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 has 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 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
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!!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
I enjoy hearing my husband’s comments. I usually bring a piece I’m working on over to the house and set it on the mantle for actually both of us to critique. He has no art background and I listen to what his reaction is because most of the people viewing artwork also don’t have that. They either like it or don’t for purely personal reasons. Also, I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to criticism. Also I can see things I need to correct if I have it away from the studio. It gives me more of an objective approach to the piece. Thanks Jason!
I like your reply!!!
I like your reply too!
I do the same thing- bring my work from the studio into the house to get a different perspective and to hear comments. I would rather listen to peoples interpretations, criticism favorable and unfavorable from anyone than no reaction at all, which really is very devastating
My husband does not hold back when expressing his opinions of my work, and I welcome this. As hard as it is to hear criticism, I value the feedback immensely. Many times I have ignored his advice and I usually find that I wind up agreeing in the end. When he really loves one of my pieces, he gets very excited about it, which also boosts my enthusiasm and confidence. Having that extra set of eyes before my art is shown or delivered is so useful in producing my best work. This also helps me to improve/expand my skills continuously.
This is such a difficult topic. I think every artist has experienced at some point criticism that was tough to hear. I learned something though from two great teachers of mine, which is: if I’m not ready to hear the criticism it can be much more painful and a whole lot less valuable. If I am feeling particularly vulnerable about a work I will tell my critics I’m not able to hear what you may be feeling about the work, I’ll come to you when I am. I rarely show works in progress to anyone but when I do it is because I have reached a place of comfort with my own questions and I truly want to hear what others might think. My wife who is my most valued and primary critic knows that my studio is a sacred and safe space in my creative life and must be safeguarded as such. Of course though, none of this is perfect. Occasionally a trusted friend of family member will overstep the bounds of. What I think is appropriate commentary. In those moments I often turn to my journal as place to reflect on their ideas and to re-center myself on my mission. I try never to design or revise or develop my work to please my critics, unless they are purchasing it. Rather I try to please what I consider my inner teacher, my inner critic. It is interesting to note though that I can be as unsettled by overly positive commentary as by overtly negative comments. The challenge, it seems to me is to find the truly thoughtful observations and that takes time and patience.
After finishing, say a floral still life… I would show it to my husband. He’d say something like “nice raccoon.” He wasn’t an art critic or cheerleader… just an ***hole.
I can relate , I had not painted for years due to raising kids and working as a nurse, but I retired and found some brushes and decided to make a painting of my son with his new born daughter. I had captured my son and his daughter in the painting( from a photo ) and was going to give it to him for his first fathers day. My other son said it would probably bring the son ,who I was making it for to tears to see it . I told my hubby I was going to give it rather than a card , he swiped his hand throught the air in a dismissive way and said “nah” and laughed. Then the next day he told me I needed to change the hair line on the painting and some of the facial features. I tried his recommendations and ruined it…..now I am fuming ,,,because a painting is more than just a painting…..what an ***hole he was. In future if he comes near when I paint I will tell him to get lost!!! What a jerk!!
I do appreciate it when my wife likes a piece whether she says so privately or in social media. That’s important and makes me feel happy. And if she has a critique to offer, I listen because she has developed an eye for my work and for quality artwork in general. But, when it comes right down to it, it’s her opinion. Sometimes I agree and sometimes I don’t. And my opinion is the governing opinion when it comes to my work. There have been times when I have sold something she didn’t particularly like. And other times I’ve made changes at her suggestion and sold as well.
Bottom line, take in comments and critiques but don’t give them too much weight. Otherwise you will end up in a vicious cycle of self doubt.
Dido! And at times I’ll render a piece finished just because I’m getting lazy with it and want to move on. That’s the stage when my spouse will mention that something looks a bit off or undefined (unfinished). It’s usually the most challenging part of the painting that is rather just ignore, and it’s usually a very simple addition. It could be just one brushstroke. I have a simple, underdone style, so that’s where I do have to respect my style while understanding that his perspective might reflect that it other viewers.
