Why Artists Should Listen to Criticism

There is a meme currently making the rounds in the online art world and especially in the growing “art coaching” scene..
It goes like this:

”A young artist exhibits his work for the first time and a well known art critic is in attendance.
The critic says to the young artist, "would you like my opinion on your work?"
”Yes, " says the artist.
”It's worthless," says the critic
The artist replies, "I know, but tell me anyway."

In my opinion this meme is actually giving very bad advice to young artists, inferring that they should just ignore ALL criticism, especially the criticism that comes from a respected art critic (not just a random stranger on the internet) while also postulating that a professional art critic would walk up to a young artist and just try to crush them with a two word assessment of their work. Perhaps that may happen in some extreme scenario, but I guarantee you that the majority of critics would be much more likely to simply ignore your work (if they found it “worthless” ) or maybe tell you what they thought you needed to work on to make it better (if they thought your work had promise).

We must be aware of the Dunning-Kruger effect from either extreme (ie - unjustifiably thinking your work is great or self-defeatingly thinking it is worthless).

Agreed, artists should follow their own paths/visions and not be slaves to trends and/or the comments of random strangers, but we should also listen to intelligent criticisms of our work and actually seek out critiques from industry insiders whose opinions we respect.
You may discard the advice which you think would take you down a different path from that which you are currently on (the one which your passions and intentions steer), but I guarantee you that there is something to be learned from every intelligent and thoughtful critique you will receive in the course of your artistic life.

I realize ultimately this is just a meme trying to bolster confidence in a world where people are often unsure of themselves and their work, but again - any art critic worth their salt would never say that kind of thing to a young artist..
An intelligent critique/criticism lists your strengths and weaknesses and gives you a blueprint for advancement - especially if you can detach your ego from it and actually use it to your advantage and growth process..

The path of the artist is often like a tight rope walk: there are a lot of outside influences and distractions trying to pull you off of that rope, and while there are indeed many success stories about people who proved the nay-sayers wrong, there are many, many more of people who learned from the criticisms and critiques they received along the way in their lengthy careers and grew as artists as a result..

My ultimate advice to artists is “Use everything” - even if it is just using criticisms for the fuel in your artistic fire..

photo by SNAP! Orlando

photo by SNAP! Orlando

What Makes an Image "Good"?

I tend to think that everyone who is posting pictures they took or created thinks their stuff is good. But I think the way we grow as creatives is to detach from our connection to the image (especially the ego part ) and be able to objectively judge whether it works or not – whether it “grabs you” in some way… (For me, I can't really objectively assess an image until I have worked on at least two more after it . Only then am I able to critique that work without the veil of "I worked hard on this" wrapped around it).

I think there are three kinds of images ultimately:

Ones that have the “Wow factor”: These are images that are visually stunning and command your attention. They may just be “eye candy”, but you simply can not ignore them when they present themselves to your eyes. This can be attributed to a few different things - a stunning subject (be it model or landscape), spectacular lighting and composition and a unique perspective that forces you to look.

Then there are ones with “the Ponder Further factor”: that make you think, provoke emotions or ask you questions about the intent of the artist. These are images you can spend hours with and return to again and again.

And then there are the “Ho Hum” pictures: which neither dazzle nor captivate the imagination of the viewer. Usually what makes them boring is a lack of either of the first two components.

The best images in my opinion are a combination of the first two in some way.

Most images are in the third category and I have begun to analyze more and more what makes some images exceptional and others boring. It is more than just elements of composition, lighting, and perspective – it is ultimately the subject itself and the way it is captured and manipulated by the mind of the artist that either draws you in or doesn’t.

I try and learn from them all – what to avoid and what works.

Or, as the late great Robert Mapplethorpe said “The more pictures you see, the better you are as a photographer”.

“Cloud of Unknowing” by Thomas Dodd

“Cloud of Unknowing” by Thomas Dodd