Is Your Art Good or Garbage?

If you want to reach a higher level in your art career, there must be someone around who can tell you what’s good and what’s garbage.

Or does there?

Garbage bag

In 2005 NPR aired a 4-part series on flops.

In part 3, they discussed the aftermath of failure – specifically, what happens when a movie flops. Laura Ziskin, producer of Hero, said, “You think about your failures way longer and way more than your successes.”

Writer Akiva Goldsman (Batman & Robin) said he needed honest feedback from people: “With everyone telling you, ‘no, no, no, it’s just fine,’ you really are in danger of wandering blindly down an alleyway, which can lead you further and further away from . . . the kind of success you want.”

Deep Thought

So, do you need the critics?  Or is it better to just have supporters and cheerleaders?

If you need someone to tell you the truth, at what point do you let them in?

What are the boundaries for people who want to tell you how to do something differently?

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39 comments to Is Your Art Good or Garbage?

  • I think the amount of garbage which abounds demonstrates clearly the need for some healthy criticism, :) on a more serious note I believe that unless you’ve spent some time developing your own critical eye as part of your own development you have no business calling yourself a professional. And if I ask someone for their honest opinion about my work then that is what I want, their real opinion. Yes it will be subjective, but if I am asking for honesty I already know the piece is not working!

  • Great post and will love seeing all the comments. I am working very hard on my journey to become a truly “fine” artist and take workshops and have a mentor to help learn and provide guidance and criticism. Those are the professionals that I would want true critiques from. I value their opinion and level of expertise and also that they know where I am on my journey.

    I had someone I hardly knew offer some unsolicited advice that was completely off base and that did not come from a good place. I am sure everyone gets that at some point but the damage something like that could do is long lasting. I still have that bit of hurt as to why that needed to be done.

    Last note, I so appreciated some sweet encouragement on some not so great paintings when I first started out 3 years ago. I always try to find something positive to say and appreciate where that artist might be. Would never say something negative on a FB or Blog to an artist- not cool. They have their teachers/close friends for that.

  • Your link to Cynthia Morris’ essay provides excellent advice.
    The critique process can be a disaster if not approached with the right attitude – and even then it can hurt.
    A critique is a deeply personal event and not everyone is qualified to give one. Most of those artists who offer ‘advice’ fall into that category.
    Critiques are necessary for artistic growth, and are usually hard on the ego. However, with an open mind and willingness to learn they also provide the artist with steps for improvement.

  • Pat

    I remember critiques in college that left a lot of us in tears. It was painful at the time but I learned a lot about critique from those years.

    I also discovered that I am my own worst critic and if I listen to those critiques in my head and then get out of my own way, I can create wonderful things. It’s the balance that matters.

  • I have just a few words on this. Critics in the academic sense of the word are not required. As professional artists, you’re hard enough on yourself. I am a hearty supporter of colleagues vs. critics. Find a colleague who has a practice that you admire. Find a colleague to help you grow. Find a colleague – a practitioner, who can support, challenge and share with you.

    I’d offer this hilarious video “Critique of Monkey Farter” that should only leave you laughing tears instead of crying.

    • OMG. I am going to share this SO much. Thanks for the morning laugh, Janice!

    • This is why they invented the internet. Thanks for the much appreciated laugh!

    • Janice Thanks for the laugh. It reminds me so much of the Verbous Art History lectures I remember or slept through in art school. The problem is now that I am out in the “real world” it seems that all the critism, Constructive or not, seems to be based on whether “the work matches the Sofa” It was a good laugh thanks again for sharing. I was hoping that the Monkey Farter would have been part of a series or at least a tryptich. A movement “pardon the pun” would have been over the top but not a surprize these days

  • Critic’s, I believe, are a necessary evil in the arts and not just visual art, all arts. The problem lies in the amount of power critics have over ones success in arts.

    Just like the food critic, a restaurant wants a good review, it helps business. Theater, movies, music all rely on favorable reviews to boost ticket sales.

    Personal critiques are quite different and should only be forth coming from a mentor, teacher or trusted colleague.

    An artist has to learn how to value judgments, coupled with strength in their artistic character they will be able to extract appropriate meaning and apply it to and grow their practice.

