with. You can’t know when one attempt is dreadful, but a second attempt is better and why it is better.

From: namia — May 12, 2009

Regarding critiques and judging, why are abstracts judged against realism?

Why are all mediums and approaches judged against each other?

Music is not judged this way. We don’t judge a classical piece of music against folk music… why are works of art all judged against each other? I feel this creates more confusion among artists concerning the self judgment or how to critique ones self. Should the “judging” itself be clearer?

From: Nanoni — May 12, 2009

I, for one, appreciate your letters when they are about art and do not foray into the area of psychology, politics or art criticism. I thought that art criticism was reserved for those who “can’t do”. Please do what you do best.

From: Linda Bishop — May 12, 2009

This is all so interesting when talking about “judging artwork”, because it is all so subjective. It has always amazed me at how much stock we put in judging, because if after revealing the results and all the awards are given…if we changed the panel of judges and did it again, chances are we would have completely different results. I could be wrong…but I wonder.

From: Karen Cohen — May 12, 2009

There is nothing wrong with encouraging mediocre people to continue to practice whatever it is they love to do, because with practice comes mastery, and from mastery excellence is born.

By the same token, there are artists who have been practicing their “art” for many, many years whose work is technically excellent yet still mediocre, lacking the emotional investment and unique point of view, and that all important “style” that could actually make it transcend the banal. Is what those people do then “Art” or “Craft?” Are they Artists or Artisans?

I don’t believe anyone (including the artist) is either fooled or convinced that compliments are any more than flattery. In reality, we all “consider the source” when choosing what to believe and by whom?

When tempted either to criticize (or be insulted or worse, threatened by) what you may consider to be mediocre, it’s helpful to remember that “the cream always rises.”

From: Susan — May 12, 2009

I just can’t agree with the premise of this article. Is self-esteem a bi-product of what we do or is it a bi-product of who we are? There are plenty of very talented, productive people who suffer from extremely low self-esteem… and there are those who seem to be mediocre in their abilities, whatever they are, and whose self-worth is relatively healthy. The key to self worth is to know that you are valued. Those of us who believe that God created us and takes an interest in our lives and our futures realize that our lives are of inestimable value. We know that whether we succeed or not, our self-esteem does not hinge on performance. If we make mistakes or perform poorly, it doesn’t mean that we have no value. We believe that our Crutch is steadfast and reliable.

For those who have different crutches, I.e. their self-esteem is tied to their work or people’s opinions of them, what happens when they’re no longer able to perform? Or what happens when the people they’re trying to please, are no longer impressed? Or were never impressed in the first place?

Self-esteem is knowing you are valued by the Creator. Self-esteem is generated by the desire to develop your character to ultimately please the One who has the power to give people a healthy sense of self-worth in the first place. When a person has this, neither rejections, nor compliments have power over them. They can be who they were designed to be.

As someone who was raised to have a very low sense of self-worth, this realization has been more than liberating for me.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — May 13, 2009

And what an interesting path it’s been to get here! At least it’s not too LITTLE.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — May 13, 2009
From: Terry Waldron — May 15, 2009

I’m a teacher who is retiring after 43 years of teaching art and English in public secondary school. I also continue to teach fiber art across the country to adults. Everyday I’ve LOVED my job – EVERYDAY! And I’ve learned some things… ALL kids can see through that fake, syrupy notion called “Self-Esteem”. The insincerity drips from the mouth with its forced smile and its drivel! It never improved me or my work so I refused to demean my students with “self-esteem building” nonsense. Granted, it might massage an ego for a bit, but improve the work… NEVER! Improving takes study – both inside and outside! And study takes looking, and looking, and looking… and thinking, and reading, and experimenting, and then looking some more.

