``It's easy to attack and destroy an act of creation. It's a lot more difficult to perform one.´´
Have other people's comments ever made you want to stop creating art? Have you ever wished you were more like those magical individuals who seem to exude self-confidence 24/7 and never let anyone rain on their parade? Ever wondered how much more productive and successful you'd be if you didn't allow other people's opinions to interfere with what you want to achieve in life?
``Haters don't really hate you! They hate themselves!´´ they say. ``Just ignore them and keep at it!´´ they say. These suggestions are all well and good, but do they help, really? Are you able to simply forget about what that rude person just said to you or do you let it sour the rest of your day, maybe even allowing the negativity to carry over until tomorrow? Most of us creative beings are sensitive by nature and, at times, it may take only one negative remark to make us forget about all we have done right. Over time I have realized that life is too short and I cannot waste precious time and energy on negative people that will bring me no growth whatsoever.
Criticism, constructive or not, will be a recurring element in any artist's career. No matter how talented or well-intentioned someone is, there will ALWAYS be people that do not agree with him/her. We need to practice effectively reacting to criticism until it becomes second nature to us. Whether we are sharing our work online or in person, we need to be prepared to react in a way that transmits professionalism. Remember, in order to receive respect, we need to give respect. You never want to do or say something that you'll regret later!
Accept the fact that ALL people who put themselves out there and/or dedicate their lives to activities that may be perceived as uncommon will be judged and that these things are beyond your control. What you CAN control, however, is how you react in these situations. And what you CAN be sure of, is that with time, it will become easier and easier to react favorably. In the first few years it's going to be challenging. However, in time you will gain more experience both in terms of artistic skill and verbal communication. You will get to know yourself as an artist and your self-confidence will grow without you even realizing it.
Next, I will explain why art criticism is an important part of any artist's career. I will also share some tips to apply when receiving criticism that will allow you to gain respect from others. To finish up, I will clarify how to properly critique a work of art.
What is Art Criticism and Why is it Important in an Artist's Life?
The term art criticism refers to the analysis, evaluation and discussion of an artwork. It requires the participant to reflect about a particular work of art and make a personal, substantiated interpretation of the piece. The term was first used in 1719 by English painter Jonathan Richardson in his publication An Essay on the Whole Art of Criticism. In his book, Richardson attempted to create a system to rank works of art based on drawing, composition, invention and use of color. Aside from analyzing the piece itself, professional art critics also question whether an artwork has importance within its historical context and how it relates to works before it.
Criticism (the constructive kind) is necessary in an artist's life because it is quite simply one of the best ways to improve our work. We should actively seek ways to better our skills, not only in terms of technique, but in how well we are able to engage and connect with the public. Even though most of us create in solitude, we do it with the purpose of eventually sharing our art with the world. Not everyone will react favorably, of course, but we should keep creating for those people that do find themselves in our work.
How to Take Criticism Like a Champ
Taking criticism is hard for anybody. However, as artists, we most frequently create in solitude and do not share responsibilities with anyone other but ourselves. This can make the experience a lot more personal and harder to deal with. Here are 10 tips that will help you receive and digest other people's comments in an effective way.
Read my blog post titled Self-Doubt as an Artist: How to Stay Confident and Keep Going.
How to Critique Artwork Intelligently
In his essay The Psychology of the Critic and Psychological Criticism (1962), author Philip Weissman argues that an art critic needs to have knowledge in the field in order to make a judgement. I'm including this final section because I want to encourage people to share their opinions about art in an intelligent, substantiated way that shows appreciation and leads to positive growth. Constructive criticism is based on facts, and only after proper analysis can judgement be made. Negative opinions void of any objective reasoning should be ignored.
I will be using Edmund Feldman's method of critiquing for the purpose of this explanation. His proposed system involves four steps: description, analysis, interpretation and judgement. You will notice how the first two steps of the process are the study of objective facts found within an artwork and the second half is more subjective in the sense that they require the participant to make connections, reflect and finally share a personal opinion.
As an example, I will apply Feldman's method of critiquing to the following masterpiece by the great Edward Hopper:
-This piece is titled Nighthawks and it was created by American painter Edward Hopper in 1942, amidst the socio-political turmoil caused by the ongoing World War 2. It is also important to note that Hopper lived through the Great Depression, which was an extremely hard economic time for many countries.
-The scene is very American and set within Hopper's time judging by architectural design and the dressing style of the subjects. It portrays a sense of everyday life in an American city.
