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.

Starving to Successful

StSBookSHave you always wondered what it takes to show your work in galleries? Is your work being seen by qualified collectors?

In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.

Learn more and order today.

2015-01-07 14_43_10-CSS Button Generator

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook

66 Comments

  1. Interesting comments and very helpful. One thing I didn’t see addressed is when the person critiquing your work suggests you paint something a certain way……and her critique is based more on the “kind” of artwork she likes! Such as a friend who prefers a certain style of painting and brushwork. I like it myself, but it’s not how I personally want to put the brush stokes or color on MY work. She keeps saying I should be more “bold” like so and so…….but doesn’t understand that although so and so does some really neat things…….I don’t WANT to paint like him/her?

  2. My recommendation for any serious artist: do not marry someone who not also a serious artist and thrives on her autonomy as a creative person. Or: divorce them if they are making you constantly doubt yourself. No one knows the “truth” about what is “good” or “bad” or “successful” art. Only time will tell. Also, basically, a truly committed artist is always experimenting. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the fire, because experimental work (the only kind that can be taken seriously, by the way…and most serious artists are doing it) will always bring on negative comments as people begin to “see” your work for the first, second, third or even fourth time. The Aztecs didn’t “see” the Spaniards approaching their shores because they had never seen such ships like that before and so were lliterally were blind to them. It takes time for anyone – even the artist – to know what their work is all about and what is right for it, and even then, if one becomes too satisfied with the work it probably isn’t. The moral of the story is this: YOU HAVE TO BE THE ONE WHO DECIDES WHAT IS RIGHT FOR YOUR WORK. Don’t let anyone rain on your parade. If they do – or if you find yourself allowing it and resenting it – leave the relationship, because your art is enough of a struggle already. You don’t need envious or mean people piling it on even more. And yes, I am certain that most people would recommend “compromising” and “learning how to take criticism,” etc., etc. I can assure you, from experience, that the only way to to go is to have uplifting, joyous people around you who, if they don’t necessarily “get” your work will always admire and support you. When that is happening there is nothing more fun than being a persnickety, self-demanding, self-critical artist, because you always have someone or other in your life who will come up to you while you are in a paroxysm of self-doubt and say “Fabulous. Just fabulous.” Or: “I’d like to see a little more blue in one of the corners. Would that work?” Now that’s the kind of “criticism” we need. P.S. Also, kids make the best “critics.” After all, they know the sky is pink.

    1. Very well said. I divorced a man who criticized me constantly and made me feel like a failure if every thing I made did not sell. I am now married to another artist who is supportive of my creations and I am of his. He is a woodworker, a medium I know nothing about. Who am I to criticize his creative process? Thank you CutZy for your insight and wisdom.

    2. C. M.,
      I agree with everything you say ( especially about the Kids! They’re just innocently honest).
      ” You can’t please everyone, you gotta please yourself”.

  3. Usually I listen closely and take into consideration what they say if I am unsure- however if it is a piece that really comes from my heart, I sigh and say “Ah, you are into my next piece already You are able to see ahead. How perceptive of you!”

  4. Critism is a balancing act for artists. Take it or leave it. If art is not viewed it won’t be critiqued if it is there will always be a response (welcomed or not). My husband’s two responces are “I like it” or ” that’s interesting” with a smile saying it’s not his favourite or that he doesn’t quite understand it. He’s always happy to see what sells and admits his surprise at others tastes.
    I trust close relationship critiques more then those from “experts” in certain fields as Art has a lot to do with love and that comes from people close to us.

  5. Some good points in all the comments. I can only address my own experience:
    My husband was a great critiquer! I valued his suggestions, though he was not a painter or a photographer. But he was able to see things I was too close to see. I didn’t always follow his suggestions to the letter, but I always listened. He was very understanding of my feelings and was tactful and helpful in his suggestions. He did not hesitate to brag on my work to others! That meant a lot to me. *He died two years ago after 56 years of marriage and I miss him terribly!

    Our son is not always as tactful, but does have some great and valuable suggestions. He simply does not like the type of art I do, but that’s ok, too. He has the misunderstanding that if it is created with a camera and a computer it’s just too simple and should involve more work. I am slowly teaching him how much work actually goes into that type art. My daughter-in-law is more understanding, and I truly don’t know how she feels, but she does make some good suggestions. And I always listen to both, though I don’t always agree, or follow through. And that’s ok with them, and with me.

