How to Deal With Art Criticism from Your Spouse, Partner, or other Close Family and Friends

Several weeks ago, I received the following email from a discouraged artist:

I’ve been working on a sculpture for some time now that I thought was finished and at least four times [my husband] walked into the studio and completely upended my thinking by telling me he wasn’t fond of it. He loves the top two thirds but not the bottom third. I’ve listened each time he’s made suggestions and taken them to heart by making significant changes. And, each time the piece was improved upon. The last time I thought it was finished, and he didn’t, it got a little tense. After a few days of thinking about it, I whacked that bottom third off and I’m in the process of rebuilding it yet again.

We both struggle when it comes to the using art terms to describe something. I have to drill down, by asking questions, to what he really means. He can be terribly blunt. He at times doesn’t seem to value the amount of time and emotional energy that goes into the making of a sculpture even though he’s seen me working on it for weeks or months.

I, on the other hand, can be resistant and stubborn and it’s not easy to hear criticism regarding my work when he breezes into the room as I’m ready to pronounce it done. I usually come around but that initial reaction to his statements isn’t pretty.

I’d like to know how other artist/spouse teams handle this type of communication.

I grew up in a household where this was an almost daily question. As many of you know, my father is a painter, and my mother manages the business side of his career. They’ve worked together this way for over thirty years. As I recall, this partnership worked very well for them. My mom and dad seem to have dispositions that compliment one another. My mom has always been encouraging and optimistic, and this has helped propel my father forward, especially at times that he might have felt discouraged.

That doesn’t mean it’s always been smooth sailing, however. I know there have been times, even recently, when mom thought that dad was on the wrong track with a particular piece, or that a certain piece wasn’t as successful as my dad thought it was. I’m not privy to the conversations where these kinds of things are discussed, and I don’t know if there’s ever any tension when the two don’t see eye to eye artistically.

As I thought about the email above, I realized how complex it could be navigating criticism from a spouse, partner or close friend. The criticism can almost certainly never be taken objectively. I would also bet that this kind of criticism is never given in a vacuum. Whatever else is going on in your relationship and life is likely going to bleed over into the feedback about the art.

I thought this would be a great topic of conversation to open up on the blog. Before writing the post, I decided to reach out to a group of readers and ask about their experience and what advice they might give to this artist, who is struggling with spousal criticism. I want to thank all of those of you who responded to my email – your input really gave me new insights into the challenges of this issue.

The first thing I discovered is that the majority of artists I reached out to appreciate the feedback about their art, even when it’s critical. Some struggle, however, especially with the manner criticism is given. Other’s wish that a spouse or partner were interested enough to give feedback.

Education of the Partner/Critic

One of my first questions was how qualified do artists feel their partners are to give feedback? While some artists are paired with other artists or have partners who are trained in some artistic discipline, most artists have non-creatives as partners. This has a big impact on how an artist takes the criticism offered by a partner.

A partner with an artistic education is often better able to articulate their criticism, but many artists find that the lack of artistic education of a spouse can actually be an asset.

Sheila Bycraft, a fine art jeweler from Wardsville, Ontario, says her sister, who often gives her feedback, “doesn’t have any formal art education, but she does represent a large part of my target market, which makes her opinion invaluable.She certainly does not need any education to test out a new bracelet design for durability or to see if it gets snagged on things!”

I heard this sentiment a lot from artists. They felt that a partner critic could serve as a proxy for their clientele, who often might also not have much of an artistic education. Another artist said:

I don’t think it impacts their criticism. It may impact how they articulate how they feel, but not their feelings. If, as artists, we plan on letting our pieces leave our vision, our creation, and our care, we have to be ready for how the general public will view them, whether we like it or not.

Star Trauth, Miami, Florida

 

How to Communicate More Effectively

So, how can you build a better artist/critic relationship with a partner? Unfortunately there is no facile answer to give. Each relationship is going to have its own dynamic, challenges and opportunities. I would offer some of the following suggestions as a start however.

Explicitly Talk about How You Would Like to Receive Feedback About Your Work

One of the biggest issues seems to be that many artists have fallen into unhealthy communication and criticism with their partners without even realizing it was happening. Some artists are lucky to find that their partners are naturally good at giving feedback, but others have, over the course of decades, fallen into poor communication habits with a spouse, partner or close family member. A partner’s poor communication about your artwork can lead to resentment and conflict. This simmering resentment can grow by tiny increments into a cauldron of conflict over the course of years.

If you are just beginning a relationship with a partner, it would be a great time to have a formal conversation about what you need in terms of feedback and how best to communicate with you. Even artists who are decades into a relationship can benefit from a dialogue about how they would like to be critiqued. Sometimes a partner is communicating poorly because you haven’t provided any instructions about how to better  communicate.

It’s also reasonable to expect that your communication with a partner will evolve over time, just as your relationship does.

Naomi VanDoren, an artist in Oakland, California agrees with this approach.

Have a conversation with that person about what kind of feedback you need and when. It’s important to have them understand that at certain times you’re not looking for feedback or are not ready. Tell them to not give advice unless asked for and to “sandwich” the critique it between compliments if you’re still unsure.

