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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education of the Partner/Critic

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

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

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

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

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

Star Trauth, Miami, Florida

 

How to Communicate More Effectively

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to do When You Disagree with the Criticism

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

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

Madeleine Fia Matsson
Brooklyn, NY

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

Mark Pol

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

 

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

Melanie Fergusen

Oakley, UT

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

Valerie Kent
Cavan, Ontario

 

Attitude

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

Marie Tippets
Dana Point, CA

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

Deb Marvin
Independence, Kentucky

What do you Think?

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

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87 Comments

  1. My husband is an art director and a perfectionist so far as his own art is concerned. I actively invite his input because his aesthetic sense is great and his suggestions are delivered without making them about me–just the art. We are a great team! Love his input. He is a sculptor and printmaker and I am a fiber artist.

  2. I love negative criticism from my husband!
    When he hates a piece I know it’s the next piece that will sell…
    I usually ask him,” Which one do you absolutely hate?”. He points it out and I put a nice high price tag on it…
    it works for me!

    1. Same here! It has happened so many times. And best of all is when I have made a painting for a particular show and it is rejected and it sells as I am taking it out the door! This has happened twice to me.

  3. I’m an abstract oil painter. When I was working on my MFA my husband didn’t really have any knowledge about abstraction and didn’t really understand what I was trying to do. His response was not something I learned about until later. Instead of reading his morning paper, he began to read my art magazines and going with me to art exhibitions and artist talks. He began to ask questions of me and other artists about their art. He has developed a very informed knowledge about abstract art now. Really the only thing he says now are “it doesn’t look finished to me. What do you think?” In most cases I agree with him. He’s my biggest supporter.

  4. I used to have a partner who really got my hackles up when he would criticize my work. The problem was that he would comment on a piece in progress and his criticism all pointed to parts of the piece that were simply incomplete and not fully fleshed out. That partner was not an artist. I now have a partner who is an artist and he can see the process and steps as they play out. He is able to give feedback though the creation of a piece that looks at where a piece is at as well as where it is going and I find his input very helpful.

    1. I just started doing art three years ago, and had som mild inoffensive comments from my partner, about a work in process. He is now very supportive and encouraging! I did my first abstract piece recently, and he said, ” I don’t actually mind that! ” High praise, I would say! 😉

  5. My husband used to waltz into my studio and give unwelcome feedback on a regular basis. It was counterproductive to my work and our relationship. We now have rules about my workspace and he only gives me feedback when I request it. I have also found that asking him for specific kinds of feedback help him direct his comments where I need them and it also empowers him to be a valued partner in the creative process.

  6. Ask him if he is going to buy it, if not, tell him to keep his comments to himself, and only comment when you ask for his input, on the aspects you tell him. Otherwise it can be very disheartening to executing your artistic drive and motivation.
    There are times when you are too unsure and negative comments can derail working things out yourself.
    Keep your vision going, it will keep you sane.

  7. My husband is what you would call a “non-creative.” However I have discovered over the years that he has very good points and I listen to him when he talks about my paintings. My advise about criticism from anyone (spouse or anyone else) is to make sure you TRUST them. I trust my husband implicitly. And he never gives his opinion unless I ask–a true gentleman.

    1. Judy, I’m with you. My husband is a non-creative color blind man-child. But I listen carefully to his opinion regarding perspective and shadow. He is usually spot on and delivers his comments thoughtfully. I agree, trust is the magic ingredient in criticism.

  8. My wife of 47 years has been my “Executive Administrator” since I finished my formal art education at the Art Institute Of Boston in 1971. Like your Mom and Dad, Jason, she handles all the business aspects in our art studio. She selects and organizes pieces for exhibitions, orders frames, sends appropriate work to the galleries that represent me, packs and ships commissioned pieces, and manages records, taxes and income spreadsheets among many other tasks. Without her I would not have any time to paint! She also has a very sharp critical eye and nothing ever leaves the studio without her approval. She knows what sells! I’m truly blessed to have a wife who handle all the “non-creative” aspects of running an art business.