    And I go on doing what I feel and love to do. It makes me feel good. And that’s what it’s all about.

  6. My self-expression is for me and my self-development,not others, ultimately. If the work meets what I’m saying to myself, then that’s enough for me in the end. If I decide to show it to someone else then I have to expect that they may decide to react negatively or critically to it. To that I ask myself where that criticism is really coming from. Are they jealous or envious? Or just plain wicked? Or competitive? Are they a control freak? Also, they may be right, so it may be better to know what they think. And if they’re wrong then it doesn’t matter!

  7. My husband, not an artist, walks into my studio from time to time and usually has a pretty immediate reaction to whatever is on my easel. That reaction can be total silence and he leaves the room or he will comment that something looks off to him.

    At first this drove me crazy and I saw his behavior as disruptive to my focus. Then a friend of mine made the observation that my husband is probably just trying to be more involved in my art by coming into the studio. That is when I realized that his perspective could actually be very useful to me and I should try to be open minded. For example, he brings an outside view that helps me to think more about the salability and accessibility of my art–not something I normally would think about while working. He also points out big issues that I don’t see because I tend to get too close to the work while I’m creating it.

    Over time I’ve learned the right response is to ask him questions. If he says he doesn’t like something I will in turn ask him for specifics. I may even propose a few reasons why something isn’t quite right if he’s having difficulty articulating the why. This approach helps him to be able to speak about my work and understand my process. It helps me because I know he is learning more about my art and that’s important to me. On the occasions that he walks away in silence, I conclude that there is nothing for him to comment on just yet and I go back to working.

    My advice for other artists is to listen and seek to understand what their partner is trying to say about the work. By opening up the dialogue with them you can only grow as an artist, and they will become closer to you by understanding your process and why you create in the first place.

  8. I think it’s also important to accept that art is so personal. My husband encourages me a great deal, but he sometimes doesn’t like the subjects I paint. He tries to be constructive, but it’s impossible if it’s not art that he has an interest in. He spends his time trying to convince me to paint in a different medium, a different style, different subjects, and complaining that when he looks closely at a picture, he can’t see every leaf or blade of grass. A few days ago I just pointed out to him, that’s why he’s a photographer and I’m an artist!
    The lesson I can glean from this is that it’s never a good idea to try to please someone else, and this needs to be a part of me that is not involved in our relationship.

  9. Learning how to give criticism is as important as learning how to take it. Perhaps a sit-down with the person doing the criticizing outlining what you, the artist, need is one way to approach it. For example, the critic could begin by saying, “I wonder…. ” and “I noticed….” in gentle terms. The critic needs to understand that the ultimate decision is the artist’s. And unless there are other problems with the relationship, I think divorce is way too harsh a response. Communication problems can be fixed if both partners are willing to put sincere effort into it.

  10. I think the most important trait in critiquing anything is TRUST. You have to trust 1. that the person knows what they are talking about (this doesn’t mean they have to be educated in art but that they have at least an “eye” for it). My husband was a mechanic and had absolutely no art background and really only likes landscapes and outdoor scenes, but he has a good eye and can give good criticism when I ask. 2 Trust that they have your best interest in mind. My hubby loves me and is a safe place and would never say anything that could be taken personally. I trust him. 3. Trust YOURSELF. Recently I finished a piece I really liked and I showed it to above mentioned hubby. He looked at it and shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t really like it that much. Now do I take it personally?–absolutely not. Did I change it?–hell no. I really liked it. It was done. And sometimes my husband and I disagree. I trust my own judgment then and move on. 4. Never ask if someone likes your art unless you TRUST them. The only reason most folks ask that kind of question of someone they don’t know enough to trust is because they expect them to like it. Trust has to be earned and someone you don’t know hasn’t earned that trust so don’t ask. They may tell you anyway, but take it with a grain of salt. In my opinion, it’s all about trust.

  11. Some years ago, my husband (who has a very good eye) pointed out that the perspective was off on a large 4′ x 6′ copy of a Juaquin Sorolla piece that I had painted for my living room. I stood silently wanting to cry but realized he was right.