  • I LOVE Art Critics as they help me grow. I don’t take their comments personally but use them as tools to get better at what I do. So what if they don’t like what I have to offer as an Artist. I am strong enough to take those punches and professional enough to understand where they are coming from. I like their opinion for it makes me get an objective and a totally fresh, unbiased and different perspective. With my Art, I like to communicate about experiences. Some general and some very personal. My goal is always to convey my message in the most visually appealing yet direct way possible no matter how graphic the thought. I would rather have an Art Critic tear my Art into shreds than a group of friends loving it blindly because they don’t want to hurt my feelings. Lastly, I truly believe in Elenore Roosevelt’s saying that “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent”.

  • I think visual artists should find someone they trust to act as their critic – or editor. I always value the input from those I trust. After all, sometimes when you are so involved in the creation of a work you cannot see the forest for the trees. When I am seeking feedback, I also try to get feedback not only from someone who understands the inner workings of art creation, like a fellow artist, but also from someone who would be considered an art novice at best. Being able to communicate your work with those well-versed in art speak and art theory is great to a point, but if the 90% of the people who view your work do not have that background and miss all of your nuances, will the work still stand up for them? I need to know that as well.

    I’ve never had a hard time with a critique either because of the simple fact that no matter how harsh someone may come across about my work, I know for a fact that I will be harsher. I’m truly the only single person on the planet that knows what the work is actually supposed to look like (it’s in my head first, after all).

  • No fair, Janice, I almost died laughing…

  • It think that comparing a single piece of art to a single movie in terms of success isn’t the right level.

    To me a series of work might be on par with a flop of a movie. So I think at that level gaining some critical feedback is helpful.

    But what exactly is failure? For a movie it means noone attends and they don’t like it.

    For a series of work presumably we can tell it is a failure because noone buys it it.

    Or does it mean something else? That noone likes it?

    I seem to have no answers – just questions.

    • Lisa I think you are right in questioning the notion that if they don’t buy it THEN they don’t like it…Also I think you are right(I am giving you credit because you are questioning which forced me to consider an answer) in abstractly positing the concept that an artist could charge for admission to a painting, like they charge for admission to a movie…Flop or otherwise…

      • Interesting idea Sari – charging admission to a painting. Hm…

      • I’ve been thinking about this more and was thinking that this weekend I’ll be making a video about my newest piece (a huge 5×10 foot textile painting) and I’m going to email it only to my current collectors.

        So in a way they have paid a price (they purchased previous work) to get to see this work as it evolves.

        I need to think more about how to expand on this idea. Thanks Sari!

  • I had a friend once protest to me that my art didn’t LOOK like anything. Then she proceeded to tell me how a friend of hers was able to paint a butler that was on a lot of home decorating items at a store in our town JUST like the one in the store and then decorated her whole kitchen with him.

    I think my Grandma’s old fashioned wisdom applies to art critique as well as any kind of criticism I might encounter. “Consider the source, my dear.”

  • Dee

    The thing I’ve heard from other creative people that is demoralizing for them most is to be criticized before a work is finished. Giving feedback during the process can stop some people in their tracks and completely shut it down. Not only because it may make them feel their work is no good, but because any suggestions from outside “robs” the artist of that feeling that they are being original. Is the work their own, now? Regardless if that is a reasonable feeling to feel – it is how some people feel.

    I want to say though in other creative arts working for hire, i.e. graphic design, advertising, etc. that it is imperative to show works in progress to the clients in order to communicate effectively. I think this is one of the more challenging aspects of creating for hire work, actually, because of the necessity for thick-skin and a natural process of must-change the work to suit someone else.

    Lastly, I can only speak for myself, but peer review is the worst kind of review for me. Jealousy abounds as well as competitiveness. Asking your “scene” for feedback is also a bad idea, for same reasons.

    I do think reviews are important to at least consider. Recently a favorite musician of mine has been putting out really crappy music. The critics are harsh and he just says “oh they are being negative screw them!” But in my mind I’m like dude listen! They are right!

  • Not too long ago, I was asked to be the juror for a member’s show at one of our local arts organizations. It took me several days to agree to do it. I kept thinking about how devastating it can be for an artist to face rejection – no prize no nothing. I remembered all the people I have met over the years who wanted to do art but had been turned away by a thoughtless comment or disappointing event. I didn’t want to be the person who created such an experience for another hopeful artist. I finally did act as juror, and I told the artists that they should remember that I am just ONE PERSON. I have my opinion. Everyone will always have an opinion about your work – but those opinions won’t always be the same. I have had people look at one of my paintings and turn away, only to have that same painting sell to someone who was so in love with it!!! What we must all remember is that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Critiques can be helpful, but they aren’t necessarily truth.