  9. I’ve found that a good way to get useful critique from anyone, whether they have artistic training or not, is to redirect the conversation to their reactions. I ask them to tell me how their eyes move around the piece, where they linger and why, how they are feeling or what they are thinking when they look at the piece as a whole or places where there eyes pause, etc. Whenever a comment involves “I think you should . . . ” or a value judgment, e.g. “this one is not as good as that one you did last week”, I redirect again: “okay, so as you are looking at the piece tell me again about how your eye is moving and what you are noticing and how that makes you feel or what it makes you think about”. This asks them to give their reactions to what I have actually created, instead of telling me how to finish the piece THEY would create if they started from this point.

    Then, if they aren’t reacting they way I’d hoped, I can ask clarifying questions: “So this part makes you feel uneasy . . . can you say what is causing that reaction?” It might be that I’ve made a deliberate choice (e.g. a color) that this person just doesn’t care for. Then I can make a mental note to see if anyone else brings that up. (Don’t ask them directly–see if they say something about the same issue on their own!) After I get a few reactions, I can make a much better decision about whether I want to change something in the piece or not. This technique also allows me to get great feedback from people who think they aren’t qualified to comment by making it clear that I’m asking about their personal response to the piece, not expecting them to give me technical advice. If the person IS qualified to give technical advice, that advice tends to be a lot more specific and useful once I’ve identified where/why the piece is not having the effect I’d hoped. Then I can say something like, “You mentioned this spot makes you feel uneasy because the color doesn’t seem harmonious. That’s not the reaction I was hoping for . . . do you have any ideas about what I might do to change that?”

    1. I think what you are saying is great advice. I am going to try that with my husband and others. I appreciate my husband’s feedback when I am done with a painting, but I hate to get a critique while I am still working on it although, sometimes he is right. Still, getting someone to give specifics like where there eye travels, how they feel about it, etc., seems like a more honest opinion.

    2. These are great suggestions.
      My Mother taught me to paint in oils. She gave fabulous critiques and taught me a lot. She would on occasion ask- “What did you paint that for?” I knew a piece would be accepted into a Juried show when she said that. We laughed about it.
      My husband hates the colour green. I paint Ontario Canada landscapes which are full of greens. He rarely enters the working studio and if he does, does not comment unless asked. When asked for a comment his opinions are critical. I shall work on rewording my requests for responses.

  10. My husband is not in the arts, and has asperger’s, so is brutally honest. Luckily, he really ‘gets’ my abstract paintings on a deep level. I have only asked for a critique when I was unsure of a piece. He gives very vague and general advice, like “it needs ‘dirtying up’ “. He is usually right with his advice. I totally ignore advice if it seems wrong to me.
    I would hate him giving unsolicited advice while I was in the middle of a piece though. I agree with those above who said criticism should be sandwiched between compliments, whenever possible. Maybe couples who struggle with this need to establish a few rules of engagement. Period.
    I think putting a piece I am not sure about into the basement or out of sight for a few weeks gives me a much better perspective on its weaknesses than when I am in the throes of creating it, and am ‘in love’ with it.

  11. It’s the passive, second hand critic I cannot abide. My work is not perfect. I have no aspirations of the National Gallery, so please don’t suggest that a MFA will help me at this late date. Those of us who produce, “squiggles,” at least leave a mark on this world that is more than a date stamp.
    Artist make art. All art is not appreciated at the time of its creation. Be nice or shut up.

    1. We make marks, texture, color, emotions, long strokes, short strokes,intensity, peace, restful areas, chaos, so how can a person really be critical of this, unless it is only for selling, what about being truly supportive for the courage to create what we are to create from the core of our soul which is our calling from God. I think the art world needs help in understanding what and why we do make marks.

  12. My husband and I have a graphic design business in its 18th year. We also have quiet side careers. He is a printmaker and I am a painter. While we work seamlessly at our day jobs, collaborating and finishing each other’s work like we share a brain, when it comes to our individual creative artwork we are like oil and water. As Diana stated: “couples who struggle with this need to establish a few rules of engagement.” For us, this means absolutely no commentary on artistic work unless asked.