    After I gained my composure, I acknowledged that he was correct and then I said, “How about for every one criticism you give my work – you offer two compliments about the painting. We both laughed and then shook on it.

    We also eliminated the word criticism and use the word “analyze” instead. Ha-ha!

    This has worked for many years.

    As far as the opinions of other people go – it helps me to understand who they are but doesn’t alter how I feel about my work.

  12. I have found that if I need another opinion, I take some pictures of my work and right away see what I want to change or not. An artist can get too involved with their work and not “see”; so it helps to see from the camera’s eye, or walk away from the piece for awhile, come back later with fresh eyes. Also it might help to ask specifically for another’s opinion, this color, that shape, is this believable.

    1. My painting instructor taught me this trick and it really works! Viewing your work at a reduced scale somehow allows you to see the piece with fresh eyes. I document the progress of a piece every hour of work or so and it’s easy for me to see where, if I veered off, and how to retrace my steps. And by taking shots standing the same distance from the piece, you can also compile a time lapse that nearly everyone seems to enjoy watching. I overheard someone say at my show, “I got to watch it being born!” Makes me chuckle every time I think of it.

      1. In our painting group we use a mirror. Stand back and look at your painting in a mirror and like a photograph you will see things that you had not noticed. Works very well.

        Also, we have very strict rules about critiquing. If you want a critique of your work you ask for it.
        Otherwise, advise \, opinions, or criticisms are not allowed. Also when critiquing when asked nothing is to be hurtful, must be constructive or do not speak. Works well. Probably would work with husbands and family/friends as well.

  13. The article is well rounded, and I appreciate all the different perspectives.
    But may I say one thing?….I am by no means a professional writer, but the grammatical errors and typos took away from feeling like a professional article.

  14. My mom once painted a lion from a calendar she had. My dad’s only comment was, “You forgot the dates,” (eye roll to my dad. It really bothered my mom). My side income is publishing adult coloring books and, as you may know, Amazon reviewers can be brutal. Some hate your art and go into explicit detail; some love your art and come to your defense. All that is to say that I’ve got thick skin and a deaf ear when needed. I *think* I’ve developed the ability to listen and then decide for myself if the feedback was useful or needs to be shrugged off.

  15. My family has never liked any of my work. (Well, maybe the odd sunset or such.)
    .
    If you know what you are doing you don’t need approval from others. If you are a poser, then by all means poll people on how to do your art.

  16. Many years ago I was in my first every art exhibit and an established artist in my town criticized my work up and down! I felt so bad. It took a long time to regain self-confidence. Since then this same art work has received many compliments, so I’m thinking that artist did not know what she was talking about. Makes me take criticism a lot more lightly. Who’s to know what is good and what isn’t? It is in the eye of the beholder. Not only that, be kind when giving feedback to someone just starting out.

  17. As an wildlife painter who is married to an abstract painter, we each give feedback on new work. Sometimes it leads to changes, other times it is ignored. The key is to have a grasp on your own desired end result so that you can weigh the crticism as to whether it will help acheive the desired end result. It can be difficult to stick with a piece that your partner does not like, but I have learned that if I love it, others will come along who also love it.

  18. I am an artist married to an artist. My husband has excellent suggestions that I sometimes take and other times don’t, but I always listen to him. At first it really bugged me because I Don’t take criticism well, but now I listen carefully to what he has to say, it’s usually valuable information that will better the project. But, sometimes I choose not to incorporate it into the current work, but, we never argue over it.
    I also will make suggestions to him on his work. I try to be conscious to present them with respect and kindness because I know I can be harsh and abrupt in my comments sometimes.

  19. My husband is also very blunt in his feedback about my work, and also has no training in art. I have learned to seek out his advice near the end of working on a piece, or if I feel stuck but can not figure out why. Although he cannot articulate what I need to change, he often notices where his eye gets “stuck” in my painting and does not work for him. This almost always allows me to look at things with new eyes and I almost always figure out what the issue is with the area of the painting my husband has pointed out, and often am then able to improve it.