I agree, Robert. I’m not so concerned about criticism from my husband, as sometimes it is actually valuable, but honestly, I don’t think he really knows much about art in general, even with 34 years of marriage, and hopefully me explaining things (kindly) along the way. I’m not sure that my art is his first choice in style of artwork! But that is so personal to each of us. He does champion my work to others, but when I show him a new piece I am excited about, his reaction is often lukewarm – “interesting”, “that’s nice”, “hmmm”. Then he’ll say something like- “I like the color of that distant mountain. ” I’d love a “WOW”, now and again (which is what I get from my clients. (My work is a bit more impressionistic and he prefers realism.I do get the Wow reaction when I paint one of my more realistic pieces.) He is very left brain, and I am very right brain. However he has been very emotionally supportive of marrying an artist – he knew what he was getting into. 😉 So I don’t give his reaction too much weight, to use your words.
My favorite critique comes from my six year old grandchild. His vision and understanding are so pure to what he perceives. He will often gravitate to the ones that he thinks are really good. I don’t listen to any criticism I create from my heart and soul and it usually sells to the one it is meant for.
I’m curious, how has retirement changed spouses reactions to our art? For me, I have time for both art (painting) & music, but my husband has no hobbies or interest in getting any. As a result he sees the time I spend creating art as less attention for him. So he tells me “Why bother? It won’t sell” even though it does. At first it was hurtful but when I realized it was jealousy that I had something I loved to do, I ignored his comments & didn’t react. I have tried to spend more time with him (Covid closings saw to that) which helped too.
You may want to mention that you are not necessarily painting only to sell but for the joy of it. Why not try to interest him in painting, show him he could join you instead of the other way around.
The only criticism I get from my spose is about selling my work. Since I have been rejected by local
galleries and haven’t been able to sell my art, she says I am wasting my time painting. The only positive
comment from my spouse is having a few of my paintings published in art books.
Well, it’s the ‘fiercest critic/biggest fan’ thing, right? So, while I have to take a big calming breath when he approaches my unfinished work, I do catch him breathing, too. His recommendations are usually valuable. It’s not like “I do what I’m told”, and his way of expressing himself can be blunt or confusing, but if I can get into the right place to hear what he’s trying to say, I can often work his vision into mine with surprisingly good results. Decades of marriage can magnify the differences between mates, but in this case I try to use his yin to compliment and add interest to my yang. Sometimes it feels like cheating!
I’ve been thinking about what it takes to make an idea I have into the eventual media expression the art work will have.
I”m thinking it’s a visceral thing. I, as the artist, react to the idea on a deep level. Otherwise, I wouldn’t give it a second thought. Then, comes the obsession. It can be minimal or major but the “nagging” propels the willful “making”.
That’s some serious intimacy on the artist’s part and personal investment.
Here’s the thing.
Viewers also have a visceral reaction but to the art work, not necessarily to the idea.
And they have their own set of experiences that “color” what and how they see what you have done.
Since visceral reactions that are tied to emotional reactions are at the center, a dispassionate conversation is very tough if not impossible.
I’ve been told to stop with the “digital play and get back to those pastels and watercolors you do so well” by my well-meaning but very blunt sister. She is recalling my work from four decades ago. It usually ends with something like, “Well, you are so much smarter than I am, and must know best.” It could be much worse.
What I have noticed, thanks to this blog, is viewers come from what they see and I come from what I know as the idea.
Even though I spend a lot of time looking at my work, it’s always from the “idea”. More intense “listening” and asking probing questions.
I come from the school of: “if I want your opinion, I’ll beat it out of you”. I started painting late in life at the age of 71, after retirement. I have asked two close artist friends/instructors for opinions/guidance when I got “stuck” on a painting and wasn’t sure where I was going with it. Other than that, if other friends or family offer an opinion/critique – fine. I pretty much don’t listen. I have my studio/gallery in an active downtown location with a lot of walk in traffic. These visitors come in after seeing my art in the windows and thereby are already showing interest. The compliments of total strangers are far more rewarding than from close friends or family.
My art is detailed and realistic. My husband is sometimes able to zero in on a problem area, although he often has the solution wrong, at least it brings my attention to that particular place and I’m able to find where the difficulty is. He definitely has his favourites of my work. No website, just Facebook and Instagram.
