Saturday, February 6, 2010


Every once in a while, every artist runs across a painting with some element that’s just not quite right. This happens more often when you’re just beginning, and less and less over time. It still happens to me.

There tricks for getting a fresh look at your work– turn it upside down, let it sit for a week, and so on. When they all fail, sometimes an outside opinion helps. And sometimes it doesn’t.

I meet regularly with a group of professional artists for critique. These folks are really good at spotting composition problems. So when I was stumped over the painting currently on my easel (above), I took the problem to my meeting. I also got critiques from some other folks. Here is what people said about it (paraphrased, filtered and interpreted):
*The land and the lower clouds are really peaceful, but the swooping shapes in the upper sky are distracting. Take them out and the whole thing will be really peaceful.
*The sky is great. Leave it alone. On the land, the large dark shape is too busy and makes a big M. Maybe take it down a notch, or break it up some.

At first glance, these two comments look like they conflict. Someone must be wrong. Unless you put this in a greater context. The strong values and shapes in the lower land conflict with the strong shapes in the sky. One has to be the star. What should I do? I go back to my original intent: to express the movement of the large sky and relative insignificance of the land. The sky stays. I break up the dark shape and soften some of its edges. I lose a little of the depth in the landscape, but gain emphasis in the sky.

Then I punch some air into the middle bank of clouds and make them more irregular... the thing that was bothering me in the first place, which no one commented on.

So how do you respond to critique? Ask yourself how it fits with your original intent. Do you want to go in a new direction, suggested by the painting, or hold to your first idea? Knowing what your painting is about, that is key.


Celeste Bergin said...

congratulations for asking for critique. I seldom do it, for the reasons you cite..the "instruction" to fix generally is so varied (according to who is giving it) that I can get mired in "solutions". I do think you did just the right amount of adjustment and the painting is all the better for it! You've made me think...perhaps I should ask for more opinion. However, I also remember one artist's admonishment --"asking other artists for their opinion is like a drunk asking a bunch of other drunks what to drink". lol. Harsh, but sort of true.

Karen E. Lewis said...

Great comment!
Part of the problem is that art is so nonverbal that words tend to mess with the process in deleterious ways.

loriann said...

Karen, I think you hit the nail on the head. I am a firm believer that there can only be one diva (or else the diva gets jealous.)

Karen E. Lewis said...