    On the other hand, my husband also has a definite style and subject matter that he prefers, that early in my career influenced me a lot. As I have gained more confidence I have discovered the style and subject matter that I really love, which is a bit different than my husbands taste. This has been hard for me, as it is easier for me to take criticism and change based on that criticism than it is for me to choose to go a different way than the vision of someone I love. I guess they key has been figuring out when criticism is about quality, and when it is about personal taste.

  20. Ouch! You touched a nerve here. My husband is photographer/writer and I am designer/editor and we have collaborated on producing and publishing two books based on his photographs and our travels. We agree on his pics almost all of the time, but I am the epitome of my high school English teacher with her infamous red pen. I love to edit and am sort of, well, a “BIG” stickler for grammar, punctuation and spelling. He is a lyrical writer who has no appreciation for my efforts, LOL. Though I try and tread very carefully when editing, it’s contentious!

    Great topic as usual.

    1. Sue, If you “love to edit”, how about saying “I try TO tread very carefully”. “Try AND tread” would not have passed muster with my grammar teachers.

  21. I have a funny story to share about this topic.

    Sometimes, with larger canvases, I’ll work for a while and then hang them up in the house to “live with them” and think about what improvements they might need.

    My wife, who likes my paintings, told me recently that she just loves the three 36″ x 24″ paintings that I hung a few months ago along a stairway.

    I told her ‘thanks’, but I didn’t think these paintings were really done. I considered them early drafts, and planned to work on them in the future.

    “No, don’t change them!” said my wife.

    Right then and there, I decided that the three paintings were done, so I’ll title and photograph them soon. If she’s happy with the three paintings, and has made a real connection, then I can be happy with them.

    1. There’s a well-known saying that it takes two people to create a painting – one to apply the paint and the other to holler “stop! before it gets overworked and ruined” .

  22. Never ask you husband about your artwork! I have been happily married for 43 years and if I didn’t learn this early on, I would have had a very unhappy life. High praise or dislike by him is expressed equally by one word….”fine.” I sincerely doubt that he likes what I do, but he does appreciate that I make money at it and that is “fine” with me! I do have grown children who will fairly critique portraits for me when I am stuck. Since a commissioned portrait does need to be accurate, I will text a daughter a photo and it helps so much. BTW The landscape paintings that always sell for me are the ones I don’t like anyway. Go figure!

  23. I am much more critical of my artwork than my partner. She loves me and loves my work even if she does not understand the concept or the process. I am a lucky man.

  24. Though my spouse knows very little about art – his criticism is often helpful (sometimes ignorable) and never mean spirited; same goes for the group of friends whose opinions I value. In reading the comments from other artists, perhaps I am lucky to have such a terrific pool of input. I always try to look at criticism as an opportunity to learn something – everyone knows that as artists we are often too involved in our work to see the big picture. (no pun) While I create spec pieces that are wholly my own vision with no input from others, I do have to pay my bills. To that end I really appreciate constructive criticism on pieces that I want to sell. I enjoy it when people say they love a certain piece, but it’s more valuable to me to hear what they don’t love about a piece. If I can get a good variety of love this/don’t love that & why – it gives me a much better understanding of what my market wants.

  25. I took 2 sculptures to a venue to show to the venue owner as I wasn’ t sure it was suitable for their craft fair. She told me it wasn’t really craft work but more art work and her venue wasn’t the right place to show it. So then I said “What if I change it so that it becomes more ‘craft’ than ‘art’? I’ve never forgotten her advise and this exchange was about 10 years ago. She said, ‘don’t ever change your personal style to suit someone else. It’s your signature that shows through each and every piece. When you display it, you will have people that won’t like it and people that will absolutely fall in love with it and have to have it.” Your personality is your personality. Your attitude is how you react to another person’s personality. We all love praise and the oooh’s and the aaaah’s. You need to develop a dialogue on negative remarks. Sometimes I continue art in a certain vein just to see them squinch their faces. Hang in there and work on that alligator skin!