All of these thoughts are interesting and useful. The most significant achievement in my wife and me working out how her comments could help most was for her to understand my resistance to naming sculptures until very near completion, or even to discuss with anyone what the sculptures “are” or “are going to be” until that stage. Until then, I use noncommital working titles; my current project is simply “chlorite”, for the type of stone, even though anyone can tell that it’s a floral design.
Once she understood that talking about those things too early in the process hindered my process of discovery, that freed her to offer responses from her gut more than from her analytical mind, and I’ve learned to listen very closely to those responses. It also freed me to discuss ideas more openly with her, and that has also been a very good thing.
I think it is important to keep in mind that when you create something it belongs to you. Every aspect of that creation, from the concept, the emotional context, the technique employed, etc. are all a part of you personally. When you turn to others for input, you are often-times looking for validation that what you are creating is good. Keep in mind that only you can create what you create, because no other person has your mind, soul. eye and hand. Not everyone is going to like what you create, and that is okay. To expect that everything you create is going to be successful and that everyone should like it is also unrealistic.
It is imperative to be careful in who you seek input from. For some reason, family members, and those closest to an artist feel that they have the right to any sort of input, and at times their input can be brutal. At other times friends and family members will simply love everything you create. That sort of input is just as unproductive to you the artist. If you find that the person offering you feedback to your work, is setting you back, and causing you to loose motivation in your work, then they are surely not the person you need to be turning to. Don’t try to reason with them, and tell them what you need from them, because you don’t need lip service, you need honest, productive insight into your work from someone who understands your same aesthetic, and can offer valid technical advice. Look for someone with an artistic background whom you admire and respect, and who will be honest in their evaluation. The wrong input can injure you, and affect your direction and productivity. Being an artist takes courage on many levels. It is wise at times to seek input from another source, however in the end, you need to listen more to your heart.
Thank you for an experienced and educated assessment of the creative person. What we create is entirely personal and Is based on our mind, development and life experiences.Those who have no training or experience in art should not critique your work including your friends and family who I agree are too free with their comments because of their personal familiarity with you.
I sound perhaps gruff and I am anything but.I get great joy when my clients are moved by work because they feel it and it uplifts me. Very very rarely do they critique because they know better. An artists work is not or should not be a product; it is you hanging on the wall and as such criticism is personal.Knowledgeable and constructive criticism is needed however.
Right on point Ray, thank you for expressing it so well! I only seek constructive criticism from people whose taste I respect (whether artists or non artists), and will choose whether to pay attention to that advice or disregard it. When a critique comes from someone whom I personally consider to have poor aesthetic taste, why even bother with being affected by it? I just let it slide right off.
Now, when constructive criticism or praise comes from an artist whose work I admire, or a collector whose curating I find admirable, that is the very best input I can get and I will pay close attention.
My husband and I have been together nearly 40 years, so we know each other. When he met me I was a painter, I’ve always been a painter so he’s never known any other ‘me’. I wish I could get him to spontaneously comment on my work, but he just doesn’t.
He’s red/green color blind and I often wonder how he actually enjoys art, but maybe that’s a subject for a different discussion. IF we can get to talking and I kind of get him on the subject of art, he’ll eventually come out with surprising thoughts and feelings, but it isn’t often. He does have good insight into what I’m trying to say with my work but unless I dig it out of him….nothing.
I’m a woman, living in a (very) conservative area and I struggle with the general public–near me–and their seeming lack of interest in art, at least the art I make. So, little feedback there. *shrug* I don’t know, but it’s frustrating.
You should get your husband the colorblind glasses.
They don’t work and distort other colors.
I’m sure your husband enjoys art. I to am “color blind” (not a good term). Red/green is the mst common with about 1 in 5 men having the “condition”. The condition is passed along by the mother to the son. It comes in different degrees and we still see colors but have difficulty when red and green lay on top of each other or the shade is of certain intensity. Actually we can see shades of green better than “normal” sighted people. I am an artist have no issue with painting. My paintings tend to be bright as I see bright shades far better. And yes we can tell the diffence between red and green traffic light.
Evan, I so relate to what you said, and never really thought the colorblind deal was an issue. My husband doesn’t see red/green either and if I ask him for his opinion or some feedback, he quickly just says he has no idea. I’m just asking the wrong person. I wish he took interest but he just doesn’t. One of my sons was a wonderful help when he lived at home but those years are behind me. Thankfully my sister is helpful.