  13. I just found out that some artists in my town were calling my work “expensive craft” and that threw me into a real depression for a month. My crime: I create my own stencils which I use in my of my painting styles and if you use stencils it’s not “real art” apparently. Whoa! This hurt as this was coming from some of my peers. Of course, no one would name the people who said this. This hurt so bad I decided it was time to revisit my whole life and why I do art and came to the following conclusions:

    1. It’s my art and sometimes part of my process. Deal with it. I know how to paint and draw and if they bothered to spend time with me they would know it’s a personal choice to create my own stencils.

    2. I have more art education and art knowledge than you can shake a stick at so please come debate with me, you may learn something.

    3. It’s good to look at what others perception of you might be. Artists should be open to critiques NOT criticism. Remember: you do not have to buy into their views. You are the creator, the sculptor of your views.

    4. If you have a vision and you need to use tools, stencils, collage elements, ephemera, enlargers, whatever… this is part of your process. Leonardo da Vinci used tools and so many others. Many professional artists use enlargers for their photographs as they want to spend their time painting and not drawing…. does that make them a lesser artist? Of course, they don’t mention that – it’s like a dirty little secret.

    5. As I’ve recently discovered some artists can be jealous of you for your talent, your space, your tools, etc… Ultimately, this is not your issue, it’s theirs. Their criticism says more about them than you.

    Yes all this hurts but as I took a month and a half off to think about my life as a professional artist and took stock of what is meaningful to me in art, I went back to what motivated me to paint in the first place: It’s a need to communicate and an inner expression that I need to unfold.

    I decided if they don’t want to hear my message then don’t buy the painting. Partners, people and artists can be insensitive and jealous. Realize this and do your best to move on. Keep focussed on your intention for the paintings to succeed “for your message”.
    If you want to criticize how I do my work and what a correct way of doing a painting is then you must learn how to effectively communicate this to me in a manner that is supportive and oriented towards problem-solving. I’m the expert when it comes to what it is I want to communicate. If I feel the painting communicates my intentions how I got to the end result is irrelevant.

    6. Finally, I let others control me. I did this. Although I am a fairly confident person generally speaking, I had been through some trials over the last year that made me question my existence and that as an artist. In other words, I was human and allowed snide comments and jealousy to shake my self-confidence.

    So what is my ultimate response to this topic? Find your way back to what is the purpose of your art? If , to you, the painting or sculpting is answering YOUR VISION, it is done! If you can tell your partner, friends you want a Critique not Criticism and demonstrate what that looks like, all the more power to you. Try not to let others shake your self-worth. I allowed that (and it’s not necessarily a bad thing on occasion ) and now I’m back. I’m not usually this verbose on comment strings but I hope this helps all us artists.

    1. Your comment, “Find your way back to what is the purpose of your art,” really resonates with me today. After responding to criticism by trying to change my direction, I found that I created less and less; and found little joy in creating what I did make. I am in the process of re-assessing what is important to me in my work, and realized that what I left behind was my real purpose for creating. I allowed my desire to please and the cumulative effects of harsh criticism derail my true purpose. Time to turn hard and back track, now having wasted 10 years. I’m glad for you that you figured it out in months instead of what I have done. My best wishes to you.

    2. Thank you, thank you. I am a widow now for twelve years, I do miss sharing my work, oil painter, with the emotions, of how a certain piece evolved. The one thing I remember is he said was, he learned from me, especially non-native.

  14. Feedback (both positive and negative) from people I respect enhances the development of my work. It often exposes elements that I hadn’t noticed because I’m too close to the piece. I am always looking for constructive criticism and feedback…. especially from my husband who is a systems analyst and employs a very linear viewpoint. Observations and evaluation encourages me to view my work with a fresh eye. That said, I am the boss of me. I only make changes if I feel it would improve my own vision of the final piece; my gut instincts usually prove to be correct.