  26. Two things:
    First, how well or poorly do I take criticism? Since I’m my worst critic I’ve never had anyone rip into my work like I do myself. I’ve even had family call me out on that. “Would you stop it? What are you talking about?! It’s fine!” Not to me …. I can count on two hands the paintings I’ve done over the years to say I wouldn’t go back and fix or change something. Rare.
    I feel if I can’t be ruthless trying to improve my work I’ll become complacent and stale. I refuse to let that happen and hope I’m a better artist than a decade ago.
    Second, does the criticism have merit? If it doesn’t, shrug it off. Sometimes the person can’t articulate exactly what the problem is or how to improve it. It is helpful to explain your vision for the piece and what you were trying to accomplish. Ask if they feel you’ve done that.
    I’ve passed on guidance to friends how important genuine critique is and how valuable it is to an artist. I want to free them to make comments without worrying they’ll offend me. Nah ….
    If I can’t get the feedback I want I’ll ask them questions. Their answers are often worth consideration. I ask, do you get a sense of distance in this landscape? Should I add more clouds? Is the sky too intense? Is the canvas side heavy with too many trees over here? Is this horse proportioned to the cattle? Is the light too dark in this background? Any question that will have your viewer look at your painting objectively … sometimes they just need a nudge.
    When my husband tells me a painting is wonderful it drives me nuts … every one, every time. No, it isn’t. He likes to follow my progress on a painting but I have to ignore a biased opinion. 🙂

  27. My hubby is very supportive of my talent. Of course he will state at times a painting needs a little “more: of this or that…I just hand him a brush! Usually, that is when I will sign off on the art.

  28. Wasn’t it Frank Gehry who said that when he receives criticism he treats it like a coat? He tries it on to see if it fits. If it doesn’t, he tosses it aside. And I would assume, if it fits then you have to figure out how to wear it with the rest of your wardrobe.

    My husband and I have grown in our graphic design careers together over the last 20 years. It’s a profession based on collaboration, flexibility and a thick skin. When I embarked on my artistic career, it was initially rocky. That straight talk didn’t translate to the deeply personal art I was producing. We laid the ground rules. He gives advice when asked. I ask when I am ready to hear it. And there are no guarantees that anything he says will be implemented. All communication is to be done respectfully. We still hit snags but as many have mentioned already, it’s usually an indicator of something else going on in the household that has nothing to do with the art on my easel. If nothing else, we have an ongoing marriage health test in my studio whenever we need one!

    But in all seriousness, I did end a long term relationship before I met my husband because my partner had no understanding, (but more importantly) no RESPECT for my calling as an artist. SO important to feel supported by the person you share your life with!

  29. Getting positive feedback or criticism from a painting is particularly difficult if it is meant to have negative connotations (think of the later paintings by Goya). I completed a painting in an art class many years ago that portrayed the slaughter of wildlife in Africa–it did not picture the actual slaughter itself but had a representation of death (skull and sickle) and the money that people were making from it. My instructor liked the painting, as did other students, but most of my friends and relatives found it disturbing and did not like looking at it. So I didn’t show it but hung it in my studio. Years later I was at an outdoor festival and had it displayed on an easel along with some of my other paintings. A high school student fell in love with it. She told me she wanted to be an artist and would love to have the painting, but could not afford it. This girl really, really liked it. I told her she could have it for $10. The look on her face was priceless. I’m just happy that it resides with someone who really appreciates and understands it. Sometimes negative criticism is the result of the viewer’s discomfort with a subject and that can be a good thing if it makes them think.

  30. After over fifty years at the easel, I am able to offer a few tips on the matter of spousal criticism. Never ask an opinion of a work in progress, such as a conceptual sketch or uncompleted painting. It is unfair to expect your spouse to objectively criticize an abstract or surrealistic work for instance because it is subjective (to each his or her own) A representational painting on the other hand offers a more realistic form and may be easier to identify errors or dislikes such as perspective, color choice, drawing ability or technique. In the end, the serious artist must delve into into areas where no man or woman has gone before. So, if your ask, be kind to your spouse. If criticism is offered, just say thank you.

  31. This post made my blood boil. Did you ask for his opinion? If not, I’d tell him to mind his own business. Is he an artist? If not, I’d tell him the same thing. And if the opinion is based on whether or not he happens to like the piece…once again, I’d tell him the same thing, and add that if he can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. I expect a spouse to be supportive of what I do. Unsolicited negative criticism from someone in a close relationship is very hurtful. And mean-spirited.

    I say “he” because the writer was talking about her husband and because I happen to be female. But the same thing applies across the board.