I am lucky to have a partner who, although not being a painter, is very much a “creative”. She is a writer, a poet and is developing as a photographer. She can give me the “women-on-the-street” feedback and also add nuggets of more technical response, such as “not enough sky”.
I value these two aspects while keeping them in perspective.
my late husband would come over my shoulder and say with great predictability ‘ I hate you, you are so good” Meant in jest, but no substance that I could use. He did know when he liked something or did not like something. He just did not have the vocabulary to express what he meant. I appreciate feedback but never actually get decent constructive criticism from family and even artist friends. So I have had to learn to be very specific in asking for critiques and I have had to learn to be an objective viewer of my own compositions. I guess I am a bit of a snob when it comes to art speak and criticism. So many years of art history education has outfitted me with a way to navigate a viewing of art. But not everyone has that background and they may not say what they think for fear of not communicating properly. That is where I have to be specific and request their reactions to a painting and not expect a seasoned critique. I would love to hear my husband say what he always said but for now in this isolated pandemic atmosphere…I have to be my own critic.
If you are going to ask for an opinion, be prepared for a response.
If you are to learn from rejection (or criticism), use the experience as a moment of reflection, not a pool in which to drown.
From my book, An Artist Empowered:
No thing ever stopped the true artist from living an authentic life. This is the immutable line drawn in the cosmic sand, the threshold that separates the artist from the dilettante. Whether you are prepared to expend the passion necessary to succeed with your gift is a matter that must be addressed before you stretch your head out onto the bloodied block of public opinion—there is no shortage of willing executioners.
A diamond, after all, is a piece of coal that did well and magically metamorphosed under pressure over time measured in millions of years.
This is a topic that makes me uncomfortable.. not because I think my work is perfect, but because of folks are just critical and competitive in their nature. They have a need to be the smartest person in the room even if they’re discussing a topic they know little about. There’s nothing more discouraging than another artist or a partner who gives unsolicited “suggestions” while lacking in any encouragement or compliment. I do have friends who are encouraging and want to see me succeed whom I listen to. I also listen to my teachers or experts and follow their criticism.
Lately I started doing what Melanie Fergusen said in your article… when I hand that person the brush and ask them to show me, that usually ends the conversation. It’s so easy to be critical and sound knowledgeable – it’s so difficult to actually pull it off. It also helps that person to have a better understanding if I can explain what my vision for the artwork is. After all, as an artist, I do better when I know what my intention/outcome is before I begin.
Jason, your mom is an encouraging person by nature. I’m sure she does know a lot about art and delivers any critique with kindness and empathy.
Top of the morning to you all! I Love getting critiqued, when I first moved from a big city to be with my man I was to marry. First thing he told me was he was my biggest fan of my art. He had only seen all of my black and white world..haha. I never showed him any of my other mediums I had worked on in the past yet. That is until I moved in with him.
My husband was in the Navy in his younger years and would go visit art galleries and other art exhibits. He asked me what else I had? I had sculpting, watercolor, Acrylic paintings, and pastels. But pencil drawing and color pencel plus chaulk were my best..
My husband will tell me umm no you can do better and I will ask him how can I improve my drawing or whatever I am working with. I really take his and others criticism like it was peanut butter..haha. I love peanut butter.
I get so excited when I meet another artist who does critiques my work. The last one was from a gallery in New York…I met him at the museum where he was looking at my work of a little black boy who had graduated from kindergarden. When I saw him I had to go see who he was. He had his notebook out and was writing something. I walked next to him and greeted him with a hello and a smile
He looked over and smiled and asked me if I knew who the artist was? I said Hi and pulled my hand out and shook his and smiled My name is Gloria Black…he looked at me and said come I need to speak to you..haha We spoke for hours. I told him that I was there to pick up my artwork since today was the last day. He said he was glad he stopped then.
He told me he was traveling around Texas to see many arts’s work and waited to see how we painted or any form of art work. He said he was teaching a class on just that. Pointing at the drawing. He asked if he could take a picture of it. I said well it is in our contract with the museum that no one can. He said oh…should of thought of that..I told him it was up for sale. He said he wished he could but didn’t think his fellow bus occupants would like a big art work taking the space in the bus would like it…we both laughed.