What to do When You Disagree with the Criticism

Hopefully, as a relationship continues, a partner will become better and better at communicating, and will develop a better eye for your work. Even so, however, there are going to be times when you feel your partner is wrong.

You can’t please everyone, nor should you dilute your artwork in order to do so. Some get it and some don’t. That doesn’t mean that you should only listen to those who “get it” as that may also stunt growth as you may become funneled into a style that “works”. Staying true to yourself is the way to appreciate and learn from criticism. Even tho many of us are so closely connected to our art, remove yourself from it and realize that the viewer is not criticizing you as a person but just what he or she is seeing in front of them and that they care enough about your success to be honest.

Madeleine Fia Matsson
Brooklyn, NY

As an artist, talented or not, you are always lonely. You try to make your dreams come true. You try to follow your feelings and way you see the world via your creations. And nobody I repeat nobody can that take away from you. Keep on creating you will get always critics; you will get always rejection, but keep your dreams and go on creating the way you think is right!!

Mark Pol

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

 

Basically, hand him/ her the brush and tell them to show me what they mean. It stops them in their tracks😜 I also try not to let someone have too much say or power in what I’m creating, it’s from my soul/ experience/ esthetics and what I think works.

Melanie Fergusen

Oakley, UT

To stop feeling bad about negative criticism always remember the person is not talking about you, not criticizing you, but is talking about a product outside yourself. That product is not you and you are not the product. Nevertheless, the best approach to hear others’ views is to discuss all the things that are working well on a piece and why. This can be built around the elements and principles of design or simply gut reactions. Never take any one person’s opinion as definitive.

Valerie Kent
Cavan, Ontario

 

Attitude

Know in your heart that they truly love you and have your best interests in mind. Then LISTEN. Try not to bring your feelings into the mix. That will close your ears to what they have to say to you. What they see is what collectors see – listen and be open

Marie Tippets
Dana Point, CA

Usually harsh criticism has more behind it. If you can figure out what the individual’s motivation is and understand your own sensitivities to any criticism, you have a starting point to determine if you can negotiate an agreement with the other individual or if you have to learn to tune it out.

Deb Marvin
Independence, Kentucky

What do you Think?

Does the artistic education of your partner matter? How has partner criticism impacted your work? What have you done to build a better artist/partner relationship? What advice would you give to an artist struggling with criticism from a spouse, partner or friend? Share your experience and thoughts in the comments below.

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65 Comments

  1. Sometimes a spouse will not appreciate your artistic drive in general, and it comes out in the criticism. If he doesn’t really appreciate or understand why you want to paint, sculpt, etc., and are genuinely supportive instead of simply tolerating your career, his feelings bleed into critique about your work. This is especially true if he has no feeling for art. It happens. My own forestry specialist husband has learned “Coming along!” is probably the safest statement he can make when I show him something…I love him dearly, but he is simply not artistically tuned in, and I try not to let it get to me. I have other sources for this kind of support.

    1. My wife is my critic, for 42 years. I ask her advice on a painting I’ve been working on, and she offers her evaluation, which she says I ignore, which in some cases I do.

      However, I do respect her immediate response to the work. A positive or negative response is important because it lets me know if my composition is on target. She lacks artistic training, but that doesn’t mean that she cannot identify a good, or bad composition.

      I pay attention because she represents the general public. If a piece doesn’t capture her immediate attention, then it will not draw in the general public. However, if I’m painting a piece for a competition, the wife once over doesn’t work. I must depend on my experience to present a piece based on who is judging. It is my believe that you never bring a knife to a gun fight. I’m a traditional landscape artist whose work would not do well with a judge with an abstract, or a belief that creativity comes from within. Sorry, I got carried away.

  2. Why are you doing your art? Is it for yourself? or to “please” others? You’ll never please everyone, but you can strive to please yourself. Yes, if a criticism is given in a truly helpful manner, i.e., constructive criticism, like help in strengthening compositional elements, or helping you really determine where you want the viewer’s eye to land, then it is helpful. It is not helpful, really more destructive, for someone to say they “don’t like it”. If it’s really about your expressive view, it truly doesn’t matter what someone else thinks. I’ve being painting using computer software since 1985 – and I had a good friend say, “I like your real artwork better.” This totally perplexed me. Try as I might, I never forgot this. Turns out, the friend, at the time, was a total technophobe and couldn’t get past me using a computer to paint – although she liked much of my final artworks, and is now quite appreciative. Work on pleasing yourself, and others will appreciate the genuine quality – trying to please others you might as well produce for Cost Plus Imports.

    1. Thank you Linda for your comments. Very recently I came to the conclusion that I need to paint for myself and not even consider “my targeted audience.” Somehow that has freed me. Thank you!

  3. My harshest critic is my best male friend for 40 years who has also bought a lot of my paintings and through him I have made additional sales. He lives in Toronto and at the age of 50, not leaving his day job. he decided to write mystery novels four of which have been published, the first of which won the Best New Mystery Writer in Canada Award. I have made changes to canvases at his suggestion but I have also ignored them. As an artist putting our work “out there” we are all confronted with “slings and arrows” but we cannot expect to be applauded by everybody. It’s a big world out there and thank God different people like and admire different things. How boring would it be for example if one hundred percent of the population only likes vanilla ice cream?