  32. I am interested in my spouse’s response to my work because he has a very good aesthetic sense as a photographer. BUT what I ask him is not to comment on it until I ask for it. When I am still in the development stage of a piece, I don’t want input from anyone else until I get it where I want it to go. Then I ask for his response.
    I think that when in the early stages of a piece of creative work, you have to let it come only from you until it reaches a place where you have said what you wanted to say. Then I am ready to hear how it goes over!
    I teach in the studio where I paint. I am always interested in what my students have to say and I encourage them to tell me their honest opinion which they seem to do. But I don’t have work out for comment until I have it far enough along.

  33. Great topic!

    In my own experience my husband has a certain taste for art which isn’t necessarily my taste. I find that art spectators are the same. Art is very personal to non-artists and non-educated art professionals. There is someone out there who loves each piece of art that is created and that’s a pretty fantastic thing. When my husband tries to influence me to paint the way he wants I offer paint a painting just for him but also remind him that that isn’t the look I’m going for for my pieces. I also remind him that I’m always learning and growing and developing stronger paintings and that I need to keep my focus. He is very, very supportive of my art career and that’s super important! HOA’s (husband of the artist) or WOA’s (wife of the artist) help us in so many ways when they are caring and helpful and “have our backs”!

    It is difficult not to feel pressured to change to please someone but I strongly recommend not getting sucked into doing that unless that someone is a mentor, teacher, or other qualified person.

    On the other hand my son who is also not trained, is a great critic who understands the difference in personal taste and can still judge a piece on it’s merits. He can sometimes see things that I overlook and I really value his input. We all need a fresh set of eyes at times so it’s important to find the right person or group to help out.

  34. The best advice I ever received was that I had to believe in myself more than I believed the sun was going to rise tomorrow morning. So, if someone doesn’t like what I’ve done – but I like it, if something doesn’t sell or is judged out of a show — but I believe it is a good painting, then phooey on them! My husband does not like most of my paintings or my style. And he has said so on many occasions. He has now started painting in a style he prefers. He has learned painting is more difficult than he thought and asks for my help, and my eye, which I graciously provide, along with admiration and copious support. I am getting fewer negative comments from him lately.

  35. i would rather have someone give me honest critique/feedback any day than being falsely positive. Real friends do that for you. I ask if something needs changing and really listen and ask clarifying questions. I remove the emotion from it and view it as a positive thing. Bring it on. It has made me a better artist.

  36. If someone criticizes my painting, I have found that the best way is to ask them to specify exactly what they mean. Then I think it is easier for me to understand why they really are saying what they are saying – and easier to react. Also easier to explain why I perhaps don’t change it. And they are thinking more before they say anything. Sometimes when I ignore the critic and finalizing my painting, their reaction is; oh now I see, it should be exactly like this. I have a picture in my head, and before it is finished it might look strange. An when it IS finished, and I am satisfied – well then it will like that.

  37. Wow, great article Jason. I have a love it or leave it attitude to my husbands comments about my paintings now, but it took years to get there. I used to take it to heart as he has seen my work for over 40 years and has watched my struggles and at times, has offered some great advice. He had particular comments about a painting of mine where the figure in it reminded him of a shorter wider version of himself. I did end up painting over that one, but for reasons other than that, and it is now a much better painting. Another recent painting that was “not his favorite” was just accepted into a juried show where it received very favorable praise. Do I let his comments affect my work? Probably as much as I would let any one’s comments influence me – you can not help but do that if you are paying attention to feedback from trained artists or the public. However, it still comes down to having confidence in your own journey and the ability to stay on a path of your own choosing. So if he does not love it, he has an option of leaving the studio.

  38. I strongly believe that in general it is better not to criticize art unless a crit is asked for. It’s essential to ask someone who knows about art, whether that person is an accomplished artist, or is someone who has a very good eye. When giving a crit, both the strong points and the weak points of the artwork should be mentioned.

    As for family members, my husband will not offer any advice on my art unless I ask him. And he will not offer negative criticism unless I ask him very pointedly. I am very grateful to him for those times when he agrees to offer advice, and I am equally grateful to him for not offering it unless I ask.