-Hopper has mentioned that he was inspired by a particular diner in Greenwich Village, where he lived and worked from the time he was 31 until his death. However, it is not meant to be a direct representation and, by the lack of detail, one gets the sense that it could be any diner in any city.
-The medium used was oil paint and the style is quite realistic but not heavily detailed.
-In terms of Elements of Art, what strike out most are use of color, shape, space, form and line.
-One could say that the subject of the piece is the diner itself. However, inside it we can see four different characters. Our eyes gravitate towards the only woman included in the piece, due to the bright color of her clothes and hair. Hers is the only face we can see almost completely.
-The composition in itself is quite simple but is visually very engaging.
-The composition is divided into thirds and the diner takes up approximately two thirds of the entire area.
-The use of color in this piece is quite striking. The bright yellow hue used inside the diner, which creates the effect of fluorescent lighting, contrasts with the colors outside of it and provides emphasis on this area of the painting, where the subjects are located.
-There is a sense of illumination created by the diner's unnatural light. It spills onto the concrete outside and creates a few stark shadows. We can easily tell that it is nighttime, but we understand this from the moment we read the title of the piece.
-Muted, dark colors are used on the facades of the buildings and street elements outside of the diner. Very few details are included in this area, which further draws the viewer's focus to the inside of the diner.
-There is almost no sense of movement perceived, even within the diner.
-There is an asymmetrical balance achieved in the arrangement of forms within the composition. There is just the right amount of form and detail within the small area outside the diner to balance it with the enclosed area of interest.
-There are various lines included within the composition. The vertical lines used to create the windows of the diner and the buildings behind it ground the piece. At the same time, strong diagonals create the form of the diner and lead to a vanishing point somewhere outside the piece, to the left (linear perspective).
-These lines also create a triangular shape containing the subjects, making it look like the front part of a ship.
-Windows, architectural elements, and bar stools, create patterns and repetition in certain areas of the piece, transmitting a certain sense of order.
-Hopper creates very smooth paintings, leaving out texture (probably deliberately). We are only able to tell that there is glass separating us from the people inside the diner because of the edge painted at the end of the building. There is no door to be seen.
-Even though a lot of people consider Nighthawks an expression of Americans' feelings during the WW2 period, Hopper's wife once said that he deliberately chose to ignore the chaos going on around him, immersing himself in his work. The Pearl Harbor bombing occurred only a few days after this painting was completed.
-It is important to note that Hopper also lived through the Great Depression and did struggle economically for quite some time. Isolation and disconnect are present in many of Hopper's paintings even before WW2 started.
-This great artist was once quoted saying: "I don't think I ever tried to paint the American scene. I'm trying to paint myself." This tells us that Hopper used his work as a means of self-discovery and personal reflection.
-The emptiness in the piece, combined with lack of movement/expression, as well as the fact that these people seem close and yet apart (both amongst themselves and from the viewer), transmits feelings of loneliness and isolation. Even the couple sitting together seems detached. They could be married or they could be total strangers that just met.
-The stillness and silence make me feel like something is about to happen.
-I believe this piece is extremely effective in both technique and narrative. For me, both are essential in an artwork and Hopper's painting definitely shows both.
-I really admire Hopper's painting style as he creates a specific level of realism but retains visible brushstrokes, leaving out high amounts of detail.
-He was also immensely talented in terms of being able to transmit specific feelings and ideas to the viewer. His work is simple, displays common scenes, and yet is extremely psychological, making the viewer think whether there is another layer to everyday life.
-With every piece, the artist incites us to connect the dots and come up with stories. His work is compelling, even today.
-Hopper is known for taking a long time to complete his works, and the effectiveness of his paintings really show a deliberate study and planning on his part.
_Personally, I feel like a lot of Hopper's work (Nighthawks included) is able to resonate with people even today. I think the modern world is so fast-paced and immersed in technology (especially larger cities), that we lack deep communication with one another. We can be surrounded by large amounts of people and yet feel incredibly alone. Also, the lack of expression in Hopper's subjects reminds me of how we are becoming more and more desensitized by violence and, at times, lack the humanity to connect with others. We are together in this world and yet, almost everyday, we ignore there are others beside us that may need help. Everyone is their own island!
Because you will likely by receiving both positive and negative criticism on a regular basis, it is vital for you to start training yourself to respond in a professional manner and, more importantly, to not let it stop you from moving forward in your artistic journey. It is extremely unfortunate when artists never show their work out of fear of failure or criticism. Please remember that being brave enough to share work you have worked hard on is an accomplishment in and of itself!
``To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.´´
Have you ever had any particularly bad experiences receiving criticism? I'd love to know! Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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