Asking your opinion


Dear Artist,

Painters who give workshops will know what I’m talking about. You can walk into a room with a bunch of folks busily painting, pick up almost any work-in-progress and, after a minute or two, put your finger on things that will improve it. Sometimes this snap opinion happens so fast that the student is a bit upset. “Why didn’t I see that?” they ask.


A remembered scene from Yoho Park. Working on a toned ground, I’m trying to establish a pattern. This is acrylic, 11 x 14 inches, the same size I often use for location work.

Fact is, any other set of eyes — providing there is no corrupting axe to grind or personal itinerary in need of stroking — can do the job. Different instructors opt for different approaches. Some, when asked, condense to two or three verbal tips. Others chalk in or point out potential modifications. Still others appropriate the student brush and demo on the job.

In light of this, I’d like to do a little experiment. Last night I started a small sketch of a remembered woodland creek. For those who might care to join in, I’m interested in getting your quick opinions and suggestions. Even if it takes Michelle or Samantha all weekend to tabulate the results, we’re going to find out our degree of agreement and disagreement. I want you to know that I wasn’t thinking of this experiment when I started painting the thing, nor was I trying to lay compositional or other traps for people to find. I was simply trying to paint my best and bring the thing along. It’s not a work of genius. Like all my efforts, it’s an exercise.


Another stage. Glazed to darken and neutralize some of the patterns, I’m essentially filling in some negative spaces, finding ‘flats,’ and trying to find a few forms that might work.

This being said, we have also to look at the usefulness of getting the opinions of others in the first place. What does it serve? How harmful is it? In the long run, does the exercise encourage the creator and the critic to eventually reside in one person?

We also need to see the problems when trying to verbalize non-verbal activities. Further, we must be concerned about the problems associated with any sort of questionnaire. Are we really able to say what we actually think? Come on, we don’t know each other that well. Be frank.

I’ve always suggested to artists that they teach themselves to be their own best critics. This is what I feel to be the mark of a true pro. Like you, I’ve sat on a few committees. Do committees ever work?


Winding up. I’ve added a few zips and gradations. Now we have to sit back and try to figure out what it needs, and more to the point, what can be done without overworking.

Best regards,


PS: “All of us, at certain moments of our lives, need to take advice and to receive help from others.” (Alexis Carrel) “Good but rarely came from good advice.” (Lord Byron)

Esoterica: The more I struggle, the more I believe that it’s simply a matter of making small gains. As in any pursuit, there are days when there are none and days where there are some. Keeping things simple and digging up two or three improvements at a time seems to me to be a significant key to progress. Further, I believe brief input is best — whether widely broadcast, confided to an individual, or generously given to the eager and receptive self. “Whatever advice you give, be brief.” (Horace)


Your opinions


For questions contact Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki


For questions contact Robert Corsetti


For questions contact Lynn Digby


For questions contact John Siberell








For questions contact Rick Austin


For questions contact Cindy


For questions contact Rod Cameron


For questions contact Gary Gumble







For questions contact Paulette Matlosz


For questions contact Carol Ann Cain






Yoho Park Memory sketch final


Yoho Park Memory sketch final. Obviously, I didn’t do everything you told me to do. Otherwise there would be more rocks, less rocks, darker rocks, lighter rocks, more trees, less trees, a deer, a field of marigolds and two skunks, etc. I did darken the distant trees and heighten some of the yellow larches. I also smoothed out a few angles and put in a spot or two. There’s a lesson here somewhere.



Lost all passion
by Mike Vandy


“Landscape 4”
oil painting
by Mike Vandy

Critiquing your sketch is like critiquing a Snickers candy bar, I mean, what can you say? All the Snickers candy bars are pretty much the same. Of course, paintings are not produced by a machine, so literal sameness is not the issue. Rather, it is the staleness of it all: mental sameness and technique sameness. You are obviously an artist of some developed technique which allows you to produce a reasonable output that you can effectively sell in the “landscape paintings” market.

So what is the problem? This sketch obviously meets that criteria and this sketch emanates from that very bland desire. So you are succeeding. And so I wonder what is it that you are asking? Are you looking for ideas on how to improve the clichéd subject matter, the mannered paint handling, and the lack of inspiration that comes from painting from out of your head? If that is what you are asking, then you are asking how to make the painting worse. The problem with this painting is that it is already well on its way to being all it can be, and all it can be is bad. It is a slightly more tasteful Kinkaid. If you find this critique rude and uncalled for, and if you are tempted to call me out as an angry person, just don’t, but realize that those very reactions are the soft and effeminate reactions of a man who has lost all passion.

There are 12 comments for Lost all passion by Mike Vandy

From: Mary Wood — Mar 03, 2009

I’m afraid that my comments fall into this category. This type of work is decorative art and doesn’t say a lot about the creativity and passion of the artist. But as others have said, I guess it sells to match someone’s sofa. Not that there isn’t a place for this kind of ‘art’.

From: Susan Avishai, Toronto — Mar 03, 2009

Mike–you are brave to give such a harsh critique to someone who is giving you the gift of his varied writing twice a week, something you obviously read or you wouldn’t have responded. And Robert–you are brave to have shared this letter first, to have taken it on the chin. Bravery is more important than any one painting.

From: Jim Griffith — Mar 03, 2009

amazing that this person (Mike) with so much venom is also the proud producer of this particularly terrible painting. Yes, this does give us an understanding of the nature of criticism

From: Lynda Kelly — Mar 03, 2009

Quite often we condemn in others work what we find most disturbing in our own selves or work. Mike’s “Landscape 4” may be an example of this “sameness” or “lacking in passion” or perhaps just plain “green with envy”. Robert- I loved the finished piece.

From: Fred Bell — Mar 03, 2009

I tell my students, if someone looks at your work and says, “that’s a mistake.” You should respond, “That’s not a mistake. I meant to do it, it’s my style.!”

From: Anonymous — Mar 03, 2009

Gee Mike, you say “soft and effeminate” like that’s a bad thing…

From: Bill — Mar 03, 2009

This is a prime example of a bad critique, and if given to a less confident artist, would even be extremely damaging. This critique goes into spitting at the artist as a person rather than critiquing a painting. I can only assume that Mike got some of his own medicine at some point so he is now lashing back. Rather sad, but there is lot of this kind of stuff in the art world. The unsatisfied and disappointed artists try to drag down those who are successful.

From: Larry Moore — Mar 03, 2009

I’m thinking you missed the point of the exercise and perhaps your message might be better received if you were a better painter. Check for the plank in your own eye.

From: Mishcka — Mar 03, 2009

I laughed when I read this critique given by the person who did Landscape 4. It’s terrible! Robert’s painting is ok. Personally I liked John Siberell’s version of it better. Now what can be said about Mike Vandy? He’s a snob. A not very good artist who is sad and bitter and is threatened by his feminine side. But he is funny!

From: Anna — Mar 04, 2009

Chuckle chuckle, yes I do believe this sad excuse for a critique says more about the critic than Robert’s painting. Very funny indeed!

From: Kathy Kelly — Mar 10, 2009

Maybe for art to happen, there have to be two people… the one who does the painting and the one who views it. Obviously, it didn’t work for Mike. Mike, however, was invested enough to write this long letter. Why? I’m really interested.