  39. I had drawn realistic figures most of my married life. When my youngest was in high school I went back to college, got a BS degree in art and English. I then was accepted in the MFA program and became obsessed with painting. I couldn’t believe I had waited so long. My husband supported my education plans and I asked one time if he felt that I was neglecting him. His response was “ I realized how important this was to you so I decided I needed to learn something about art.” That’s when he gave up his morning paper and started reading my art magazines so he could talk to me from an informed viewpoint. He never critiques my work. I am my own critic. I always take iPhone pics of my daily progress. This gives me enough distance from a piece so I can see how the composition is working and if I need to change anything. Like Georgia O’Keefe, I know when it’s working.

  40. I wouldn’t stay married to a man who came into my studio uninvited, or criticized my work, unless I had asked for a critique, which I would never do unless he was also an accomplished professional artist whose opinion I trusted and valued. And there’s a difference between critiquing art and criticizing it. Professional art critiques are based upon the principles of making good art, and on the techniques and mediums used, and when professionally done, they intend to, and serve the purpose of helping the artist who has asked for the critique solve problems with the work. Your husband telling you that he doesn’t LIKE your work is a put down. I think he’s is abusive and I don’t know why you put up with him.

  41. My brother said my watercolor looked too washed out. I took the criticism. I went back a repainted a number of works, giving them more contrast and richer color. It worked, and and they look for better.
    A good artist (and a good person will listen to criticism that is constructive. It is not hard to distinguish a valuable point of view from a negative one.

  42. My children asked me what I wanted done with my art after I die. I said don’t you want it and they both said NO. They don’t want any of it. This was maybe 9 years ago. From that time I’ve worked to make the best art that I can and to specify that they get none of it. Some will go up,for sale with the profit going to charity, some will have names of friends on the back for where it is shipped to and some will make a colorful cremation fire.

  43. my husbands comments do matter. However I listen, and relook at my work the next day with his thoughts in mind. However I never go against my heart. I often create alone, and show my husband the work when it’s done, then for critique. That way I have my best foot forward and if I for some reason can’t see something he has a different perspective, then that’s a good thing. I once showed a half finished pinging to my mom and brother when I was at UNLV as a student, they were critical and I came back unable to work. My instructor told me then, don’t show your work until you are done or everyone will have something to say and it can effect the outcome. I go by this. I value my husbands thoughts, and he is sensitive enough not to pick it apart but maybe pickup where I am not true to myself. Sometimes I simply can’t see the problem if I run into a road block, and he can, so sometimes but rarely I will get him to look at a painting unfinished and he can see something I am to close to.

  44. Because of the cultural norms of myself and most of my family and friends, 99% of the people around me do not “get” my work. From the very beginning, I made it a point to never ask their opinions of my art, or suggest they buy it. I don’t even talk about it with them unless they bring it up. I am happy with this arrangement and it has worked well. The only real opinions I am truly interested in are buyers, people in the art business and other artists. Total strangers are also a valuable source of opinions as well! My wife is totally free to express her feelings about my work, but I never change a piece because of something she said, and she is fine with that. Side note – I have sold several pieces that even I didn’t like, so whose opinion is really valuable, anyway?!

  45. I realized reading this how incredibly fragile I still am. Unless someone says they absolutely love a piece, or have a visceral positive reaction, I become filled with self doubt, regardless of who it is. I shrink when I finally ask my husband (who is a philosopher), what do you think? And I sense he doesn’t really like it, even if he claims to, because when he loves something I can really tell. We’ve had guests over who will have an entire evening and dinner with us and say nothing about a 72”x38” canvas hanging over the couch, and I freak out. Couldn’t they say something? By contrast, I have a friend who had never seen my ceramic work until we moved and then I had room to display it. When he saw it, his reaction was so extreme he wanted to have me exhibit it in his home and invited every art enthusiast he knew over to see it, and I sold a lot of it. I guess I am still shocked when people don’t care about and love what I feel I have objectively deemed good…and I am very tough on myself as well. What to do? How do I more easily accept how little people really care about the production of really good work? I guess I need to show more and have more artist friends. I went to a top art school 35 years ago…I’m 56 and I have never recovered from the loss of the joy of high quality exchanges on a daily basis with wonderful artists who really knew what they were talking about. I miss that so much and I suppose nothing short of great success would allow me that level of joy again.