  4. It was hard for me because my late husband would always say “I hate you, you are so talented” Meant in a joking manner but indicative of his inability to assess my art at all. I will say he loved the watercolors of fish I made him because he was a fisherman. My adult sons have no opinions. So I am joining a critique group of artists to get some feedback. I don’t know any of them too well so hopefully their critiques will be constructive without that tinge of friendly, familial obligation to say something “nice”.

  5. I learned early in my marriage not to ask my doctorate-in-organic-chemistry spouse for his opinion on a painting unless I wanted a brutally honest answer. Over the years, his criticisms have distilled into “It’s not doing anything for me,” which I can ignore or explore further. It turns out, though, when I don’t ask, that he’s actually very enthusiastic about some pieces, a fact about which I remain ignorant. And that’s okay too. All in all, since I found my artistic voice, I seek opinions and affirmation very rarely. I know when something’s working.

  6. Having done thousands of drawings, illustrations and paintings, as a freelance illustrator and painter, I’ve found it easy to take criticisms and defend my work. A good deal of the time, doing designs, illustrations and commission paintings, I lead the client along and let them participate in the development and execution of the piece. That way they take part ownership in the piece and love it all the more. Painting on location a lot offers all kinds of encouragement, suggestions and critiques, even the cows watching from behind a fence on the side of a road! A comment I will use sometime is, “Speak yer mind, but ride a fast horse!” That will lighten up the conversation.

    Having been married for over 53 years, my wife will come into the studio and say, “Your done!” And I’ll say, “Oh come on, I need five more minutes.” Usually she will concede…but nor always! She knows I can overdue it and ruin a piece sometimes.

    Don’t get hung up criticism, sometimes it’s helpful and sometimes it isn’t, just draw and paint more, after a while, you’ve heard it all! If your having fun, you never have to go to work!

  7. My husband, now my ex, went to art school with me. So when he had criticism about my work I took it seriously. I delayed launching my career for years because he assured me my work wasn’t good enough.

    Turns out he was jealous because he chose to work in another field, and consciously or not, he was sabotaging me. When I went to level up my art career, he actually told me I wasn’t allowed to do so. That was the beginning of the end of my marriage.

    My point is, ask yourself what the motivations of your spouse, or critic friend could be. And better yet, don’t get art advice from any one close to you. They are generally not your ideal client anyway so their opinion doesn’t matter.

  8. Outside criticism can be beneficial to an artist at times, however it really depends upon the nature of the artist, and the person providing the criticism. No other person thinks and feels exactly as you (the artist) does. Your work is a reflection of that inner person, couple with your skills as an artist. For some strange reason everyone feels entitled to give criticism. At times it is a way of making themselves feel superior or intelligent. At other times they are sincerely offering their feedback as a means of hopefully improving your work. Beware though in who you listen to , and to what advice you respond to. Digest what the critic gives you, but listen to your heart. The best art is at times created against the tastes of others and it’s strength comes from it’s original spirit. When you start following the advice of others simply to gain favor in the eyes of some, you can loose your own artistic voice, and at best your work simply “fits in”.

  9. I had to laugh because my husband once criticized a painting saying it was too simple. A week later in a juried show the judge singled out that painting saying “Some artists know when to stop. This painting is simply elegant!” And awarded me a blue ribbon!🤣

  10. My daughters simply don’t like anything I create. If I ask them what they think, they shrug. My collages are meh, my pen and ink drawings are meh, the jewellery I now make for a change of pace is meh. In the old days, when I used to quilt and made quilts especially for them, they weren’t that thrilled. And when they got older, a couple of them actually gave them back to me!!! I was speechless. They are otherwise very civilized, decent young women and I do not understand how they can be like this. I’ve stopped asking them their thoughts but it disappoints me that I can get no feedback. My artist friends are uber supportive but I’d sure like some constructive criticism too. Bottom line, I’m doing this for myself alone and if my art goes anywhere, ie sells, then great. But otherwise, I feel like I’m just a putterer. The greatest proof that I’m an artist (wannabe) is my chronically paint and ink stained fingers.

  11. I love all criticism because I want people to be free to give me their point of view. “Corrective criticism comes from a kind heart. Sometimes I totally see what they see afterwards and sometimes I just go with what I have created. It is art! An example would be two paintings ago I did this really great contemporary horse painting but I wasn’t sure of the background. I shared it on FB like I always do asking my list Yay or Nay, I asked my husband, then the lady at the art supply where I get my paintings framed said, that something I had done looked like bullet holes. I came home and she was right, I changed it, I still wasn’t happy 100% and kept looking at it throughout my day(s) then my son came for a visit and he said something I was totally thinking about, so a few days later I changed the background again. I’m now 98 1/2 % happy with it. So what I’m saying, is all criticism is good, and I can choose to hear it how I want to hear it. I see it as a gift because I choose to interpret it as I choose. 😉