From: Kells Mooty — Jun 22, 2009

Yes Mike, you have a plank in your eye. It looks like your vision is as muddy as your Landscape 4 painting.

It would be funny if it weren’t so sad….take Michelangelo’s last advise to heart…”draw Antonio, draw”.


Snap opinions
by David Schwindt, Tucson, AZ, USA


Showing the center of interest

You need to use one of your famous glazes around the outside of your painting to subordinate the peripheral subject matter to your center of interest. I actually like the color scheme you used, so I don’t suggest changing the colors, but to make the point I used the gradient map filter on Adobe Photoshop Elements 3 to exaggerate your center of interest in the attachment. I find the last bit of light you added to the water in the foreground especially distracting.

You are definitely correct in your assessment of workshop teachers. Even my students are quick with their snap opinions and quickly help me resolve problems during my demonstrations.

There is 1 comment for Snap opinions by David Schwindt

From: Maureen O’Keefe West — Mar 03, 2009

The only thing I would change is that long front rock – it now looks like an alligator or something entering the water – disconcerting. Otherwise – nice painting!


Gaining new perspective
by Kathy Yaude


“Blown away”
original painting
by Kathy Yaude

I belong to a plein-aire painter’s group called “Artists of the Canyon” and when we get together we do critiques. There are many members of the group who are very seasoned plein aire painters and I will listen to their advice as I’m used to working off photographs in my studio. I am learning each time I go out and paint with the group on site.

I just reworked a painting based on advice from two of the artists at the last critique. I was skeptical at first, but I thought what was suggested made sense. I could see the need for further development, and I am there to learn so I spent nearly 3 hours on the correction and finally got it. I am really happy with the final outcome now. Before it was nice, but there was something wrong and that something went away after I fixed it. I really believe that one can never know enough about the field of art. It is a continual learning experience. If an artist thought he/she knew everything there is to know about art then they would no longer be open to learning and further study of the subject.

I will say from my perspective that the dark pine trees in the back could be lightened up just a touch to give them some distance. As they are now, they stand out too much and take away from the foreground subject matter. I like everything else about the painting. Nice colors, good movement, composition and light.

There are 2 comments for Gaining new perspective by Kathy Yaude

From: Marie-Lee Sanders — Mar 03, 2009

There is a world of difference between critiquing a painting and criticizing; the main difference being in the intent. A good critique is positive, constructive and meant to help. Criticism is meant to abase the artist in order to inflate one’s ego and rarely speaks about the painting it’s self.

From: Lisa — Mar 04, 2009

Marie-Lee, I couldn’t agree more!!!! A critical person is remembered more for their unlikeable disposition than for what they actually said, someone I’d avoid at the next gathering!!


Leonardo’s rules
by Jack Oates


“Missoula County Courthouse”
watercolour painting
by Jack Oates

Leonardo also encouraged the artist when painting not to refuse to hear anyone’s opinion, for “we know very well that though a man many not be a painter, he may have a true conception of the form of another man.” Leonardo advises painters to “be desirous of hearing patiently the opinion of others, and consider and reflect carefully whether or not he who censures you has a reason for his censure.” This led to his use of looking at his work in a mirror, reversing the image. We are often unable to see defects in our own work as well as others who bring a more detached and objective view — hence the need to find a way to view our own work in a more novel and removed fashion. We can often see problems in the works of others that we cannot see in our own work. (cf. Leonardo’s Rules of Painting by James Beck)

That having been said by way of caveat, let me as a non-professional painter say that I like the way you have added the light of the sky through the background trees in the third frame, increasing depth. You could, of course, add more texture and detail to the middle ground and foreground, but I like the emphasis on shapes — detail and texture might take away from that. I do enjoy your style, instincts, and subject matter so much that I am probably not the best of objective critics. I’ll be eager to see what improvements others suggest that you find helpful.


Adding lines
by Jeremy Holton, Australia


“A sense of being”
oil painting
by Jeremy Holton

This is a composition consisting mainly of zig-zags apart from the vertical trees in the distance. I think the main problem is in the bottom left hand corner where there is a large relatively empty green/orange area which lacks harmony with the other shapes and blocks the eye from penetrating into the background. I think you could break that area up with more diagonal lines creating shapes that match the rest of the work. You already have lines and shapes in the area but they are not strong enough to be effective.

I would be tempted to bring a diagonal shaft of sunlight from the top right to the centre left of the background. Perhaps illuminating those yellow trees and the yellow slope; this would continue the diagonals of the rest of the painting into the background and allow you to create dark and light patches in the background. To be really daring you could even reverse the tonality of some of the dark fir trees making them light against a dark background. You would need to be careful to design it so that the light tones of the middle ground contrasted with the dark areas of the background and vice versa.


Benefit from varied critiques
by Liz Reday, South Pasadena, CA, USA


“Access road”
oil painting, 24 x 24 inches
by Liz Reday

Recently, I did a class to help artists succeed in business, and at the end, we went through a process of showing our portfolios to five or six art curators to learn to deal with their comments. These curators were at museum and non-profit gallery level and they were all about contemporary art.

Needless to say, the comments that I heard from the museum curators (and their ilk) were very different from comments I have received from workshop instructors, plein air painters and whatever award winning painter that I could pigeonhole at landscape/ gallery/plein air events. The curators felt that I should improve my “artspeak,” explain the conceptual basis of my work and look for gallery opportunities in England or Japan. Reading between the lines, they weren’t too encouraging about galleries closer to home, whether that was because of the looming recession, or my work was too old fashioned (semi-realistic oil on canvas), or what?

The workshop instructor/plein air award winners were encouraging and looked at my work with the critical eye of a nuts & bolts landscape painter, remarking on composition, color, etc. My question for you is — who is right? I’m sure everything we hear from any of these folks is helpful, and I’m grateful that they took the time to speak to me. The best thing for an enquiring artist is to get as many opinions as possible from as diverse a selection of folks as you can, if you can. These days most art dealers, museum curators, artists and collectors are too busy trying to stay afloat to review artist’s portfolios, so I think you are right, Robert, to solicit your readers’ opinions on your work. We’ve never been at a loss for words.

(RG note) Thanks, Liz. Yes, who is right? Below is a selection of opinion on the work in question. This material has been put together by our Premium Links administrator Michelle Moore. As well as for the sound advice, these (edited) items have been chosen for their variety and contrast with one another. As I mentioned in my letter, there was some consensus on what I should do with my work. Foregoing the various unpleasant things that were suggested, I spent another ten or so minutes on the painting. Then I did what dozens of you actually recommended in the first place I signed it and got on with the next. While some of you thought the exercise was pointless, others took part with seriousness and candor. A lot of people prefaced their remarks with “This is fun!” Thank you so much for joining in.

There is 1 comment for Benefit from varied critiques by Liz Reday

From: Bill — Mar 03, 2009

Liz, whenever you hear word “artspeak”, run as fast as you can! “Artspeak” is one of the most impotent words in art critiques.



The two groupings of trees are too balanced. I think there needs to be another tree(s) to offset the two that you have there. (Deb Chelan)

The lower two thirds of the canvas are a bit weighty. The focus of the piece seems to be the yellow tree in the upper third, but its importance is reduced by the expanse of the foreground. The tree and the entire piece wants a bit more balance. (Jeannie Burt)

Very subtle and interesting color combinations and great leading lines; the focus at the head of the waterfall could be strengthened by creating darker values in the background trees especially on the left side. (June Perry)

The tree. The yellow tree. My opinion is that it could either use a mix down of yellow (in watercolor, it would be glaze) to cause it to greet the eye with less of a grab. If not a “glaze,” then perhaps some bits on it to indicate shadow. (Melissa Waltz)

I think the painting would have more impact if the upper stream coming down the valley were closer to white. (Mary Sanchez)

I’d be inclined to mute the pinks in the background and make them more neutral/grey (that may be the realist in me). (Lynn A’Court)

I love how you do trees ? they have such vim and vigor! (Rosemary Conroy)

I would try an additional diagonal shaft of light behind the trees and water fall on the right, and ending about 2/3’s across the canvas to the left. (Thomas J. Owen)

A little more pink on the grey rock in the right hand corner would echo the pink colour in the background. (Marilyn MacDonald)

The “v” or “y” shaped lines on the right are drawing my eyes away from the stream which I presume is your center of interest. (Sandy Glass)

Leave it alone. (NB Morro Bay Public Art foundation)

It borders on illustration. Not that all illustrations are bad, it just shows that type of commercial rendering. (Loreta Feeback)

Right now your piece works… and for all the right reasons. (Tam Bodkin Bryk)

Looks a little flat unless I squint. (Lance Anderson)

The movement of the lines is very strong pulling me down to the lower left. I’m uncomfortable. (Janice)

I like the composition but I do think it needs some pumping up for interest. I think I’d add some red to compliment the predominantly green color. Maybe add just a touch or two in the foliage to lead the eye around the painting. (Jeanne Hamilton)

Additional modeling of the forms to make the light source clear would be my suggestion for a next step. (Rick Rogers)

I would break up the top falls with a hanging rock to avoid the unaltered straight line. (John A. Scott)

This painting seems choppy to me and I feel “blocked” by the fore and middle ground shapes from traveling further back into the painting. (Annie Merrill)

It has almost a Land of Oz appeal as it makes me think the stream isn’t leaving that area; making me believe that it is a destination. (RJS)

There is far too much going on for my liking. Simplify. (Sara Aarohi)

The only light in the picture is reflected off of the water. Where is the light source? Why is nothing else affected by this light? I see some light in the far meadow, but the water is as quicksilver, a light entity onto itself. (Fritzi) (This opinion expressed frequently)

There are about 10 very nice things happening in the painting. (Nancy Achberger)

I liked it but then felt it had some areas that detracted from the centre of interest which I decided to be the tree and small waterfall. I thought some of the blue rocks nearby said tree needed toning down and likewise the foreground. I thought too the background could be knocked down just a tad. I signed it, framed it?and sold it to this guy from Shanghai. (Jim Cowan)

Let’s go deeper into the woods behind the “golden trees.” The brook seems to end and the woods begin there – let’s add to the mystery and keep going using shade gradation. (Magi Leland)

A famous artist asking for an opinion! I feel like a five year old telling the college professor that he is wrong about the evolution of the species. That being said, I would probably paint some form of transition from light to dark on the trees. (Cora Kiceniuk)

Add a light glaze of green to cool down and create shadow depth on left side of stream bank. (Darlene Furbush Ouellett)

I think you’ve achieved what you set out to do: establish a pattern ? a pleasing pattern of harmonious shapes, tones and colours. These gradate, balance, and echo beautifully throughout the picture. (Jim Cussen)

Add the back of a weary hiker sitting on the rock in the right corner, looking into the scene. It would add a sense of wonder. (Sandy Musolf)

Lovely and fresh. (Ann Bennett)

I would like to see the planes divided by differences in value or color rather than with “lines.” (Pat Kagan)

I think if you could do something to pull the eye past the stark white of the surface of the water. Perhaps adding some darker color where the ground shows through the trees in the background. Right now the eye flows along the stream bed and then gets stuck. (Ken Burke)

The beginning sketch to the left has more overall strength than the last sketch. (Carole Munshi)

The painting has a lovely soulfulness. I just need a place for my eye to land in it. (Diane Lee Olsen)

It is a pointless and ridiculous exercise. (Harmony Gold)

I wish the rocks did not have a paint texture. It is a little distracting to what I think these rocks might feel like – smooth. (Mark Day)

Finally, to my eye, the painting would be more interesting if it showed a bit of texture. (Mai-Liis Chaska Peacock)

Compositionwise, I find the dark trees on both side of the painting somewhat too balanced and somewhat dominating. Maybe some smaller trees of the same strength towards the centre would help. (Edward Abela)

I see nothing wrong. (Michael Dominguez)

The only suggestion I could make is that I don’t like the colors. (Mary Jane Brewster)

I find that the area that draws my attention is in the upper left – the background above the hill – but there is nothing there. (Candace Fenander) (This opinion expressed frequently)

I think that the dash of blue in the lower left corner feels like it is pointing me out of the picture. I think this happens because of the intensity of the color and the sense of a funnel created by the shapes to the right of it. I am not exactly sure where you want me to look… (A. Kirsten Barton)

How about just adding my name on the bottom… and shipping it here! (Terry Lindsay)

It’s interesting to see how you start your painting out. Pink was a bold, but interesting choice (Kathy Johnson)

Some lighter lights, and maybe a darker dark. There is too much mid tone. (Terry Gay Puckett)

Your painting needs nothing unless you think it does. (George Stalling)

The back woods in pink bother me. It needs further development. Would darker values help to add more interest and balance? (Lynda Kelly)

The photos are not transposing well enough in this email. I don’t think anyone can critique you on the current work due to that problem. The painting does look balanced but hue, value and intensity are nonexistent in the current view. It looks like a negative of a photograph. (Linda J. Cleaver)

What strikes me as jarring is the bright yellow-orange area with the blue violet rocks. (Revelle Hamilton)

With all the input you have agreed to accept on the painting, I’m reminded of the saying “A camel is a horse designed by committee.” (Carol Putman)

At first sight the trees looked so predictable – two on one side, one on the other. (Norene Carr)

I’m very drawn to the first sketch. It was minimal and Japanese, yet needing little more. As the work progressed, it became muddy to my eye. (Ronny Lavin, Thailand) (This opinion was expressed frequently, as was the next comment.)

Oddly I like very beginnings of your sketch. Stark, elegant, and simply stated. (Christen Humphries)

The forest in the background is too gray. Me thinks this area could use a bit more delineation of the trees. (Pauline Sager)

I feel my ‘eye’ sliding out to the bottom left corner. Perhaps placing a rock similar in colour and value to the midground rocks in the bottom left hand corner just ‘behind’ the stream will swing the attention up into the picture body. (Dave Reid)

You are so good at simplifying shapes and leading the eye into your subject. (Pam Flanders)

I think it needs a reason. A focus that tells me what you are paying attention to. (Dawn Marineau)

I find that the focal point is the yellow tree area and it is too centered. (Anonymous)

The dark shape below the brightest yellow tree looks sort of contrived, the sharp verticals and horizontals don’t read to me as a rock formation in keeping with the rest of the piece. Instead, it looks like a Christmas tree skirt below the yellow tree. (Holly Stone)

It needs maybe only your name. (David E. Hall)

You are quite a good artist. Take it up. (John L Plummer)

One of your transparent blue/grey washes over the whole painting – leaving the sunlit trees and bank – might pull everything together and no one would suggest changing a thing! (Pauline Pike)

In my estimation you are a very competent painter. The question becomes do you want to be a very competent painter? If your answer to yourself is yes, then great. If your answer is no then it is a lonely journey you must travel. (Keith)

The background is too warm and the value is wrong. It should be between the yellow tree and its adjacent dark tree, in a cooler color. (Noreen and Doug Greetham)

The composition is pleasing and appears to be nicely balanced. The grey lines entwining through the painting have me wondering what they are, yet this is a work in progress so I’ll have to wait to see the final result. (Gina Weston)

I don’t think you should have started this one. (Stephen Cross)

I suppose my only comment would be on content. The area does not look very lush and perhaps it isn’t. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not sure I would care to go there. (Shari Jones)

I think the composition is superb. I particularly like the way the profile of the treed hills in the background rolls sharply down to meet the stream which flows toward us and draws the eye forward into the dark foreground, then sends us in again to retrace our steps. (Leslie Edwards Humez)

The black marks strengthen the image. (George Kubac)

The darks are not connected nor are they near the (too) small area of light that is the water. Maybe create a larger dark shape beneath the trees on the right that will give more contrast with the water and increase the size of the stream. (Paul Brand)

I find my eyes bouncing from the dark trees on the right to the dark trees on the left and back again. That’s a bit uncomfortable. As it’s a really peaceful scene, I would like to let my eyes drift through to the bright spots in the distance and rest there, not get trapped halfway through. (Toni Gaffron)

You might break up the large “ochre” area in the left foreground. (Catherine Robertson)

Seeing the actual painting is a lot different from seeing a small reproduction on a computer. (Joseph H Melançon)

Tree line on the ridge needs to be more connected to the background and not look so isolated. It feels too stiff and calls too much attention. (Ferol Holladay)

I’d add a deer (impressionistically painted) at the far end of the grassy field on the left side of the canvas for a focal point. (Joel Kurtz)

Looking at a tiny version of the painting, which is a bit like a quilter looking through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars to get a different view, I think something is not quite right with the stream running just off centre. (Vivian Ryan)

I’d like to see a bit more descriptive brushwork in the near middle ground – feels a little over-simplified for my taste in that area. (David C. Gallup)

I asked myself, what if the light coming through the canopy of trees behind was emphasized and the small yellow tree eliminated – how would that appear? Less information, yes, a softer effect, yes, and the water cascade would have its own happy voice. (Philip Mix)

The large triangular green and yellow ochre hump in the left foreground catches my eye too much and the large distant rocks on the left appear scattered in an unnatural way. (Wendy Albrecht)

I can’t see a thing wrong with what you’ve done so far. (Patricia Brett)

It strikes me as a ‘nice’ painting to use for a homeowner or decorator, looking for a piece of art with the right colours for a decorating scheme. The wow factor is still in your head somewhere. (Gail Clarke)

If I was painting, the far field on the left side would be sporadically filled with small crimson flowers (only a few) to add a minor fiction. I would want to step into the painting and walk to those flowers. (Zelda)

I’m sure that Robert will do his magic, glaze it, add some pow and it will look fab. (Sue Gunter)

I am not experiencing the same invitation into the piece as I do with your other works (like the one of yours I own). (Jane Appleby)

This particular painting looks lonely to me, and kind of cold. I think it’s the less-than-thriving trees, and the rocks in the foreground. The yellow in the background brings hope into the work, that better times are coming, but those trees… I just wish they felt more alive and substantial. (Cathy Harville)

I often find that people with no art training or experience can see a problem with a painting even though they can express it in only general terms. (Jeremy Holton)

This is a very inviting vision. The kind of place we’d all like to find. It looks like the most important part is the elevated lake which is only implied. Everything else defines the flat plain of the unseen water. (Jim Stewart)

The only thing missing is me sitting beside that mountain brook. (Marilyn Kousoulas)

Please take another look at the original subject and try to achieve something perhaps closer to the original? (Cassandra James)

The only thing that bothers me is the dark tree on the left. It looks too obvious; like it’s only there to balance the painting. (Angela Lynch) (This opinion was expressed frequently)

The big stone on the left needs some details to create interest. My eye goes there… and the huge stone is boring. (John Stegner)

The painting still looks a bit flat – to fix that I would lightly glaze the foreground with Permanent Violet Dark with a touch of Green Gold. Then I would glaze the middle ground with Transparent Pyrrole Orange. (Angie Au Hemphill)

Very nice color, good line moving diagonally from lower left, interesting shapes, nice overall movement of values (from middle value in front to middle value in the background). (Harvey Schroeder)

One of the first things I would do is make the evergreens occupy a different plane. Move the trees on the left closer to the viewer. (Raymond Mosier)

A Pink Background! What were you thinking? Pink and earth tones don’t mix! (Tony Kampwerth)

I can’t see how anyone’s feedback would be useful. It’s not their memory. So, unless someone is standing there with a large cheque in their hand and they think you should add a few splashes of magenta for contrast, because they have magenta cushions on the sofa near where this will hang, I’d say forget the feedback. (Sherril Guthrie)

The composition is dynamic and if the tree shapes were less strong would make an interesting abstract painting. (Sandra)

The background is ethereal, but I would make it either even foggier with more mist or just a few light details to crisp it up. Come on Robert, you know your paintings are good… Geesh! (John Ferrie)

To create more shift from shadowed foreground to sunlit back ground, the color in the foreground could have had a tad more violet, so that the yellow of the sun light was more contrasty, without being actually a value change, make it a Complementary color shift! (Elizabeth J Billups)

The picture has a sort of freshness and drama, and in a way, reminds me of the impressionist philosophy to painting. (Polonca Kocjancic, Slovenia)

I would prefer to see a color other than pink in the woods, and the front rock looks like a couple of animals on the rock. If they are not animals then the blotch does not help. If they are animals they need to look like animals. No offense. (Dean)

Who is qualified to suggest improvements to such an accomplished artist? I wouldn’t dare, for one. (Jennifer Tunner)

I think you need a lot more work. (Mina Pratt)






acrylic painting
by Alice Helwig, AB, Canada


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Enjoy the past comments below for Asking your opinion



From: Terri Hill — Feb 26, 2009

The overall design in the first stage is just delicious. Pink ground is causing my eyebrows to raise, but maybe that’s because as a watercolorist, I have a different way to underpaint.

The follow through works! I enjoy the feeling and image…except for the nearly solidly pink background. would love to see a bounce of the light blue back in there. and the little tree that comes out of a rock near the horizon line. I would move that tree.

From: Adrienne Stone — Feb 26, 2009

Just to help with your experiment I am forcing myself to make a suggestion. It is lovely as is, but if it were my painting the tree on the left would go down twice the length that it is. Can’t wait to see the comments!

From: Louise Scott-Bushell — Feb 26, 2009

I find the trees on either side of the painting are too dark and intense for their position in the painting. They distract from the golden tree and area near it which I assume is meant to be the centre of interest. The path of light leads ones eye nicely up to this “golden area”.

From: Harriet Brigdale — Feb 26, 2009

Love the painting but I think the background could be a lot paler, and the foreground on the right seems maybe too pale ? Seems to be lacking a tiny bit of umph. Apart from that gorgeous colours so nice to see a painting from memory, my grandmother used to take her dogs for a walk and come back and paint the clouds she had seen on her walk. I think it’s a great thing to do. Thanks for letting us comment , let’s hope you will get the answer you have already decided on ?? Maybe?

From: Pollock — Feb 27, 2009

The foreground needs work.

From: Ted Duncan — Feb 27, 2009

My initial reaction for what it is worth.

1. Add a tad more value (more form) to the middle ground rocks.

2. Strengthen ,a smidgen, the values of the greens in the foreground.

Of course, my monitor or my eyes could need some calibration.

From: Carol McArdle — Feb 27, 2009

If I was teaching I would ask you how you feel about the painting and what do you think it needs? Personally I would like to see a clearer focus point—the little golden tree in the background I assume? Your style is well established and you are obviously in a place of great inner strength to be so gracious as to take everyone’s comments and suggestions publicly! Thanks for coming up with such an interesting exercise. :o)

From: Brenda — Feb 27, 2009

I think your painting is lovely and you do not need any of your readers advice on how to paint, find something else to write about Robert this is a no brainer subject.

From: Darla — Feb 27, 2009

There is just one thing that bothers me about the painting. I would put more demarcation, perhaps a change in value, between the midground and background. If you darken the background a little, that little golden tree will stand out more. It seems, so far, that everyone saw something different that they want to change.

From: Diane Chilson — Feb 27, 2009

I am a drawing artist, and know very little about painting technique, but for me, the painting has lovely balance and color, wonderful contrast and movement. As my eyes are drawn back and forth across the painting, I want to ground the boulders. The colors you have used are very attractive to my tastes as I can appreciate the mood they create for me.

From: Janet Best Badger — Feb 27, 2009

Only you have the experience to judge your own work. When someone else looks at it, it all comes down to a choice of Like or Don’t Like. I Like it!

From: Nan — Feb 27, 2009

I (the viewer) am sitting on the rocks in the shade. I’m cold and want to walk to where the golden trees are, as it seems warm and sunny there. My eye tries to figure a way to get there.

From: Linda Kerlin Feb 27-09 — Feb 27, 2009

I really like the way you apply your paint.. bold shapes , bold color, it looks like your quilting pieces & color. I like the energy you possess in your painting without hesitation or tightness. It keeps the viewer interested & moving.

From: Sarah Creason — Feb 27, 2009

Warm up the foreground a touch; shadow in the sunlight – sunlight in the shadow a touch; soften the foreground edges a touch; put a museum frame on it and “wha laaa” a masterpiece.

From: Mária White — Feb 27, 2009

The shapes and colors are beautiful, and if your decision was that the painting is complete, I would accept that without question. But, since you ask, the pink and beige background does seem like a curtain that blocks the action. It is true that it is so easy to spot something in another’s work and have no clue when looking at one’s own.

From: John Larner — Feb 27, 2009

I agree with Nan and Sarah C., Highlight the rocks in the foreground a bit where the light is touching the water– also where the light would be hitting the trees on the left- in spots—also a touch of highlight on the pink tree and shade the yellow tree a bit — but what I think does not always work… John L.

From: charivari — Feb 27, 2009

I like it as it is but if it were my painting I would introduce a little pink into the foreground(just a hint) and also the blue of the water somewhere into the treeline and either a highlight to the golden tree or a shadow on part of it; darken the rocks about 10-15% on the undersides in the mid to foreground too. Thanks for the opportunity to sit in the “big chair”!

From: Morgan Samuel Price — Feb 27, 2009

I enjoy your letters. An artist friend of mine Nancy Galvin, in Baltimore, lead me to your site several years ago.

My critique is: Since your are still in the early part of the experiment, as all paintings are, your pathway to the completion of the design conveys movement for the intellect to be engaged. The darkened trees shapes seem a bit spartan and not as intriguing as the rock formations at the moment. There also seems to be a halo effect on the large rock on the left side of the design.

On the moniter that I am currently using it is difficult to access the value set up and the color. I would enjoy seeing the actual painting in order to fully express my thoughts on those issues. Enjoy your experiment. I am.

From: Joyce Goden — Feb 27, 2009

I did not see any of the above, colors, trees, excetra looked fine to me.

IMHO (in my humble opinion)

At first look I did see too many of the same angular lines in the lower right hand side of the painting, (top of the right hand hill, top of the purple rocks, and top of the grey rocks). Giving a possible unsettling feeling of a crooked walk.

A dark line in the forground rocks going the opposite way (offset in the bottom right hand corner might fix it).

From: Heather Boyd — Feb 27, 2009

I would widen the blue triangle for the entrance of the water. Change the blue rocks to a silver shade. The large rocky space at the front left triangle needs to be brighter, some gold highlights, with a brighter green. Then use red for the focal point rather than gold. So this would add more sunlight coming through and the red against the pink tone would really draw the eye in.

From: Karin Huehold — Feb 27, 2009

Lovely – just a titch of the background pinks in the bottom foreground, and a smatter of bright yellow to break up the large yellow/ochre area in the foreground – that is what I would say to my students??!!

From: Tina Tyrrell — Feb 27, 2009

lovely start – I like drama – I’d put a large tree in the foreground out of the picture plane for drama and scale – this is fun

From: Rick Rotante — Feb 27, 2009

Robert- You’re funnin’ with us right? I sent my reply to your website so I won’t reiterate it here. What’s interesting and more to the point of your letter, is every reply so far offers something different about the entire piece, which leads me to conclude that advice and opinions are totally irrelevant, especially coming from another artist. Not to infer that the comments are not valid and worthy (I’ve added my own) only that all the contributors (myself included) would have painted their own version if given the brush.

Lastly, you can’t say we noticed anything “wrong” so much as noticed what we would do differently.

From: Sylvia Hicks — Feb 27, 2009

I agree with Louise Scott-Bushnell. My eye was immediately drawin to the 2 stands of dark trees, left and right. In third view, the trees are still too bold for the balance of color. I understand they are the break between fore- and background which works well. But the value seems to be off…

From: Maggie Hitchcock — Feb 27, 2009

Foreground is very dark, I get stuck in it. Balance with light. sincerely and humbly submitted. Thanks for blog I enjoy it immensely.

From: Jan Canyon — Feb 27, 2009

It looks great but I would extend the tree on the left further down into the foreground. Trees on the left and right but the foreground seems rather blank to me. Large areas with not much interest in them to compare with the rest of the painting. JMHO

From: Ron Beaulieu — Feb 27, 2009

I would remove the trees in the upper left entirely. Looks too balanced with those trees.

From: Gwen — Feb 27, 2009

It makes me cry. I look at it and want to start balling. Make it stop.

From: 99801 Alaska — Feb 27, 2009

The initial sketch is intriguing, like the strong trees near the top, waiting to see what will happen with the strong diagonals in the foreground.

Second picture – wow, like the background trees in the distance although not liking the pink tones – yet. Like the shapes in the mid and foreground.

Third stage – Still waiting for the bottom third of the painting to make a strong contribution to the whole. I would like to see the zig-zag of the stream continued (even if invisibly) by seeing that larger rock have some kind of contrast to continue that diagonal line up into the mid ground. More fun, and subtle contrasts or colors in the foreground. Make those background pinks make sense with the rest of the painting, maybe glaze them down or bring other pink related colors into the foreground.