I learn from critiques…yes sometimes it can be hurtfull but they can be educational and helpful to us.
Seeing my sculpture in a different light, always teaches me new things. Usually when I show a new piece to my wife, I carry it to our living rooms: bedroo., dinning roo., or living room. Of course the light is different than in my work space, and, depending on the size of the sculpture, I may inadvertently set it down at a different height than the height of the bench I used to work on the piece. My Wife’s comments are then about a work that I had not seen before. I’ve learned to take note of these circumstances and thereby, hear the critique a little more openly.
Growing up I had the privilege of both parents being artists. Aunts Uncles and grandparents too. We often had something on the mantle piece for critique from any and all. Both educated adults and children who knew only what their parents had taught them said what they felt about anything up for us to see.
Today my wife expresses what she likes and doesn’t. Sometimes what she doesn’t like is what sells. We have a laugh and go out to dinner. You can’t and won’t please everyone. I don’t expect anyone to understand all that I’m attempting to do. It’s my personal journey. I challenge myself where others may or may not. I do what pleases and interests me. I hope some of what I attempt communicates to others. Many have a preconceived expectation or likes different from mine. It will always be so.
my problem has often been that a stroke of the brush is deemed wonderful and the work finished. I’ve been able to decide when the work is actually finished and other than that he actually has quite a good eye.
Over and over in artspeak, we hear the words ‘critique’ and ‘criticism’. I deplore having my artwork criticized or critiqued. But I adore receiving points for improvement. Softer words can make all the difference in the world with respect to helping someone improve their art with positive encouragement.
I believe it is all about the motive for a person’s critique or criticism of your work. It is really important that you develop your intuition, or whatever you want to call it, to be able to discern those who are truly on your side, and those who are not. If you surround yourself, as much as you possibly can, with people who are kind and encouraging, even when they are giving negative feedback, I believe you will grow as a person and as an artist in a much more unhindered way. Many years ago, I had a tape set called “Crossing the Bridge to Your Dreams” that really changed my life dramatically. The first exercise was to make two lists … one for all of the people in your life who truly are in your corner and want you to succeed … and the second for any and all people who sabotage you, or bring you down, or compete with you. The overarching question was to be, “Who is happy for you when you do well?” … versus “Who is not happy for you when you do well?” The suggestion then was that even if there are people in your life who are not and you cannot avoid them, you most certainly can, and must, practice emotionally distancing yourself enough to not be harmed by them. I would not marry, or even date, someone who was not squarely on the positive list. If you know they have your best interests at heart, you can accept even quite negative critiquing without it damaging the relationship.
I am a realistic oil painter, and my husband has a degree in film making, so he has a good eye for responding to things visually, and I respect his opinion. Lucky for me, he also has sensitivity and tact. For example, he will always start by saying what he likes about a piece, and then will say to me, “but my eye keeps going to that bright white spot and it distracts me.” Then it’s up to me to decide if that’s what I want, or if/how I want to change it. Mostly his feedback is helpful, as he can help me see something I simply overlooked – or thought about subconsciously. I appreciate when he sees a new piece and says, “that’s really solid. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
It’s tough to put yourself out there as an artist but you have to learn to accept criticism with GRACE. G – Gratitude. Thanks for caring enough to give an opinion. R – Responsibility. It’s your work so only you are responsible for it. Acceptance. You should accept that individuals have their own opinion whether you share it or not. C – Class. Don’t let the comments get you down and handle them with a bit of class. E – Elevate. Truly learn from the commentary and take what you can from it to help yourself grow as an artist.
I think one of the most important realizations about non-expert spousal comments is that even if they love you in all other areas, looking at them as a “member of the public” illustrates that there is no accounting for some peoples’ taste…and what appeals to them is as intrinsic to them as whether their eyes are brown or blue…it’s a combination of their visual capabilities plus what they’ve been exposed to – or not exposed to – and their personal interests.