  12. Yes, and sometimes a spouse is an artist him/herself and feels absolutely competent about the painting I am working on. Do this here, that point must be there – o yeah, and this bird needs to be somewhere else. I think this is not “education”, comments like these are not helpful at all because I am the creator, and I know why I put things together in this certain way. I have my very reasons. I am working on a piece when I am ready, I know what I would like to express, this expression comes out of my inner self at this moment- nobody else can follow all these aspects. I would never change a painting after I decided it to be finished, if it is not MY feeling of imperfection on the painting. And as you can see, it never works out.
    Maybe the next day when you are checking if the work is still as you wanted it to be, you are finding out that something disturbs you in the expression. Changing this part would be an autonomous act because you yourself are deciding what to do, and why. If somebody -and even the spouse- feels the need to leave a comment about a painting, I would prefer that she just says that she likes it or not. Nobody (if not an art teacher or a customer who orders a certain image in a certain style) should have the nerve to tell an artist what she has to do in her art.

  13. Whatever criticism is received, do not act on it immediately. Take time to process it and look at your art to see if the criticism and suggested change makes sense for your personal aesthetic. If after time has passed and you agree with it, then make the change, otherwise, carry on. I’ve made the mistake of making immediate changes only to regret them later.

    1. I totally agree. I also do not take criticism too seriously. But with a fresh view, I make changes only after consulting with myself and the original intent.

  14. If my partner marched into the studio and callously dictated that I had to scrap several months worth of work and then redo it, in accordance with their “su[perior” opinion… I’d thank them, remind them that constructive criticism goes a lot further. Like, what was great about the other two thirds of the work in question???

    I’m true to myself. If a work doesn’t quite hit the mark, that’s okay… I’d rather maintain positive creative energy and move forward to the next work rather than alter one under attack by an arrogant critic.

  15. I once had a teacher who admonished the class not to take feedback from a spouse. I think his experience was that the artist would then go off in the spouse’s direction instead of remaining true to self. This could be true of all feedback from anyone. If someone is constantly making critical remarks, and you are making changes according to their input, it could be time to say, “I will ask you for feedback if I want it, and if I don’t ask, please refrain from commenting.” I think many of us make work with a critic figuratively “looking over our shoulder.” The more confidence we gain, the easier it is to shoo them away.

  16. Knowing that I am producing art that sells, if the love of my life says anything about a painting in progress, I listen without comment, perhaps respond with “uh-hummm,” then wait and go back to work following my instincts, emotions and vision. Working in series, I have fewer problems with such critics. And I pay rent inside an art gallery/framer, where I can go to work, take as much or little time to contemplate and paint.

    By this practice, I am finishing paintings and moving into projects in unchartered territory. For example, experiments happen in our basement, a northern-lit space where I can happily play. Creative energy is soaring.

  17. If you have to coach your partner on how to offer feedback on your art successfully, then it seems to be more of an issue about your relationship and her than about the actual art. Offering feedback about art is no different than offering feedback about a meal, an idea, or a pair of shoes. If your partner is insensitive about how she comments on your artwork, then it is more of a reflection of that person’s lack of thoughtfulness and sensitivity.

    Or am I missing something here?!

    I think it’s incredibly rude for anyone who is supposed to love and care about you not bother to take the time to be kind when delivering feedback about your artwork. If he needs to be mean and hypercritical, then I’d never ask him for his opinion. Ever. Plus, I’d likely give him the heave ho, because who needs someone like that in her life? But perhaps that’s a topic better suited for a couples therapy website. 😉

  18. My husband of over 50 years is not an artist. But he is my best friend and art critic. Over the years, he has come to see and appreciate light and color. His comments are more like – that corner doesn’t feel right or this bush needs to be defined better. I decide what I want to do with it. I also have a mentor who sees my “finished” work and offers comments and suggestions. We work by email. Finally, I sometimes post to a Facebook group who offer comments. I HAVE LEARNED FROM EXPERIENCE NOT TO JUMP IN AND MAKE CHANGES. If I don’t feel them I don’t make them. Or if I’m undecided, I think about it for awhile. Often I keep those comments in mind for future work. I may not be the most skilled artist but IT IS STILL MY ART.

  19. I agree with the person that suggested you should “teach” (if he’s teachable) your husband how to
    critique your work…what’s good, what doesn’t work, etc. said with diplomacy. Add that diplomacy is also an “art” and can be learned! If ALL this falls on deaf ears then tell him you do not want his opinion…ban him from your studio if necessary. Would you ever think of going into his office and telling him how he should work? Creativity, like an unborn fetus….is fragile. It must be nurtured wisely while it is still “incubating”. Cultivate a group of artists as friends and for supportive critiques.

  20. Interesting question. I value my husband’s reactions. He is careful not to judge, as he does not have formal training in paining/composition. However, his reaction is good feedback for me. Sometimes I am not sure if I am on the right track or not with a piece. I can tell right away by the way he responds, sometimes without words, if it is working. My husband is respectful of my work space and only gives his opinion if I ask him.
    When he retired from practicing law, he began making jewelry. As his skills developed his eye for composition has improved. We now share a gallery space and enjoy parallel creative practices.

  21. Comments from my husband are generally helpful. If he really did not like something I had painted or made, I would put it out of sight for a period of time before returning to look at it with a fresh eye. Over the years, he has become much more informed about art. He is always willing to learn more.
    If I am on a deadline, I am working for someone else who is art-directing and paying me. In that case, the only opinion that matters is the editor or art director, not my husband.
    When working on my own, especially when exploring something new, I am tentative and don’t allow anyone to see what I am making. Too embryonic.

  22. My spouse does not offer criticism of my art work. She is a witness to how intensely I engage with what i’m doing. When I might ask, it’s usually a pragmatic, “Why do you want to do that? What’s the sense of it (or purpose).” It usually puts me on the defensive for an idea that might not be fully realized. It’s not helpful. Often but not always, her assessment is correct but as an artist, I have to try it anyway.
    I have a very good friend (one of my undergrad profs actually) who is brilliant academically and skilled artistically. Criticism from him is Socratic and withering because he can call huge chunks of history and aesthetics down into the conversation. Again the questions result in a defensive kind of murmur.
    Yet, at the end of the day, both of my critics seem think I’m doing something worthy. This perplexes me even further. Am I doing “C” work- a kind of good idea with kind of adequate skills? That is not an especially admirable artist goal.
    Criiticism is a bump in the road for me.

  23. I had a successful career painting California seascapes, then my husband’s work required a move to Colorado. I was so thrilled and excited with the new landscape potential that I threw myself into the new subject matter. However, for my husband, nothing was as good as my seascapes. His reaction to the new subject matter was always the same “uuuuh … it’s OK”, followed by, “why don’t you keep painting seascapes”, or, “why are you wasting your time on this junk … paint seascapes”. Finally I put a large panel on on my easel, and with little enthusiasm or inspiration did another seascape. When it was finished my husband’s comment was, “well it’s not really your best work.” I quietly took the panel off the easel, carefully laid it on the floor, uneventfully stood in the middle of it and proceeded to break it into little pieces against my foot. I took my mucked up shoes off, picked up all the pieces of the painting panel and carefully placed them in the trash along with the shoes. I then sweetly asked my husband what he wanted for dinner. I refused to allow him to make me feel upset or angry. He was correct. It wasn’t my best effort. He never asked for another seascape and was more supportive of everything I did from then on. People don’t understand that painting is not like baking a cake where you simply follow a recipe. Painting comes from inspiration … from the heart. True art comes from being immersed in the subject matter … being bundled up on a cold beach, seagulls screeching, the surf pounding on the beach, sand blowing in your paint, the smell of kelp in your nostrils. That’s what creates inspiration. It’s hard to paint an ocean while standing in the middle of a magnificent high country forest … or worse yet … in a studio with nothing to awaken your personal heart-song.

  24. It seems you are trying to please your husband instead of using your own judgement as to when your piece is finished. Criticism can be helpful and it can also be harmful. It depends on the knowledge of the person.

    I paint for myself. Any advice is welcome. I may listen or I may not. At the end of the day, I make my own decisions.

  25. I value all your comments, and find them to be insightful, with much regard for preserving the integrity of one’s art while respecting and acknowledging the criticism of others. However, regarding the woman who is the subject of this discussion, her husband’s behaviour is rude and manipulative, and comes from power-seeking rather than being helpful. Rather than let herself be affected emotionally by his remarks, and attempt to appease him by altering her art to his specifications, perhaps she could tell him to put a sock in it, period.

    1. I agree with you Marianne- yet ultimately she, the female artist in this story, has given her husband the power in this instance. A self assured artist would not dream of letting anyone direct the constant chopping and changing of their art.

  26. If he’s not signing it, and he’s not buying it, then it’s done when you say so. Art represents the artist, and you’re making yourself a slave to a bystanders opinion. (even if he’s your husband)

  27. I no longer look for or need critiques. Not because I think that my work is perfect (I have many more miles on the canvas to catch up to the images that I know I will make before my time is up). Yet I believe that when you have been making art for many years, you get to the point where all of the answers lay within. Ie. I know when I have overworked a piece. I can see and feel when I was honest with a painting and hit the mark- and when I did not. I can now see specifically why a piece didn’t work- and I believe that any mid-career-plus artist has an instinct for that. And interestingly, I feel that buyers and viewers (whether they have an artists eye or not), most often seem to have an attraction to our better works. At an opening or occasionally on Facebook I will ask people which of mine are their favorites and why. Yet this is only to engage conversation- nothing more. I feel that by the time that any any artist has been doing their thing for 10+ years and beyond, that their mission and direction gets clear enough that other peoples opinions are just that, opinions- and none of it should be changing our work, ‘if’ we are clear of our vision/direction. I will however ask a gallerist if their clients lean towards certain subjects or colors that I ‘already use’. And if they like my blue paintings, sure, I’ll supply a few more blue paintings, as these kinds of questions will be in alignment with the work that I am making anyway….. All of that said; don’t get me wrong, I am human and can have a pang here and there if someone snubs my work, yet it lasts just a minute. Then I let go of my ego and get back to what I know I am meant to be doing.

