Why Do Most Critiques Suck?



Mountain Sunset, acrylic, 24x30


I've always found it difficult to critique art. The longer I look at anything, the more doubts i have about the artist's intention. How do I know what the creator has envisioned? Should a piece or art stand on it's own? 

On the other side of the table, how do I know that the teacher, or the mentor knows my vision? Unless we are facing someone very experienced in providing feedback, we can get quite confused. 

Here are some tips about experiencing an art critique.

1.       Be familiar with the work of the person who provides the feedback. The more familiar I am with what they do, I find it easier to understand what they say.

2.       Take notes. We are not always ready to absorb feedback. The light bulb sometimes takes months or years to ignite.

3.       I know that the popular advice is to ask questions if something isn’t clear, but I prefer not to. Trying to seek out more before I have fully digested what was initially served, tends to make me dangerously nauseous.

4.       Do some research about the feedback. It’s easy nowadays to find information related to any possible aspect of art. For example, if the feedback refers to strengthening composition, learn everything there is to learn about composition.

5.       Try not to get too influenced with just one mentor. Just like getting a suspect diagnosis, try to get a few opinions before making conclusions.


Keep in mind that unless the person providing feedback or teaching is very good at that, they are likely to attempt to shoehorn a talented beginner into their own shoe, or into a shoe familiar to them. For example, if you are painting expressive portraits, try not to get upset when you are harped at for painting the lacrimal caruncle too pink. If the eye anatomy isn't your main concern, file that feedback under “irrelevant”, and move on. 

Remember that many ingenious inventions are results of overcoming a lack of skill, or lack of interest in applying skills. Picasso is a prime example of the latter. If a critic had never heard of Picasso, and was presented with his Les Demoiselles d’Avignon at the time they were created, what would they say? Maybe they would have understood Picasso’s vision and acknowledged the skill that the artist possessed, but the first critics who saw it, did not. 

The urge to bring something new to the table is not as rare as geniuses like Picasso. It happens all the time, and we should be careful not to stifle it.

It’s also important to understand that not everyone is focused on having their work graded or rated. Some people approach the teacher with hope of sharing a vision, and some artists are better at communicating this than others. Picasso would probably have received a different critique if he’d said he was learning to realistically draw a female figure, or exploring new grounds. So we go back to the fundamental difficulty of critiquing – understanding the person’s vision. It takes an extraordinary teacher to do this. We know them when we meet them.


What would I say to Picasso about his Les Demoiselles d’Avignon? I’d like to think that I’d have bought it!

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