The good news, finally, is that my childhood sweetheart, who I moved in with recently, is also a creative professional (touring musician), and extremely supportive. Knows that he must practice and I must paint. Says “Oh, wow!” when he sees what I’m working on, which is all the comment I need. Life is good.
Like many of the others here, my husband is a combination of my biggest fan / biggest critic. I consider his feedback invaluable and a barometer of how the art-buying public may react. It’s that immediate gut reaction (or not) that tells me what I want to know. I do listen to what he says but that does not mean I will change something just because he doesn’t like it. My biggest problem is when he says “I just don’t care for that piece” but he doesn’t or can’t articulate why. Or even worse, when he says “I never liked that one.”
I don’t mean to sound blunt! but In my opinion. concerning about what a family member thinks of your artwork is a foolish endeavor! A truly professional artist, focuses on what the gallery owners, and the buying public think of their work, and nothing more! This unfortunately derives from many artists working at home! you don’t see someone’s spouse, following them to an outside job, and critiquing that work! at least I hope not!
I saw the best thing posted online by an artist who was just “posting work to be seen” and had gotten unsolicited advice on how to improve it. He just said to the critical viewer, “well, if I did that, then it would be your work.”
Ultimately I think your work should come from YOUR heart… unless you are completely unsure about something in particular and solicit respected advice. 😉
My husband is a photographer with a very good eye but completely different tastes and interests when it comes to art. There have been times when he tells me to stop and not change a thing. Often, if I let the piece sit for a while and gather a few other opinions I find he saw something I didn’t see and was absolutely correct. I didn’t see it at first because it was not at all what I had in mind. Turns out that one painting that he stopped me on has gotten the strongest emotional response from viewers of any I have produced. Not at all what I had in mind but very moving. However it has not sold. Another time he felt the piece needed more when I believed it to be done. On that one, I stuck to my instincts after thoughtfully considering his feedback. That one turned out to be the first large piece I sold at the next show. Another time I was going to paint over a piece I didn’t care for at all and he convinced me not to.That piece sold almost immediately. I say all that to say this, his feedback, no matter how presented, has always been worth listening to. I have learned from it all and that makes me a better artist and wife.
Wow, great topic…. I think for me, because of my years of being a creative director and navigating unsolicited and/or unproductive feedback I feel I have a fairly easy approach to this when I ask for feedback. I ask them to not use the word “like”… this isn’t relevant. I ask them what they see and feel as far as mood/composition/Gestalt of a piece. If I feel hesitancy, I’ll ask if the piece makes them nervous or uncomfortable, I’ll give words like disjointed, jarring, etc to help my viewer articulate what they are experiencing.
The criticism I get from my wife is that I am wasting my time on my art because I haven’t sold any of my paintings yet. She has no interest in my art and that I should spend time being more productive. She doesn’t understand it takes time to search for gallery representation, updating my website, and creating.
That sucks dude, number one, creating art isn’t about selling. I sold my art for years and have art hanging on peoples walls all around the world, which is cool, but I ended up hating what I was doing cause I produced what I knew would sell. Don’t get me wrong if you want to make money out of it, that’s great, but for me creating art is part of me and making money I can do elsewhere. As for my wife she’s supportive as long as we pay the bills. You have to remember that art to the majority of people, although beautiful, is just art, it’s not a cure for cancer. Most really successful art these days is about the artist not the art they produce. Your wife probably doesn’t appreciate art, any art, it’s not her thing, it’s your thing. I’m definitely not into my wife’s appreciation for depressing movies. Just enjoy.
My husband hates my art. I digitally manipulate photography and he feels the images are better left alone. Straight photography for me never sold well. My current work sells very well. So I don’t ask his opinion.
On a recent painting of Aspen trees my husband came into my studio and asked me “why are your aspen trees purple and why is the sky yellow?” I simply replied, “because that’s what the voices in my head told me to do“.
A lot of the times when he critiques I take it to heart and if there’s something I’m struggling with I will try suggestions. Most of the time I have a process and even though my husband can’t understand why my sky starts out red, I know in the end it will end up being a beautiful blue with an undertone. I love the discerning eye and honest critiques, but the more shows I enter, and the more he sees other peoples feedback on my work he has started to understand my process and give me some space before he critiques. Normally in the end, he is very positive. We’ve made it work but initially his comments didn’t help. Now we have real discussions as to why you think this or that can be improved. These are oils, not a photograph!!
I can attest to both negative and positive spousal feedback.
My former spouse wasn’t just blunt, he was downright nasty. In fact, at shows, he would criticize my peers as well, with loud remarks “This is just s#&t!” I not only stopped looking for his opinion, I stopped inviting him to receptions and shows altogether. At the end of our 25 year relationship, I realized his criticisms of mine and others’ work was a combination of envy that he didn’t possess artistic skills, a lack of articulate communication skills, and a narcissistic sense of power he thought he possessed in those situations.
I am now remarried. My new spouse takes an interest, not only in encouraging me to “tend my easel”, but his feedback is thoughtful of both my feelings and providing genuine assistance. He has taken an interest in directing professional framing of my work (I am impressed with his creative eye), and sometimes sits in for one of my artists group Zoom meetings, offering support for my peers/friends as well. At receptions, he engages with my peers, and asks questions about their creative process and inspiration. I’m still learning to appreciate this new experience of having a partner who is invested in my creative success. He continues to surprise me with his thoughtful engagement. In fact, when we met, He asked what I do. “I’m an artist”, to which he responded with a huge smile and “Reeeallly??”
I truly hope there are more artists who are blessed in this way. This is a marvelous new situation I find myself in.
My husband is always supportive of my work as a fiber artist. Since I do wildlife paintings and he is a bowhunter, he can sometimes identify a weakness in my art that I have not seen – a placement of an eye, the line of an antler. He has learned over the 10 years I’ve been doing this that there is a time that I am ready for a critique or comments and I always set my work aside for a few days before tweaking those things that finalize the painting. More often than not I agree with his comments; and if I don’t, I do not make the changes. It is never an issue.
My husband has a TBI, thus is reluctant to comment even when asked. I do ask because when he does comment, he is always right.
Every time we’ve moved, he has wanted something changed in the new place; we make the changes and the new place becomes more restful. “Restful” is what I strive for in my work, so his eye for that is appreciated.
Other family members are suspect. Mom especially…to her, everything was “wonderful”. Riiiiight.
p.s. When I am not sure about a piece, I take a snapshot and download it to the computer. Looking at it in such a different format and size, I can usually see the areas that need more work.
My closest friend of more than twenty years has also been my best and most honest critic for all of that time. As our friendship has developed, so has her eye for seeing what’s not working, and she doesn’t hesitate to let me know when she sees something that’s off. I still remember her words of twenty years ago, “It’s good…but it’s not good for YOU.” She’s never let me take short cuts, and I often hear those words in my head when she’s not even there, lol! We don’t always agree but we’re both comfortable with the bottom line – that I have veto power and the final word is always mine. After all, it’s MY work.
I think a lot of artists maybe fail to realize that it’s not easy for the people closest to them to be critical. Asking for honest opinions is asking a lot, especially when they don’t like what they’re seeing. So I keep in mind that my friend’s criticism comes from a place of love, because she cares deeply that I create the best work that I can and she wants to see me succeed.
If I have purposly asked for his opinion I listen to what he has to say. If I see things differently, fine, I use what part of his opinion is useable and keep going. There have been times when I have been working on a sculpture or painting too long and another set of eyes brings up some points I may have missed or didn’t know what to adjust on it.
The bottom line is that nothing is finished til it all looks and feels correct from all angles regardless of the medium or subject. I don’t take comments to heart any more but look closer to see if they may be valid from one view or another.
One of the most difficult aspects of creating art is determining when it is finished. For example, I wonder if I need a bolder shadow in the painting , if I need to insert a larger item in the painting foreground to enhance depth persception, or if I should use a different color on an object in the painting to reduce a viewer’s attention.
Asking a family member for comment on my artwork usually delays completion; hence I ask my spouse (a former proofreader that is trained to look for errors in spelling, etc.) to critique my artwork at various times during the creative journey. Then when I “finish” I have had the dialog all along the art making process and am not surprized by closing comments on the finished work.
I have found that artist never truly “finish” their work… so I set a time goal for my artwork completion (3 hours, 2 weeks, 4 months, etc.) and factor in the family critiques toward this goal.