Wish I had such great bones in my stuff!!!

Thanks for the opportunity to analyze and just brainstorm!

From: Sharon Lynn Williams — Feb 27, 2009

Hi Robert: Good on you for opening yourself up to critique! I haven’t read the other comments as I didn’t want them to influence my judgement. I love the colour gradations in the foreground rocks. I feel that the pinks in the background should be gradated a bit more from warm to cool, to show that the warm light hitting the foreground is also influencing the background. I would also see some more happening in the large shape in the lower left -not to busy it up, but it seems unattended to. Love your work and I am a huge fan!

From: — Feb 27, 2009

Robert, the picture has too many sharp edges and too much brown for my taste. Not that my efforts are any good at all!

Regards, James D

From: Christine Reichow — Feb 27, 2009

While I admire your landscape, I would change several things. The focal point (the upper waterfall) is too close to the center. I would move the waterfall further over to the right of the painting. I would then eliminate some pine trees on the right and put more on the left. Warm colors should be in the foreground and cool colors in the background. I would repaint the far background in cooler tones to help it recede and warm up the rocks in the lower right corner.

From: Kurt — Feb 27, 2009

My opinion is that the 3rd stage of the painting has a nice flow, leading the eye in and out of the painting nicely. It also has a pleasing, lively balance of color choices that keep one’s interest. But there is a certain uniformity in the rendering that leaves me wanting more. I think it could benefit from some areas of detail that would punctuate the center of interest, and provide the viewer an area to explore and relate to the topic with a bit more empathy.

From: Cindy Key — Feb 27, 2009

I like the way the painting is shaping up very much. For my taste, it is too angular and needs some softening to relate to the feminine paper color. I can picture a sunrise/sunset peeking through the tree trunks, which would bring warm colors into the piece, while leaving the cool colors in the shadows.

From: Patricia King — Feb 27, 2009

I agree mostly with the others but, what is the subject? trees or waterfall? I would have made the waterfall bigger but what really bothers me is that yellow tree stuck right on top of that “thumbs up” rock and you have a merge there. Blend the yellow tree in and more warm lights in the forground.

From: Friedrich Altesdorfer — Feb 27, 2009

The work somehow speaks to the zeitgeist of our times. It reflects the nature of our relationship with color and line. There is a quality in it that aspires to illuminate the dark places in our souls. If Wagner had been a painter… well, he probably would have done it differently, but then he wasn’t such a lovable mensch, was he.

From: Felice Primavera — Feb 27, 2009

I have nothing to say on the matter. My opinion would be completely useless to you, as it often is to me. I’d hate to waste both of our time.

From: Alcina Nolley — Feb 27, 2009

I think the composition is perfect. If the first point in the stream is the focal point, then it needs to be highlighted. the darkest darks and lightest light there would mean that the pine trees are too dark. Those changes would make the foreground and mid-ground separate from each other.

From: Russ Hogger — Feb 27, 2009

Hi Robert. I feel that the painting needs more contrast especially at the top of the waterfall to show off the little yellow spruce tree more as the focal point.

From: K Tucker — Feb 27, 2009

Love the shapes of the pines especially. Love the pattern, shapes… Maybe blue in the distance? Something special in the foreground, a zip of bold reds, even in the delicate form of a few stray berries on a native branch, and then some minute red traces worked into background? Overall its soothing, contemplative, the yellow is in a shower of light, but could it be subdued with a hint of another color? Maybe, a tad sienna? just a tad in the structural elements of a few limbs? Love the pink, carry it a little to the front? Maybe with a bit off moss in foreground too, a deep color? Again, all this subtle, suggested, not overworked, and kept minimal so as to be kept impressionistic.

From: david e. hall — Feb 27, 2009

its a robert genn painting

do a flourish

and sign your name

bottom left quadrant

cheers ….D

From: RB Macdonald — Feb 27, 2009

Lovely painting. My least favourite part is the middle golden tree. I would prefer the dark stand of trees to be extended and just allow the one golden tree to allow us to seek that out.

From: Joyce Barker — Feb 27, 2009

I would omit the blue lines on the top of the hills. There could be a little more contrast in the foreground. Otherwise, I think it’s a pleasing and restful scene.

From: Jim Cussen — Feb 28, 2009

I think you’ve achieved what you set out to do: establish a pattern – a pleasing pattern of harmonious shapes, tones and colours. These gradate, balance, and echo beautifully throughout the picture. What’s more, within this harmonious arrangement you have also managed to set up pleasing vibrations for the eye: complements of pink against green in the distant plane; the bright focal tree against a dull backdrop; colour against non-colour; warm against cool etc.

As for any ‘tweaking’, I would drop the lights just a tad in your secondary area of focus, the foreground (but not touch that already dark strip to the right, or the two vertical strips that frame the focus); then, I’d turn down the distant pink just a smidgen. And that’s it.

Kind Regards.

From: Judy Mclean — Feb 28, 2009

Wow! YOU are asking us for a critique? Would like to see the foreground plain on the left darkened in value to focus the viewer more into the interior of the painting. Am bothered by the golden tree, center, growing straight up out of the rock. Unsure about pink tone used in background.

From: mac — Feb 28, 2009

I think the first image should have been left alone. Very zen like.

From: Diana Boyd — Feb 28, 2009

My eyes are catching a little too long on the yellow hillside with 3 blue boulders. I think the contrast is a little too strong in that area.

Most respectively and honored to be included,

Diana Boyd

From: Jennifer Horsley — Feb 28, 2009

feeling sorry for Michelle and Samantha…

From: Bobbi Miller — Feb 28, 2009

I like the curve the eye follows into the ptg, from lower left. But, the focus is confusing. Is it the sml ywl trees or the pink bkgrd? Try a softened variety of sizes & edges in midgroundd rocks and grey lines.

From: D. Angilletta — Feb 28, 2009

The spot of white froth in the stream lower left keeps drawing my eye from the center of interest…I get stuck instead of moving up to the top of waterfall and golden tree. Beautiful interlocking abstract shapes.

From: Sandi Whetzel — Feb 28, 2009

I don’t think either of my earlier attempts to opine were successful so I’ve temporarily disabled my sensitive firewall. If more than one response did make it, you’ll at least know why. What a novel opportunity for all of us to weigh in and how secure you must and should be to open yourself up so. You used some of my favorite colors and the piece is beautiful. My first reaction to your painting would probably not be to critique it, but since you threw down the gauntlet, I am challenged to dig deeper. That’s probably a good exercize for us all. Thank you. If I were to try to improve on the piece any at all, I think I would strive for more of one color dominance throught the piece. You chose a beautiful triad of red violet, blue green and yellow orange and I feel that the red violet is the closest to being dominant. In my opinion, the three colors are pretty much even in quantity. I think I would add more rosy shades to the lovely grays in the foreground and just a few hints of rose to the mid-area to achieve a little more dominance of the red violet. Since warms rise and cools recede, I feel that the warms in the top portion are pulling away from the cool bottom portion instead of a cool top drawing toward a warm bottom portion. I think I would also lighten the pinks in the background which would make them cooler. I think I would add more cool blue sky peaking through the wall of rose. I feel like I want to peek beyond the rose barrier some. I realize rules are made to be broken and that not all pc monitors display equally. Just my two cents and thanks for indulging all of our egos with this challenge.