  • A fascinating discussion. Before I deliver work to a client, or put work in a show I have
    one trusted friend, also an artist, who is willing to come over and critique my work.
    She never says ,”this stinks,” which wouldn’t help, and might paralyze me — she
    just asks questions that help me resolve small unfinished bits of the painting. Her
    instincts and judgement are always exactly right. I used to consult a variety of people
    at the final stages who did not get what I was doing, and were critical in a harmful way.
    I know many artists who have been stopped in their tracks for years by mean criticism.
    By now I know who to listen to. Plus I trust myself more in the final stages of a work.

  • Sari

    I wanna pay admission to Lisa Call’s painting too!
    Waah…

    • It’s not too late to buy a piece from me to get on the collectors list! :):)

      • How about you make the video private somewhere on the web & sell the password to people who click the nifty PayPal icon (Buy password to get into painting here) for $3.00 each password to view your video? Then you are selling admission to the painting instead of only paintings…Unless you don’t want to be in an online museum? (ie: museums don’t sell stuff, just views to stuff)

  • By the way I loved the video. I used to write for an art magazine, and
    this made me laugh so hard too.

    XO Barbara

  • That video critiquing the ‘Farting Monkey’ is a riot, thank you!

  • I wonder how you cope with someone who provides advice and feedback and opinions without your prompting. I have a wonderful friend, also an artist, who likes to share her ideas for me and my artwork. This sharing is not always welcome but I am reluctant to say anything negative–I value this friendship highly. Don’t know if I’m whining or if other folks have encountered this situation…

  • Dear Jane, I am not your friend…Nor am I wonderful…Don’t fool yourself…What you are getting are complaints not compliments…Know the difference…(That is how you cope)…

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  • Jane: I think it’s human nature to want to offer advice. When I paint at my art group other artists will come up to my unfinished work and offer suggestions. Either I know what I’m doing and I say thank you and ignore them, or I am just fooling around and don’t know what I’m doing, and I think Hmmm that might work. But with closer friends and family I think you have to draw the line in the sand. Say quite clearly please don’t comment on my work, I’m not ready for any advice of criticism — okay? You don’t have to be
    mean, but you do have to be firm.

  • firm believer that we need the critics. i am incredibly lucky to have friends who are very good artists who will tell me what they think if i ask. one friend (an amazing artist) throws stuff out that i may or may not use- i just thank her and she’s good with that. i think that it’s important to remember that there’s a difference between technical ability and artistic sensibility and between deliberately deciding to draw outside the lines and not consciously making that call. as my first art teacher said- it’s great to break the rules, just know what they are and why you’re breaking them. i have been involved in quite a few juries and am always amazed when artists get angry instead of asking for feedback. you don’t have to agree and the juror isn’t always right, but there’s always an opportunity to listen and either learn or say thanks, but no. but then it depends on the motivation for making art-

  • Art criticism is nothing more than opinion. The opinion may be informed by art history, theory, and so on… but it is still just that — an opinion. I say that both as an art critic AND someone who has interviewed art critics throughout the US and a few from London. The pro art critics have their likes and dislikes… just like everyone else.

  • I’ll add that even the pro art critics may allow petty personal feelings to get in the way of valid criticism. For example, an art critic like Jerry Saltz will likely never praise artwork involving conservative political views… no matter how technically sound the artwork is. He is widely known for calling conservatives, all conservatives, ‘maniacs’. Sooooo it is doubtful that he will pay much attention to an artist who is known for embracing conservative political or social views. Social networking allows us to take a peek into the lives of notable art critics — and it may reveal professional bias if we consider the type of work they have reviewed compared to the personal statements they make. Food for thought.

  • Julie Kaldenhoven

    Constructive criticism and personal taste can be two very different things. I think one of the best things a beginner artist can learn is how to differentiate the two. A good critique (solicited or not) should focus on a. what is or is not working technically (e.g., composition, colour balance, etc.) and b. how successful you are in achieving your goal for the piece (communicating an idea, achieving realism, etc.). Ultimately, I believe all artists should strive to become their own most expert and trusted critics. It’s as much of a process as your art.

  • Julie, your first point is a good one.And part b. is an important part of the process for both ends of the discussion. The artist must know where they were going and why. If they understand that part, as you say, they will become their own most expert critic.
    I would say however, that an unsolicited critique is never a good critique. That has more to do with the ego of the critic than the needs of the artist.

    • Julie Kaldenhoven

      That is often true, but thankfully, not always. There can exist an intimacy and openness among trusted friends/colleagues/artists that allows for a kind and helpful exchange without competition or one-up-man-ship.