Kids respond to the TRUTH! Truth, simply stated, but honest, is powerful stuff. It can change a life! After all, that’s what makes a great piece of art great, isn’t it? I think of the first time I studied Goya at university. His images of war still haunt me. I can see the details, the nightmares, in all their simplicity and horror. Who can look at Matisse without smiling? Stripping down the images to their starkest simplicity with the brilliant pure color helps me see all the details that aren’t there!. His work is pure, unvarnished truth without any “goop”. And Redon… how else can he make those flowers actually give off a sweet scent from the paper?

Passion doesn’t seem to fit into this topic, but I think it’s there, anyway! Passion for excellence is part of a professional, and it is an essential piece of the art puzzle. That passion isn’t looking for external approval, either. In fact, external approval comes as a surprise, most always. That’s because the passion is for that piece of work… to be the best you are capable of on that day with that subject, knowing that you’ll learn something from this piece that will make the next one better, and on and on… Maybe it’s like a knight’s quest for the Holy Grail! This sounds too lofty, I know, but that’s better than worrying about my self-esteem!

From: Booba Thompson — May 16, 2009

After spending the day reading the comments and considering what has been posted I have a theory. This may be a bit confusing since it combines politics and the push for mediocrity with a leap of faith in thinking.

I think the problem is related to the graduated tax system advocated by Marx and adopted by Socialism. Since the graduated tax believes in taxing the successful people (defined by the people making more money) wouldn’t it seem to punish success and reduce things to a “level” playing field? Couldn’t this “mediocrity movement” be seen to be doing the same thing? Could the effect of giving everyone prizes, and not keeping score for competitions help to continue the slide since success is no longer accoladed, and instead cheapened by “everyone gets a prize”, could there be a link between the two?

I know this is flimsy but I see a link between the graduated income tax and this debasing of quality/success.

Or maybe I’m just blowing smoke out of my ears. :o)

From: Bert — May 17, 2009


Interesting theory, but I must respond….The “level” playing field does not “punish” the successful with taxes. The punishment would be to collect NO taxes (the poor don’t have them to give, remember) and allow “all” to witness and be caught up in the starvation, homelessness and anarchy that would follow, not to mention the collapse of infrastructure and society in general. We will always have the poor but not always is it their fault. Circumstance. “There but for the grace of God….” Taxes are important for peace and prosperity, but also because more of us have a weakness of self, and need the disciplined giving.

From: Anonymous — May 18, 2009

Booba, I don’t want to seem mean-spirited, and I certainly wouldn’t want to affect your self-esteem by anything I say here, but I really don’t see much of a connection between the graduated income tax and the subject of Robert Genn’s letter about self-esteem. Please don’t take this personally, but I think it’s possible that the editor may strike these comments as bearing no relation to the subject at hand.

From: Kathy Kelly — May 18, 2009

Gol, darn it! So true. With the help of an art coach, I have pulled out of any situation in which I was looking for praise or money, and am painting my heart out. So much better. Being “good enough” will take care of itself.

From: Geok Pin, Tan — May 18, 2009

Hi Robert,

I have been following your Painter’s key since 2006. I am amazed that you have been writing for so many years and providing insights and inspirations for all artists without asking anything in return. The world would be a much better place if we have more people like you. So I just thought to drop you a thank you note for all the years of writing and never fail to post even for a week. I have a lot to learn from you. I am now currently residing in Malaysia and thank god that I can get connected with people like you, it keeps me going as an artist when at times I feel so down and almost at the edge of giving up. It’s not easy to be motivated in my part of the world. Art is something we don’t take seriously enough. I don’t make much from my art and some people think am just wasting my time.

From: Manuel Mercado — May 18, 2009

Infants don’t know right from wrong. Would you deny them love and affection? As another reader pointed out — we might be mixing apples and oranges here. Deny love and affection to a child, and you get maladjusted adults (the majority of us?), or worse — our current society. The majority of societies ills can be attributed to the lack of caring, loving parents. The murderer, the rapist, the corporate leader who can never make enough money, the politician who can never have enough power — all overcompensating for the lack of love in their early life.

Children, especially from birth to three or four years, need love, affection, praise. Somewhere in there, and as they get older, the praise does need to become more selective. But the love and affection do not. But this is an art forum — not a developmental forum — or is it?

From: Janis Burns — May 18, 2009

Hello Robert, just wondering why it’s just the Girl Guides you sited in your article about self esteem and why not Girl Guides and Boy Scouts. As a former employee of a world-renowned museum in New York City, we did a survey of artists represented in museums. Turns out 90% are males and 97% are white males. Seems like there is some sort of discrepancy don’t you think? I do enjoy your letters but sometimes I sense a little, shall we say bias. I know I’m guilty of it. Hard to catch sometimes. Cheers, I’ll have a cookie and a beer on you.

From: Janet Checker — May 18, 2009

I agree with you completely except for one thing – I teach art. What do you say to encourage (not discourage) adult students who are finally doing something they have always wanted to do?

From: Ron Elstad — May 18, 2009

If I understand you correctly, and what I’m understanding is all praise is wrong. If this is true, I have to disagree with you. However, I do agree the Ingratiating, or meaningless praise to purposely make someone feel good, for whatever reason or just for the sake of it, is very wrong. However, I think praise to a certain degree is necessary. You can praise a person for showing an improvement. This then would help cement this person’s progress to this point and give them a possible boost to the next level. People need encouragement to progress.

However, if I further understand you and what I’m understanding is that the praise should ultimately come from someone from the highest level of accomplishment, and with this I agree. However, just as it is with art, the levels of accomplishment are mostly subjective. A person could be considered accomplished just for being well known or having a high profile. This distinction could come from a person with questionable abilities and the finances to launch a prolonged marketing campaign on a grand scale. This to the average person could be construed as being highly accomplished. This would have a definite bearing on the subjectivity of the matter.

There is a certain level of professionals, to mean true, who do as you say they do. However, proclaiming just who these professionals are would be purely a subjective point of view. In any case; the definition, by paraphrasing the dictionary, is any activity engaged in for the purpose of gain or profit, and because of this, there are a larger number of those subjectively less quantified artists who are self made professionals by means of their wide marketing and dealings with less scrupulous galleries. Furthermore, there are many of these types of professionals who are among your mediocrity. There are those today who continue to strive for real excellence, that being the excellence of our forefathers, but then there are those who believe they are striving for real excellence by their comparison to the mediocrity of today. The later of these people are merely that of mediocre excellence. The fact that the mediocre honors mediocrity instead of the excellence of their forefathers means we are diminishing the subjective quality of art with each generation or less. There is a constant that needs to be maintained and this is the quality of our forefathers. Not just for their subject matter, but the quality of their work as a whole. To see this it must be studied.

From: Bryce Rasmussen — May 25, 2009

This reminds me – having come from a big family, and having the time to see how kids act, I’ve noticed that there is one seemingly unchanging thing in children – phenomenal determination to achieve something, with no visible reward. Kids out in the driveways of my hometown, banging a puck against the garage door, endlessly, for no visible reward…me and my friends, practicing burnouts and skids, on our bikes, spending hours to get it down. And if there were cuts and bruises – no big, our moms never fretted and fussed. You weren’t tough, if you cried to mom. And yeah, whatever it was we decided that we had to achieve – usually something pretty silly – we would just go at it, until we got it. And even after we’d achieve it, then we’d go at it some more, to make sure, and also because now was the time to put a spin on it, make that thing yours. And when we showed off, the only important thing was a studied stance from our peers (other kids), that look that says “Yeah, that was pretty cool, but I noticed there was a little drag towards the end there. You might want to work on that bit there a little more.” That was the thing, the look that says they’re seeing everything you do, missing nothing.

I had my first art opening recently, and two things were deeply gratifying – selling a couple paintings – a lady who runs a gallery down the street from where I was showing, walks in, instantly picks the best work there, walks up to the curator and says “I want that one – I’ll have money next week.” Sweet! The other cool bit were fellow artists, looking at my work, and mentioning little details, things that I note I messed up on. That shop talk is what I shoot for, and likely a lot of people, in all kinds of fields. I ride with The Cruisers, all into old bikes, and it’s amazing seeing people put hundreds of hours of sweat, time, and sometimes money, for no more reward then riding the old klunker, and having like-minded folk stand around discussing the problems with adjusting that springer fork to that bike, or how to that crank doesn’t work best for that bike. There seems to be this need inmany of us, to really work our way through something, and the reward is the doing. Seems obvious to say, but so many don’t get that – they’ve been coddled by their parents, and never had the chance to do anything on their own.

From: Rick Rotante — Jun 08, 2009

Maybe the problem is not in intrinsically self-esteem or criticism at the root of the problem. We live in a very fast paced world. We are expected to grow quickly for there is so much to learn and not enough time to learn it. With the advent to mass-media, instant information plus access to anything you ever wanted to see via the internet, we barely have the time to breathe and smell the flowers. This may be at the root of the problem of mediocrity. At this pace who has the time to be perfect or explore our minds or develop self-esteem or learn anatomy, design or theory. Or spend time on developing themes to explore in our chosen medium. The time between cradle to grave seems much shorter these days.

Possibly there should be a length of study for all artists professional or novice, as there is for dentists and doctors and ballerinas, and PHD’s, MFA’s. Even those who develop independently of formal education should be constricted by this time line. No work is to be seen for …whatever length of time set up with this standard. Any artist, pro or not has to spend say six years developing his/her art before anyone would exhibit it or they are allowed to show it.

We all are forced into an unrealistic idea that if you create something, it has to be seen or put up for sale. The very least it needs praise or acceptance instantly on it’s being seen. Why not it have so that a body of work has to be accomplished before an artist can exhibit. Let’s say a hundred works have to complete.

I look back on my art life (35 years) and notice I am not a genius nor contain an innate understanding of art. I was one who, like many, showed ability which some called a natural talent. Natural ability takes you so far. Eventually one needs instruction. In an uninstructed environment, you could paint an entire lifetime and not hit on some of the nuances that a sensitive teacher can show you.

All this may sound ridiculous but it serves several purposes. One is a person who is not dedicated will fall away to another endeavor or lose interest. The other is after a hundred completed works anyone with a modicum of talent will have learned something of his/her art. It will develop discipline, work habits, and give the person a very good idea of what is in store for them in the future.

What is really needed is time to develop, time to explore and time to fail. What is needed is time to grow. Ultimately what is needed is time itself without judgment.

From: Jackie Knott — Jun 10, 2009

If we didn’t strive to better our work we wouldn’t be artists. “Good enough” should never be in our mindset. I look at some of my past work and cringe. The desire for “as good as my ability can make it” has made me take a painting off the wall years later and make needed corrections. I couldn’t live with it otherwise.

My family reminds me frequently I’m my worse critic. Artists should be. I don’t need to hear from them, “That’s really good.” No, I want to hear, “What’s up with that background? Are you done with it yet?”

Criticism from another artist is usually the most valuable. But as we have all seen from Simon Cowell, one can give valid criticism without devastating an individual.

Equally, if an artist is overly sensitive he or she will never reach a higher plane of expertise.

I pretty much know what I’ve done well. I need to know what doesn’t work. I may be blind to a poorly rendered area of texture and need to have my attention focused there.

From: somaie — Feb 04, 2010

There is no doubt in my mind what so ever that Profit lance will show you how to make money online, but there are many obstacles your going to face in order to do it or to get to where I am at. What I mean is, there’s allot of information, tools and resources in this course that your going to have to get familiarized with before you can become successful. Yes you will earn money but to make a living out of it your going to really need to understand how everything works.



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