  28. My husband is also one who does not appreciate what I am doing, or why, and his comments reflect that he just simply does not like how I paint or the resulting paintings. He wants realism and really thought he could paint better. He started taking online lessons with a realistic painter teacher (Michael James Smith of the UK), studied his tutorials for zillions of hours and started painting. And he learned: 1. painting is not as easy as it looks, and 2. he could indeed learn to paint realistically. I just choose not to. He asks me for help with color mixing, and other technical aspects and I am careful to be supportive and encouraging — and NICE. I can not say he likes my paintings any better now, but maybe he appreciates my skill a bit better and is less harsh in his criticism. I listen to him and if I agree with him I adjust the work, but mostly I don’t want to. In the face of criticism I know I have to believe in myself more than I believe the sun will rise tomorrow.

  29. Practical insight by fresh eyes can help avoid pitfalls. My husband is also an artist though of a very different media. Occasionally I would be passing by as he was working on something and I could see immediately that something was disproportionate and causing him frustration with the rest of the design. So I’d tell him where it was off and just keep going to my own studio. He would later thank me for saving wasted time and more frustration. While his style of work is very different from mine he has come to understand what I my paintings are about and lets me know when my contrasts are effective, when he sees a finished area etc. He has also learned when I need “no Input”!

  30. And I guess I just proved that I need another pair of eyes that, even after proof reading my post, I noticed my typo only after I hit send! Sorry.

  31. Whether my wife “likes” a piece or not isn’t a serious consideration. There’s been plenty of occasions where she hasn’t liked one that sold quickly or received an award in show. And by the same token, she likes a lot of other people’s artwork that I find uninteresting or technically substandard……But she does have a good eye. So, when she says a shape or specific thing isn’t working, I trust her judgement. I never take her comments to heart though. I listen, say, “ok, thanks” and move on.

  32. Outside criticism is part of being an artist, which we all know is true. The key for me is to know what you think about a piece before you let others see it. Then you can deal with any criticism positive or negetive without letting it have too much influence on you. Georgia O’Keffee said sometime similiar about her exhibitions and maybe that is why she remained true to her vision throughout her life.

    Art is rarely if ever done by committee. That being said, It is important to develop an objectivity about your work so you can fix any problems as you go. Stepping back or a taking a break from it and coming back with fresh eyes will usually do the trick. I think it is better to develop this objectivity in oneself than to let others tell you what to create or how to create it.

  33. I am married to an artist and I respect his opinion, however there are times when his opinion is not welcome. Early in our relationship I drew the lines in the sand and said I and only ” I will tell you when I want your opinion.” Your partner is going to see what you are working on many times during the process, so if they know that the rules is “no opinions until asked for” then that will save a lot of hurt. Early on we decided that the best thing for making our relationship last was mutual respect. Artists are sensitive, if they are not they are probably not that good at it. I find if I get even a small comment when I’m still developing my ideas I often cannot move forward and will destroy the work trying to fix it. Because my art and my relationship both have importance in my life I chose to protect them both. When I’m near finished I invite my partner to offer his opinion and usually he has quite precise and accurate comments, seeing the thing I couldn’t put my finger on. Sometimes however he might be wrong and I need to go with my gut instinct. Contrary to popular belief, Art must come from a singular mind and does not improve with too many opinions, it just gets washed down and bland.

  34. Jason, my husband is a photographer and he has the mindset of a photographer while looking at my work. There are times when he can see something that is too harsh in the painting and that is invaluable to me and deeply appreciated; there are other times when I have to remind him this is not a photograph and I am making a painting. If I have asked him to take a photo that I can then utilize in a painting, he tries to completely take over and direct in such a way that my original inspiration is gone. His feeling is that he is the photographer and he knows best. I have reached the point that I don’t usually use a photo he has taken, preferring my own. If his suggestions have merit, I am thankful and can incorporate them. If they don’t, then we have reached the point where he knows I will trust my own judgment. In the same manner, he likes my feedback on his photography as I bring a different perspective. The arrangement isn’t always easy as negative feedback is never fun to receive. But I am learning to appreciate the helpful feedback – which can be negative – and to appreciate and trust my own instincts and thereby better understand them.

    1. I am an artist and I have a BA in art history.

      Overall, I think it’s always wise to listen to the critics. Then, it’s good to think about the value of their comments as objectively as I can so I can figure out if what they say has merit. Then, if it does, I decide what action to take. Sometimes I decide to follow my vision, despite what anyone says. Many famous, successful artists were lambasted by critics. I could easily create a long list, but I don’t think it’s necessaey, though I’ll point to Vincent VanGogh as a perfect example.

      My spouse is a non-creative. I have two teenage sons who are good at creating art, but don’t really wish to pursue it seriously even though they take art and photography classes at school.
      When I’m ready for feedback. I prop the painting on a table in a prominent spot in our home.
      Usually I have to ask for feedback, but sometimes they’ll offer it unsolicited. It’s all useful. My husband usually offers simple feedback. My sons and I have full discussions about what works, what doesn’t work and why.
      I value all of it.

  35. In place of a domestic partner, I value most the opinions of my closest friend, who also happens to be my most prolific muse. I tend to blow off a lot of opinions, negative OR positive, of friends and family (snob that I am, lol) because they don’t have the art education to know what I know. My muse, however, has been alongside me in the artistic process for twenty years, paying close attention to what makes a piece work, learning to really look, and yet she also brings the objective point of view of a general collector to the table, not hesitating to tell me when she doesn’t like something. So yes, the artistic knowledge of the critique-er makes a huge difference to me, and in the case of my muse, has helped to push me to grow and reach farther than I otherwise would. Even when she’s not there, I hear her voice in my head repeating a critique from 2004 that I still remember: “It’s really good, if it were someone else…but it’s not really good for you.” It’s funny how that one sentence could both build me up and cut me down with equal force, hahaha!

  36. What do you do when your husband says”why do you make more pictures when you are not selling” I am rather non commercial, so I its made me stop even though I have my own atelier. Help!

  37. Oh, My! Every one of these comments remind me of one of the many reasons I’m a single woman! I am able to simply paint for myself, for the joy, for the excitement. Sometimes I sell a painting or two. I sold four at my last show (I hope it’s not my “last” show). At the moment I find my semi-current work satisfying, but I’ve been ill and haven’t painted for about six months. My heart medications are finally working together and I expect to be throwing paint about very soon and I’m planning a show in the yard of my studio and gallery in July. I don’t discourage comments, but I don’t believe they influence my work. HOWEVER, recently a professional photographer whose photography is itself fine art called my recent work “exciting,” and “Picassoesque.” Now THAT I appreciated!

  38. I welcome my husband’s feedback. Sometimes I’m just too close to my work. He will often observe some aspect that isn’t quite working (that I’ve been ignoring), and it’s like a lightbulb goes on – Oh, yes! That was bothering me too, but it hadn’t quite come to the surface for me to deal with it, and now I can! Ultimately it’s my work and I get to decide what feedback to take and what to ignore, but mostly I find it enlightening and it helps me push myself to be a better artist.

  39. I have the opposite issue… most of the time, with my husband and friends. They like what I do. My husband can tell me at times that my work is ready and I am wasting my time refining things. He doesn’t see the imperfections I see. I spend the last week of total work, probably wasting my time but at least I know when I declare it done, I can be at peace. His opinion matters the most to me, as he would point out when something didn’t turned out optimally. He makes really good points, despite not being an art person himself. When everybody else comments that they like my work, I wonder if they truly do, but at least I know he truly means what he says.

  40. This is a great article! Over the years I’ve had plenty of criticism from family and friends. Everyone is an “expert.” I had to learn not to let it get to me. My husband used to walk into my studio all the time when I was in the middle of painting and start critiquing it. It would throw me off mentally where I sometimes couldn’t finish. I had a talk with him and told him he can’t critique something that isn’t finished. We made an agreement that he stays out of my studio when I have the door closed. When I’m finished I invite him in. Since we’ve started that, he’s actually been very good with feedback on my paintings. He’s even been crazy about some that I come close to trashing, and I’m glad I didn’t.

    On another hand I have a good friend of mine who looked at my abstract paintings and said, “oh I can do that!” I told her that was terrific and I encouraged her to start painting. I heard from her a month later and she was distraught claiming, “oh my gosh, it’s so much harder than it looks! I’m so sorry. I couldn’t do it!” She ended up asking me for lessons, which I was happy to oblige but she still won’t try painting on her own. She is also a big fan and follower of my work and owns 3 pieces now.

  41. My husband is artistic – he paints in acrylics, and is a great photographer – but he is not as intense about his art as I am about mine. I do oil painting exclusively now. We each respect the other’s opinions, concepts and methods. Even though we may offer thoughtful criticism, we each understand that our comments are not a demand for change, or a bullying tactic towards the other. The key is mutual respect and honor. I explain clearly the why and how of what I’m aiming to express on my canvas, and I accept his ideas about what he is doing with his acrylics. His photography is beyond reproach, and has helped me with my own compositions many times! In short – love and respect is the secret to mutual constructive criticism.

  42. My wife often has insightful comments on my watercolor work, especially encouraging me to continue a piece I was about to abandon. To keep focused, however, I have said that ultimately I need to make the decisions appropriate for the work as I see it. She accepts my “stubbornness”, that my art cannot be a committee decision. And Jason, thanks for taking time to chat when I visited Arizona last February.

  43. All interesting comments. Seems there is a lot of insecurity going on here. It would be interesting to know how successful this artist is in selling her work and how instrumental her husband has been in making that happen? Is money an issue? Can she work independently, or is his input crucial to her work and self esteem? More questions than answers.

  44. My dear husband, an engineer, has learned to not tell me what is wrong with my paintings. At least unless I ask him. He is trained . 🙂 . I have a problem with other artists who offer backhanded compliments. “Oh you are really improving” usually these are from ‘friends’ who do need improvement.

  45. interesting…I hear it, and then ignore it. Two times have I ruined a painting because of some else’s thoughts. It cost me two weeks.

  46. When friends or family have criticism of my work, or say “I don’t understand why you didn’t do it this way”,
    my usual response is simply “I know you feel that way” and leave it at that.
    It acknowledges that I listened to them and leaves them with nothing to argue with. If they do get defensive I simply explain “I do my art for myself, not for the way others feel I should be creating it.”
    If needed, I repeat “I know you feel that way”. It works every time.