From: Mary-Lee Sanders — Feb 28, 2009

When look at your painting, squinting, I see that the right side of the painting is heavier then the left side it creates an imbalance. The dark green (on the right) should be mirrored (in intensity) on the left side.

From: Charlotte Rode — Mar 01, 2009

Bright pink background parts a bit too strong. Foreground rocks may need the pink. Middleground blue in river too bright. Blocking this off, the golden tree captures the eye. Love the structure and your colour.

From: Jean Burman — Mar 01, 2009

Let’s face it… this could go on forever! No two artists would paint it the same. And no two artists would judge it the same.

If this is an experiment (and I suspect that it is) it only goes to confirm in my mind that critiques can be unhelpful at best and downright discouraging at worst. Without knowing the purpose of the artist… they simply serve to confuse and confound.

Institutions abound with Masterpieces that have ‘human error’ inherent in their brushstrokes. Fortunately great art is judged by its universal appeal. It has that certain “je ne sais quoi”… which can be easily spotted by the trained or amateur eye at forty paces.

From: Collette Lacey — Mar 01, 2009

Dear Mr. Genn,

My husband and I looked at the sketches together. He is one of my most effective critics so I thought he might see a different problem than I. Both of us thought that in the first toned painting, you were leading the viewer into the painting very gracefully, using the stream/waterfall and placement patterns in an interesting manner. This sense of movement into the picture becomes less strong in the next two pictures…is it color ? Somehow, the far background trees don’t create the interest promised in the sketch. I know that receding distant colors are lighter and grayer but the center of the painting feels a bit blank. I really love the sense of line the first toned sketch had…full of promise of a rich forest scene.Would it draw the background too close by deepening the color there and developing more sense of density in the farthest trees? Would depth and distance be lost then? Who are we to quibble though…we have loved your work for many years now…we’ll be interested to see what comes of this exercise.

Respectfully yours,

Collette Lacey

From: Dorey Schmidt — Mar 02, 2009

Thanks for asking. My highly idiosyncratic response is that the painting gives me the feeling of being on a tilt-a-whirl—so many strong diagonals that my eye has no place to rest. I am dizzy. The only strictly horizontal spot is the small patch of yellow in the upper right quadrant. No resting place in this forest…

Seemingly, some of the responders feel impelled to make value judgments. I am simply looking at the painting as it stands, and reporting what I see. It is up to the artist to decide if that is even close to what he intended.

From: JoAn Melchild — Mar 02, 2009

Good heavens, please don’t ask for people’s opinions again. It was like an attack by vultures.

From: Pat Stoddard Aragon — Mar 02, 2009

I really do prefer the first painting before you did everything everyone asked you to do to it!! ha ha.. Hope you find your car…

From: Dean McLeod — Mar 02, 2009

“Form” is the physical manifestation of the painting. I’d like to feel more of the “content”. What was the mood of the landscape? Did the artist match that mood with his own feelings. When I paint these days I spend as much time deciding how my feelings should relate to what I’m painting. The stronger the better. This is where painting becomes like music and transcends the technique if you will. I’m suggesting consciously creating on an unseen level.

From: Patrick Lacey — Mar 02, 2009

Sheeh… you people. The painting is just fine. It’s the frame that I don’t like!

From: Janice Daley — Mar 03, 2009

Robert…my paintings look like they’ve been done at kindergarten…..I love painting and I am perservering with my artwork…..what I’m trying to say is…I look…and I like….if I could paint like this ….then I would be very happy indeed!

From: Clare Cross — Mar 03, 2009

Clearly, some people are using this as an opportunity to make themselves feel important at your expense. You may be interested in the following quotation from the poet William Stafford:

“A student comes to me with a piece of writing, holds it out, says, ‘Is this good?’ A whole sequence of emergencies goes off in my mind. That’s not a question to ask anyone but yourself. Others may be able to accept standards from another, but an artist is a person who decides.”

From: Paul deMarrais — Mar 03, 2009

hi Robert-Its funny how people got bent out of shape over that critique. Obviously you have a good sturdy ego and humor to put yourself through that exercise. Humor is important being an artist. We need to laugh or we would be crying all the time because we couldn’t do the perfect painting. As a workshop teacher I use humor alot and am careful to point out that we are ALL art students forever, no matter how our careers go or have gone. I’ve learned to be positive and to respect each persons effort and that what I say is just an opinion. I commend you on your humor and excellently balanced ego. It’s a good model for all on the painters keys to aspire to. Thanks for all of your efforts. take care…Paul

From: M. A. Langlais — Mar 03, 2009

You are a brave soul. Your work is uniquely your own. I am a strong believer that either you like my work or you do not. Everyone sees their work through their own experiences and I believe needs no one else’s input. Unless you forgot to put something in maybe, other than that your work is yours and yours alone and the hell what anybody else thinks.

To me personally a work either moves me or it doesn’t. There is no in between.

Personally I love the painting do not change a thing. Keep up the great work.

From: Brian Warner — Mar 03, 2009

What a fun exercise. If only all the respondents could be brought together in one room :) I have trouble believing that anyone could find this while thing pointless.

From: Jan M. Hamilton — Mar 03, 2009

I much prefer the original. I gasped when I saw it. No response from me because we had a snowstorm and everyone else was on their computer. The original had more character. The colors were more beautiful and different. The rework is more plebian. Jan

From: Ruth Bass — Mar 03, 2009

I don’t feel so badly about a juried show rejection that I received this last week. It was for Studio Quilt Art, but art never the less!

From: Janet Sellers — Mar 03, 2009

“Lessons learned? No matter what you do, your accumulated errors become part of your style, and while others may copy you, no one can take it away from you…”

I do think that this statement is the best part of this whole experience. I actually do not like your paintings, but I do like your sketches. From what I can see, you’ve been very successful in spite of my opinion! So, kudos. My favorite part of my e-relationship with you, Robert, is your verbal insights and your honesty… you don’t hide. For that, I am eternally grateful to know you, albeit only via electronic media (so far).

From: Myrna Tarleton — Mar 03, 2009

The lesson I learned is this: Don’t put too much stock in what other people say about my own work. I will listen carefully, as they may inadvertently help me solve a problem that has been bothering me not by the “correction” they suggest but by that which draws their eye. I didn’t begin painting until I was 64 and discovered what fun it could be–so endlessly challenging, so much to learn, and such a great ‘pain killer’. It was like being born again and will interest and entertain me until the day I die (hopefully with a paint brush in my hand!). So many of your letters seem to hit home as though you knew just what has been bothering me this week. Thank you.

From: Hank — Mar 03, 2009

The whole experience of commenting on your painting, and reading the comments led to one big result: LEARNING!

Thanks so much for the creative idea…

From: Gary Holland — Mar 03, 2009

Were you my student, I’d ask you a number of questions first, i.e. ” What is your goal? ” (most students have no real, operationally defined goal in mind.) Then I’d teach them to be goal directed in painting. After they learn to identify the effect or message or symbology or whatever they want to say in the painting, then we’d identify the technique they would like to use to “send” that message. (most have only one technique.) So we’d learn a few techniques to add to the “bag of tricks.” Now I can critique their work by simply asking them questions: What is your goal? How did you meet your goal, or not? What technique did you use? How effective was it, or not? What would you like to do next time to improve your “visual message?”

You see, that teaches the student to set criteria, use the process of self=-critique, and decide for themself whether they met their goals. That way the varied (and weird) responses of others don’t have as much power to take the student from their own, personal, spiritual direction, which absolutely should not be critiqued. Art, to me is a spiritual experience. That’s why we’re so emotional about displaying it to the public. It’s not our art, but our heart that’s on display.

So, I vote for instructors to teach the process of critiqueing one’s own work, and supplying the instruction with which a student can have more techniques and perspectives from which to choose their own direction.

Finally, Mr. Genn, lets talk about your work: What was your goal, your intended statement? What techniques did you try to use to communicate your message? How successful did you think you were in solving your problem? What would you like to do differently next time? If you aren’t sure, would you be willing to just “look at the pictures” painted by others until you are inspired and can find a technique or perspective to add to your work? You are your own best critic.

My opinion only matters to me.

From: I. Kelly. — Mar 03, 2009

So what profound lesson did we learn from this exercise?

Mmm, lets see…..

Oh, I have it! ” Everybodys a critic ”.

From: Lynn — Mar 03, 2009

Let me say how impressed I am that you even had the courage to put your work out there for everybody and his dog to critique. Your car is out the door and to the left.

From: Bobbi Dunlop — Mar 03, 2009

I agree wholeheartedly with Rick, Jean and Clare…..

I’ve always been of the mind that if you want a great idea shut down, submit it to a committee.

Also, (as I’ve often advised my students) be careful whom you ask to critique your work. Critiquing, done properly with certain prequalifiers, has its place, but as this exercise has underlined to me, this isn’t it.

Further, the high level of confusion (and no doubt wounding) resulting after seeing a psychiatrist and then after reading some of the responses to your exercise, speaks volumes about critiquing. You may need to look up that psychiatrist again. ;)

Interesting exercise, Robert, and I admire you for it, but you’re the pro.

From: Gail Harper, NY — Mar 03, 2009

All the world’s a critic…..I LOVED it the way it was … was afterall a Genn….

From: Tom Murphy — Mar 03, 2009

I’m more worried about you running around in the Canadian breezes with your briefs down. Find the car, get in and turn on the heater!

From: Karen Evans — Mar 03, 2009

It was great to read the comments that came in from all of the world. You are such an inspiration to so many artists. I also really appreciate your sense of humor! Go and find your car….

From: Angela Fisher — Mar 03, 2009

I know we were supposed to critique, but unless your job is to teach another who knows very little about art, it seems unwarranted. And you obviously know alot about art, and know what you are doing. Art, like beauty, is subjective. I personally love your painting and it draws me in and does what it is supposed to do, it makes me feel something.

From: py duthie — Mar 03, 2009

The first stage holds my interest and I remember it long after closing my eyes…a rhythmic splash across the canvas.

Thanks for an interesting letter.

From: Dorothy Holdren — Mar 03, 2009

I love the painting, all it needs is your signature!

From: Ed McCarthy — Mar 03, 2009

Seeing all the responses that you’ve received, I am now totally convinced that I’ll never create a blog. I’m way too sensitive (and maybe a bit too fearful) to all the criticisms that people so freely throw your way, willy-nilly. Yes, I did submit a response, a mere suggestion, but in this world today, there seems to be plenty of people who are like hungry dogs ready to pounce on any opportunity to rip anyone or anything to shreds, from your canvases right down to your soul. That’s why teachers with skills sensitive to the student are so valuable. The lesson I learned was to be pretty choosey as to who I’d ask to critique my work, in this day and age. It’s about trust, as I see it.

Thanks for all you do and share!

From: Marge Healy — Mar 03, 2009

You once wrote an article about trusting your self. I benefited from that article. Listening to other people can drive you crazy. Trust yourself, it all comes from within. I think it looks great just the way it is.

From: Suzanne M. Packer — Mar 04, 2009

You listened to too many critics and the result is a muddy mess.

Sorry about that. But, you know the old saying, “A camel is a horse designed by a committee.”

From: Cora — Mar 04, 2009

That was an interesting posting, and such varied responses. It does go show that we are not all cookie cutter painters. We each bring to the craft our own thoughts, ideas. and beliefs. If everyone painted the same way the art world would definitely be very boring. We are as diversified as are the potential buyers out there. The opinions we gave were from our own way of thinking. While some comments were a “little over the top”, most reflected each artists frame of mind. Interesting post. Now why did you want to do that exactly?

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Mar 04, 2009

To quote from Robert’s letter above: “we have also to look at the usefulness of getting the opinions of others in the first place. What does it serve? How harmful is it? In the long run, does the exercise encourage the creator and the critic to eventually reside in one person?” Growing up in a very large extended family, I learned that there are times when it is best to just stand off at the side (or find something to do elsewhere for a while), and see what eventually emerges. This struck me as one of those times. But I knew I’d get something out of it, and I have. It can be useful to ask for other’s input. Other people’s perspectives can help me stand back and look at my painting (or whatever) with fresh eyes. But it’s my painting, and I get to choose. Thanks again, Robert.

From: John Boeckeler — Mar 04, 2009

Your painting needs a girl in a red sweater, like a National Geographic photo from the early 1940s. This seems so obvious that I’m surprised no one else has mentioned it.

From: Bob Ragland — Mar 04, 2009

You paints your picture and you takes your chances. Always remember

no matter what you do , somebody won’t like it.

Me I just make what I want to make.

Both works looked good to me.

PAINT ON!!!!!! Bob

From: Rick Rogers — Mar 04, 2009

Great experiment. I completely disagree with anyone that says that critiques are unhelpful and discouraging. The key is to ignore any value judgments in a critique and use critiques as brainstorming rather than as trusted advice.

When we create art, real art, we create something that is uniquely ours. So, take the suggestions that you like and apply them in a way that works for you. If you don’t like any of them, don’t apply any of them. They are usually offered in the spirit of being supportive and honest, so most people will be fine with you saying no, thank you. If they aren’t they are too wrapped up in their own ego to be worth listening to anyway.

From: Sheila — Mar 09, 2009

In the painting you submitted for critique I wondered where the blue reflection on the water came from as the background sky looked hazy. That bit of blue in the sky of your completed work brought it all together for me.

From: Gerry Melot — Mar 10, 2009

I am a professional artist who has been teaching realistic drawing for over 20 yrs and critiquing my professional artist parents for longer than that. I studied your painting for a long time and its issue is one of composition. If you cover up the left side you see a very vibrant painting, full of interesting shapes and colors and a delightful yellow to pull the composition together. If you cover up the right side you see…a totally different painting! It has large dull colored shapes and most of the lines direct the eye right off the lower left hand side of the canvas. IMO, there needs to be something, your choice of course, to bring the viewers eye back into the painting and get it involved in that wonderful right side. Some yellow would be the most obvious answer, tho a rock pointing up to the upper right might help, there are many ways to unite this painting, all would be good. but please, do, cover each side up and you will discover how both sides seem to warring in this one piece. PS I happen to be a great admirer of your work, I teach realism and have an appreciation for it. i would never have presumed to comment on this painting had you not asked. Thanks for your marvelous letters and click backs and this great informative site.

From: Sue Bullock — Mar 10, 2009

It could be improved by hanging on my wall ;)



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