Monday, March 2, 2009

Starting a Critique Dialogue

12 x 9 soft pastels on Art Spectrum Colourfix
by Miki Willa
After spending a week in a mentoring workshop, and listening openly to critiques of my paintings, I have been really thinking about the value of critiques, the way to present them, and a way to receive them that doesn't feel personal. Fortunately, other artists and bloggers have also been discussing critiques. Tracy Helgeson received an anonymous comment on her blog that was quite critical of a series she has been working on. It sparked quite a bit of discussion. Some commenters felt that anonymous comments can be difficult and that if you have something to say, you should be willing to put your name behind it. Others felt that so much feedback on artist's blogs is very positive and flowery, so anonymity is the only way to feel comfortable saying anything negative. I agree that most of the people who leave comments are people who have something nice to say, and that is always a good thing to read. On the other hand, I think it might be helpful to growth as an artist to have some helpful critiques along the way.
Another artist who posted about critiques this week is Margaret Ryall at this post. She speaks more to the art of getting and giving a valuable critique. I like what she had to say.
With both these posts in mind, and my own personal experience with critiques, I am starting to formulate what I think would be good things to think about when giving and receiving critiques.
1. Critique does not necessarily mean to be critical or nit-picky. Criticism is not always received well by anyone.
2. It is better to talk about things that would enhance the overall composition than an artist's personal style. Reminding me that my shadows might be a bit to dark or warm is far more easily heard than telling me my style is old fashioned or weak.
3. When giving a critique, try and include the things that work as well as things that might make it better. When receiving a critique, listen to the positives as well as the places where the painting could improve.
4. Don't make your critique personal, giving or receiving. If the artist doesn't follow your advice, please understand that there might be a reason. If it is suggested that a softer line of the far mountain ridge might add more depth to the painting, at least think about it. Use critiques as a learning time.
I am sure there is more I have to say on this topic, but for now, I would like to invite helpful critiques on the above painting before I go any further.
This is a studio work done from a reference photo taken on a very overcast day. It is a rock outcropping in some low hills on the East Slopes of the Sierra Madre mountains. I am pretty sure about the values at this point, but need some help in how to show the mountain slope as partially snow covered with low clouds at the top, eliminating any edges up there at all. The sun, behind the clouds, was coming from my left at the time of the photo, but it was barely discernible and shadows were very minimal. I look forward to any critiques, not criticisms, that you are willing and able to share.


Tom Willa said...

I find your landscape powerful and inviting. My observation is that portrait layout present a more dramatic image than landscaped layout which I associate with serenity. I see the beauty of focal rock out cropping, it reminds me of the pathway that hobbits might take up the through the mountains. Who knows what is behind it?
I think your values are great overall. I love the subtle element which appears as a path leading the viewers into the painting. I did notice that forground shadows on the path appear similar to ones closer to the rocks. Perhaps a little bit of local color, defined shape or value distinction might be used to create some variation in these shadows.
I think your sense of aerial perspective, atomoshperic distortion and the sense of winter mountain mist is another achievement in this painting you should be proud of,too.
I think whether you decided to pursue this painting more or call it finished you will have a majestic painting.

Margaret Ryall said...

Thanks for the positive comment about my post. I'm glad you saw the usefulness of this process for your own art practice.

I keep a copy of the stages in the studio for my own observations. I even set the painting up and do the description part before moving on. I have a chair, good light and a note book I keep jot notes about future actions for my work. The process helps to take me out of my own head.
I like the summary of points you've provided. I'm working on post number three on this topic. I'll check back and make a comment about your work later.