  47. I have to respond to this subject. My husband isn’t an artist but he is a perfectionist. I had to learn to listen to what my husband was “attempting” to say, even if it was discouraging. If i had to do several redos and still he would say, “Somethng is wrong with it I dont know what it is but something is off.”

    After redos and getting the same feedback, i would put it away, maybe for a month or even two so i could look at it with fresh eyes using a mirror or even upside down until the day i could SEE what i think was wrong and work on it again and finish it.

    Once my husband realized, (after my talking to him,) he needed to be gentle about trying to be helpful,.. he is not as blunt.

    Now, two years later, i can finish a piece with an particular look I luv and if he is still only so-so….. I have grown to the point that I figure if I luv it then it doesn’t matter if no one else does. That doesn’t mean i don’t listen to him anymore but I have become more confident. It’s a happy place to be.

    Donia Key

  48. Thank you for this very good and obviously popular blog, just look at how many replies there are!
    I agree with many of the artists who wrote before me: our better halves may well represent the general audience and the taste of our prospective clientele.
    My husband is not an artist but he knows me well and he also knows what level of work I am capable of. If a piece is not quite up to that standard, it may take me a few days or weeks to realize it, but he sees it immediately. A prolonged silence on his part will tell me volumes and if I dig deeper, I may get a pointer or two, as to what could be improved. I always appreciate his reaction, even if it isn’t an approval all the time.

  49. My wife calls it coloring ,as in crayons, I have been painting for 45 years married for 35 when I started I would have a show and sell 4 – 5 at a time and found out I was gonna be a hungry boy so I got a job in industry and painted in pastel and oils overall sold 20 – 25 paintings in the first 8 years and haven’t sold anything in 35 or so years I still love painting the closets are full and I still think it costs more to frame them than I would yield in selling them. I paint 2 – 4 pictures a year when I find something I really like, more now that I’m retired.

  50. My spouse was a physician and very sarcastic. I am a landscape painter. He would come in when I finished a painting and make a dumb comment like “you should put a squirrel in that tree.” I learned to ignore every input he made. It made me free to express myself in my art, and I only asked myself for my own self critique…or a teacher/professional artist that I admired and respected.

  51. Hello Jason

    Thank you for this post. I really enjoyed this one.

    Whatever assessment or advice arrives, from any source, it’s helpful to consider that it comes from just a different perspective and probably is not intended to wound. Just another person, not better, not worse than me who is seeing something maybe I don’t, that could even prove helpful to be aware of…. or maybe not.

    Some feel it smart, clever or funny to deliver a particularly harsh review and yet it remains up to the artist to decide what they take away, if anything from each experience. I like the idea that the ‘critic’ may be representative of a subset of others, so where possible, listen, consider and then choose I say.

    Kind regards
    Andrea Edwards, Artist, Sydney, Australia

  52. My immediate response. .You ARE NOT AN ARTIST!
    How is it another can tell you your expression is wrong?
    Maybe this is a decor piece? Does your husband have a better eye for esthetics than you?
    You must be in the wrong industry.. Try another occupation.

  53. My husband likes art, but he likes what he likes. That said he likes much of what I paint. I have only painted 3 paintings for him. One portrait of his daughter that he liked ok. One of his son (he didn’t, but I did) and I repainted another from a newer photo of him (that he liked). The others he comments on, if he knows the person, “that’s not his smile or her eyes, etc.” But when I am doing s scene or someone he doesn’t know, he’ll only comment if asked.” Rarely will he comment without being asked. Sometimes I wonder, does he hate it, or even like it? But that’s my insecurity coming out. I do show work to my friends in process. They all “love” it. (not helpful, but nice to hear). Online Facebook groups can be quite helpful. “Painters helping Painters”, “Realistic Acrylic Portrait Artists”, “Art+Work+Living”, “Negative Painting Addicted”. There are lots of groups. Find your favorite. Ask for critiques.

    But basically, artists work alone. We work until we are happy with it. The rest can just…”rest”. It amazes me sometimes what people buy from me, not necessarily my newest and favorite work. Sometimes the older stuff, that I’ve grown to detest. You never know….

  54. I wish my spouse would take more interest in my art. He doesn’t comment or encourage me and when others talk to me about my art he never brags about my art or says anything supportive. He has said a few times that he likes my pen and ink art but never compliments my talent. I guess I need to let go of wanting his input or encouragement and be happy in what I get from my friends and other family members. It’s just hard because as all of us know, our art is such an integral part of who we are.

  55. Awhile back my husband commented on a painting that he “hated it” . I became upset by his comment, so I tried to change it – three paintings later on the same canvas, I stopped. Its fine, but it was better the first time and it was finished. Since than I never ask his opinion-the painting is for me and the audience that loves it. Family members can be either supportive or the most in-sensitive people you know – best to ignore them.

  56. I think it depends on the person giving the criticism… There are certain people whom I specifically ask to give me a well needed art critique…
    Not all people ‘get’ you or your art, so they don’t get to have an opinon…
    There are people whose comments I appreciate and value… There are a very few others who are not welcome to bring bad vibes into my studio…

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