  46. My husband (non-artist) , for the longest time said nothing about my paintings. Didn’t acknowledge them when they were hung on the wall. Then one day, after years of me painting, told me that he really liked the frame (saying nothing about the painting in the frame). His silence was almost preferable. I suppose he was trying to say something positive at long last. But after visiting the local gallery with him and hearing him exclaiming over another artist’s work, I decided that he absolutely did NOT get my art, but rather liked traditional paintings of old barns and moose and rivers. So I got over his indifference to my creations. It was as though I was speaking a language he couldn’t understand , and that was okay. I’d speak to him in his language and paint in mine.

  47. I have been an artist and a historian (very different fields!) for most of my adult life, but in both fields I have consistently identified friends and colleagues that I trust–either to comment on and critique my art or to review my professional writing. In both cases, trust is the key issue; and I am prepared to work through the negatives toward a better result in the end. In my art, my wife has been a very important critic, one to whom i can go with a painting, often in the middle of working on it, and simply say, “take a look at this and let me know what you think is missing” or “what you think is wrong with it.” I have a few friends who are also artists and I am able to ask them the same questions. The finished product is almost invariably better for the second set of eyes. Of course, not all criticisms are equal and there are always people who occupy a spectrum running from indifference to downright distaste for particular art works or particular kinds of art work — but even in these cases, something can often be learned. I suppose the basic issue is to know what you are trying to do with your own art and being able to filter the criticisms without getting overly troubled by the ones that aren’t particularly constructive.

  48. I learned not to ask my spouse or friends their opinions about my work. I don’t care if they like it or not. That’s because it’s my artistic vision, and they frequently don’t understand art, my vision, what it means, and where i’m going with it. I won’t allow others to undermine my ideas because they don’t like the design or composition or colors. I will listen to other artist’s comments and feedback cautiously. I believe it’s important to network and exchange ideas with other artists. It’s ok if they don’t like it because I don’t need their validation to feel confident about my work. These days my non-artist spouse often loves my work. I think that’s because he’s thinking about visual language and developing his knowledge about what it is that art says.

  49. This same situation can also happen when being judged in a show. One show I exhibited in (I am a photographer) the judge (who was not a photographer) gave me some advice I did not agree with, but just to see the result I made the recommended change to a copy of my work. I, and several other artists, agreed that the change ruined the image.
    Lesson: Everybody may see a piece of work a little differently. Respectfully accept the critique for what it is. If the change improves the piece, great, if not, don’t change it.

  50. Wow!!! This subject was perfect for me today, have been struggling and sad for several days after hearing my husband said “stop painting nonsense foolishness “ , because I am oriented to abstract art and he keeps asking if I will always paint abstract, PROBABLY yes!!! It was really painful to hear those words because he wants me to work where I can get a paycheck every single week, feel sad!!

  51. My problem is a combination of criticism on my work with competition for my time. I’ve figured out how to handle the criticism of the work. I listen and if I don’t agree, it’s in one ear and out the other. But the competition for my time is another thing. Sometimes I think my hubby gets a little jealous of the art work and the people I meet. We ranch and of course that takes a lot of work. A lot of what needs to be done is beyond what I can do but he seems to always come up with something for me to do. Sometimes it is legitimate but sometimes it isn’t. It’s like he tries to manufacture things for me to do that keeps me from getting to the studio. It’s frustrating. On one hand he seems to help every way he can. He fixes the studio for me and helps with some of the things I paint on or even framing at times and then he acts this other way. I just keep plugging away but I get discouraged.

  52. My brother once asked, my as I presented my work ,”want some criticism?” I said “No.”
    Look up the words in an old dictionary to realize the words . Criticism is: finding fault with.
    A very wise mountain climber, who’s name escapes me, would ask, “what’s working?” so as not to discourage those who have their very souls hanging off a cliff. A “critique” is initiated with that so as to not throw the baby out with the bath water. Then…. “If you were to do it again , how would you do it differently?” Then, On wings like eagles, we have not been crushed. I love what Horejs said.. ….”…what ever else is going on in your…..life , is likely to bleed over”. Had a bad day? You gonna buy this?
    HA!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *