Saturday, July 16, 2011

Critique, yes or no?

Lupines in the Sky
Work in progress
10x30" gallery wrap
by Susan Roux

Where do you stand on the subject of critique?

My last post showed a painting before a critique and where I pushed it following a critique. A good critique is priceless, in my opinion. I wish I had one for every painting I paint. I find it elevates my work to new heights. It keeps me pushing, trying to achieve something beyond where I previously stopped. Just last night Mike and I were discussing this and he wished he had to a good photographer friend who could give him a good critique.

Odd thing is, as much as we would like to be continually critiqued, there are many who are opposed to it. It takes a tough skin to listen to your creative work be interpreted by another. We become tied and connected to the things we create.

It's a reflection of ourselves. Who has the right to tell us what's wrong with it?

Rejection in any form is difficult. It can knock the wind right out of you. But I don't think of a good critique as a rejection. Quite the contrary. When someone takes the time to analyze a work they usually already have an attraction to it. The critique isn't designed to crush an artist, but to urge him (her) to think of it in different terms and possibly see it differently as well. We get very close to our work. Especially those of us who work a painting for an extended period of time. So much of ourselves is invested in it.

Though just as love is blind, so often is the artist who has a certain goal in mind. We'll set parameters for ourselves. Things like a limited palette or brushstroke edges. Some soft, some hard, some blurred, some bold and distinct. We can focus so hard on certain aspects of our work, that we'll easily miss other things. Things we already know. They slip from memory temporarily. A good critique allows you to retain what you've captured and helps you push it to an even stronger finish.

Imagine all the paintings you've ever painted. If you could take the best things from them and put it all together in one work of art, wouldn't that be wonderful? This is the critique to me. No one is teaching you how to paint it, only allowing you the insight to add a bit more and turn your work into a wow. It's never about repainting the entire painting (though Don's sent me to do that a few times as well...). It's about taking what you have and adjusting it. It might be defining something or dulling something. Perhaps adding a punch of color or contrast.

There exists a fear of loosing what we've already captured and ruining it. Loosing that look of freshness. Getting it overworked. But returning to a painting for adjustments needn't be done with your largest brushes. Often tweaking with something tiny that can be blended with the existing work will do the trick.

The other factor that comes up in conversation is the qualifications of the one critiquing.

Yes, I'm very fortunate to have Don Hatfield as my mentor and critique-er. (I can make up words, right?) Yes, he is highly qualified. But often the gut instinct of someone not highly qualified can be as helpful. Your kids can be very honest. Painfully so sometimes when they don't get what this part is. Even after you explain it to them and they tell you well it doesn't look like that.

You'd be surprised how many people can give you a good critique. Many of us have the knowledge, it's getting it on canvas that's the challenge!

So where do you stand on critique? Is it a gift or an insult?


  1. Hi, just wanted to say how I like the painting. If makes me feel as if I was walking along the side of a dirt road, and to the right of me is a ridge of beautiful flowers. With the sun just setting over back behind this ridge in the afternoon hours. Love how the light is just touching the outer left of the flower tops. Making them almost seem to glow. The painting can just make you feel "relaxed". Hope you don't mind. thanks

  2. It's a lovely painting, no critique from me! But I feel that a good critique comes from A) If I ask for one, and B) how my painting can be improved, not how my critic would paint it.

  3. I agree, I love a good critique, especially this early on in my artistic journey...though it does always sting a bit;-)

  4. When I can truly sense the heart of the person giving the critique and it is said in the right way, I can take a critique too. I am pretty sensitive though, so I do tend to take it so very personally! I also don't like giving any critiques, but every once in a blue moon, I do make the effort and hope and pray I don't hurt the artist's feelings. I don't mind doing it if it is a pre-painting preparation drawing if it might help the artist before it is too late...I did just that recently. Sometimes it just takes a fresh eye because you get too close to a piece and all the lines begin to blur. Considering how devilishly I critique myself, I guess it is just hard to hear it from others too. Egads. I'm a mess!

    Hey Susan...Lee (A Day Not Wasted blog) is a photographer and maybe your husband could check out his blog and build a friendship!

  5. P. S. I so love the soft colors in this piece...Wouldn't this be beautiful in a little girl's room and one decorated in a more vintage style?

  6. Mornin' Susan,
    I love critiques by other artists or photographers as well as their compliments. It's the cirtique from the nonartist that rubs me the wrong way. When someone who doesn't paint and doesn't see things with an artist's vision looks at a painting and starts with "You should have,"'s not going to be good.
    I will always give my opinion on a painting if asked and not before. Hope you are having a wonderful summer. Love your lupines.
    Carol B.

  7. Good thought--I enjoy an honest critique. But it's nice to hear good comments too.

  8. Susan, your blog is amazing--lovely paintings and very thoughtful and thought-provoking articles. Thank you, thank you!

    I have benefitted immensely from helpful critiques--the kind that help me achieve my goals rather than trying to change its style and character. My painting mentor, Linda Blondheim, offers the ideal clear eye and helpful advice from her years of experience and expertise. She offers an online e-critique service that is super. Since I am fairly thick-skinned and can shrug off cutting remarks (usually :>), few critiques bother me, and I give some consideration to the response of all but the most off-hand, off-the-mark viewers. There is sometimes a worthwhile kernel even in a comment that seems misguided.

  9. The sets of lupines are very gentle and pleasant, Susan. I love them as much as your girls in the surf. As an art teacher during the 90's I always believed in positive critiques. There will be something good in any work where the artist can build upon!

  10. Les bonnes et mauvaises critiques nous aident à avancer... à voir où nous nous perdons... Tout comme une maman avec ses enfants... (on n'aime pas se faire gronder et pourtant c'est pour notre bien!) Il est difficile aussi de gronder... Donc difficile d'apporter une critique à bon escient...
    On peu se sentir frustrée, agacée sur le moment. Mais après réflexion pleinement mûrie il est bon de faire la synthèse et c'est ainsi qu'on avance clairement.

    Dis-moi! on dirait que tes lupins ont peints couchée sur le sol...
    Gros bisous.

  11. I like getting critiques from people who can give me the advice (real advice) that I need and say it in a way that's instuctive. It helps me so much if someone can ask what I'm going for in a work, then point out an area that could be improved, and offer ideas of how to do that improvement. (Ex: Don't forget your greys, less detail may work here..more here etc..) However, I agree that sometimes from those who aren't mentors...its nice to hear some praise too! ... and on that note...the lupines are just lovely!!!

  12. I try my best not to be thin skinned with critiques. I know they can be wonderfully helpful from both artist and non-artist. (Yes, I've found children and non-artist family to have good and clear-eyed opinions about areas that might need improvement!)
    Often when given the critique, I might not always agree. However, the next day or so when my feathers smooth, I can see the reason and apply the advice.
    Like your painting!

  13. Susan, your lupine paintings are gorgeous! Thank you, too, for your wonderful writings. I learn so much from reading them!

  14. I really agree with Kevin. Nice post Susan. And thoughtfully done. It is a big help in the gallery I run with my pardner and we critique each others paintings all the time. It really does help. At times neither one of us does what the other says but that is a personal choice on our part. Most oftern it is very crucial to what we are doing and many times uncovers things we were not even aware of or points out just what was bothering us. Again. great post.

  15. As a writer, I've had to learn to embrace a critique even though some are hard to take. But when I do, my writing always improves. Sometimes I let them simmer.

  16. The more I paint, the less attached to each painting I feel and I wonder if that isn't a sign of thickening skin. I think that unless a person is bent on tearing down me or my work, I benefit from honest feedback.

    And, when my ego takes a hit, I remind it that trees that are carefully pruned bear the best fruit.

    Great question. Great comments. Thanks!

  17. You've started an interesting conversationn here and I applaud that. I appreciate critique particularly from those who have some background in painting, so that it's really helpful. This painting is lovely as usual and the sky highlighting the lupines is a such a good focal point!

  18. Hi - we used to have crit night at the TCA. Simply a group of artists gathered to discuss paintings. I found I saw my work differently, could look objectively, and most comments and suggestions were right on. Get a group of artists together and the energy flows. You're right, sometimes just a small little color change in one small part will make a painting work. Sometimes cropping a piece makes it go from ok to terrific.

    Wish the crit nights were still going within easy travel distance for me .. I can also see Mike's point as a photographer, artists of the captured moment. As painters, we definitely have more options. Lunch soon for sure!

  19. PS You could bring a piece you just did not know what to do with to crit night, and several artists would make suggestions. I found I finished several pieces in spectacular fashion after taking the advice offered. Let's get something started, even if it's only 4 or 6 times a year!

  20. Lucky girl you, Don Hatfield is wonderful. I have a large beach scene serigraph by him. -- Great food for thought here regarding critiquing! I agree a good critique is totally priceless.

  21. Beautiful work.
    It has been delightful
    to visit your gallery.
    Good Creations

  22. great post Susan. I have a neighbor (who doesn't paint) and if he doesn't "get" something, I know I have missed the mark. I now use him for my "barometer" when I need to make sure my painting reads right. I remember an accomplished painter saying to me: "If you have to explain anything in your's failed".
    Your Lupine painting is awesome!

  23. Critique, I don't need one. It is a magnification to your painting.

  24. Love to hear critiques... then I process what's been said and try to be objective about it. Even if I don't agree, it's interesting to see how other people view a painting.

  25. I think that constructive criticism is great and sometimes you do learn a lot from it.

    My art teacher in high school said I had NO talent whatsoever and I would never be an artist. I am glad I didn't listen to her!

    LOVE your painting. It makes me feel all I am floating.


  26. You write such thought-provoking posts, I find myself coming back to them again and again to see the discussion that your thoughts have sparked. Having my work critiqued is fine with me, but I always remind myself that every person has their own perception, coming from their own experience, and nobody is more right or wrong than anybody else. The painting is so beautiful, in such lovely colors. There is a book called Miss Rumphius that I read to my class every year, about a woman who plants lupines by the sea. Your painting makes me think of that story. :)


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