  15. The close family critique is the toughest. I’ve enjoyed both ends of the spectrum. I’m lucky that creativity flourishes in my now immediate family, and was tolerated in my youth. My daughter is very astute (she grew up when I was working at art work and she seems to have ingested an awful lot). My wife as a lefty suffered in school from ignorant and demeaning criticism of her art work. Early on, we worked to bolster each other.
    My father wanted to understand what I was doing but he always held onto the fact that I would do much better as a church musician. He may or may not have appreciated the work I gave him other than I gave it to him. My step-mother was much more blunt and unhelpful in her communications about me to others- never to me.
    I have one of my college profs as a source and he is un-compromising. My work is sometimes “interesting” and then the history lesson ensues that shows that it had been done before and better. this sounds brutal, but it really is, in many ways healthy as I can discuss history.
    To say that family and friends do not somehow have personal opinions and agendas is fallacious. They may or may not want to see your success and your work is the measurement of what you do.
    All I want from a critique is a sense of where the work is, either aesthetically or in the market. Other pairs of eyes are always good, but trust is the measurement. Trust only comes with the interpersonal experience that we have to let ourselves in for.

  16. My husband is also an artist and he is very helpful and gives excellent feed-back in a very respectful way. However, I have found that if I am going to make changes based on his comments I have to consider his skill level versus my own. He is very skillful, much more so than I am. So I have to consider whether or not I am able to make the changes or not. Or I have to make only those that I know I can execute. This is important because I have really wrecked pieces because I followed advise from him that was good but that I was not yet good enough to execute.

  17. My wife and I are both artist I am a realist oil painter and she a ceramic artist. My experience has been good in our critical exchanges as we both have art backgrounds. In art school I had to endure harsh class critics that literally brought grown men to tears. The process has toughened my skin and made me realize that “constructive” criticism is the only useful criticism it is an art form in itself to tackfully give someone constructive criticism. I learned to always turn my toughest over several times before speaking. The best crimson is when you the artist have that ah-ha moment when something you were missing is pointed out to you. I fear that self taught artist may be at a disadvantage in not going thru the rigors of formal critics in art school also if the critic is non artistic they rarely can give any solutions to their criticism. I would find it very hard to paint without my wife’s encouragement and constructive criticism

  18. I was a stone sculptor and now weld found pieces of steel. I have found that until I am finished with a piece, I don’t let anyone into my studio. I have a vision that the other person, my husband included, doesn’t have. It may be my skewed way of looking at something, but it is my perception. When I have completed it, I am able to discuss it without being sidetracked, angered or stalled. Sometimes having to defend my work helps me see what I did more clearly or in a different light.

  19. I have developed a pretty thick skin about criticism and I try to define where it is coming from before I take it to heart. Sometimes, my husband makes wonderful suggestions and I do think about them as by now he knows my work very well. I did have to laugh at him though once when he said he disliked a piece quite a bit and when I asked why, he said that the person in it looked too much like a short, unhealthy version of him! I had no idea that I paint people to look like him, and it was certainly not intentional.
    I feel that a critique is something you ask for and criticism is something that you get, unasked for, from many people, professional or not.

  20. I love the way you address the common issues we have as artists.
    I held onto the advice given me by a very knowledgable art historian and painter; not to listen to anyone.
    It helped through times of doubt, and made me very self reliant.
    It is an extremely individualistic job and world as well as highly sexist.
    I think it can be very frustrating to be married to another artist for women. Maybe it’s changing for younger generations.
    I do also have long established relationships with curators and museum directors that have been as interesting in their development as the work which we have shared over the years. Sometimes receiving suggestions and ideas that I may not otherwise have considered and acting upon them, even when I’m not quite convinced by the inmediate results. As well as serious conflicts from differences of opinion at times.

    It also seems to me that community work is a great balance to the isolation of the workshop, and changes your outlook on so many things anyway, but self confidence is a must and a conquest. Like any muscle it can be built up and the passing of time only makes it better. Time is something I’ve always thought we have on our side as visual artists.

  21. I once heard… if your mother loves it, it’s probably no good.
    I do use people as sounding boards but filter that with how much I value their art opinion. I have also been disappointed by other artist that use their critique to knock my work down in order to feed their ego. It’s a mixed bag, that’s why it’s important to apply filters and keep working.

  22. I have had this conversation many times with my students. Firstly, I remind them that it is their name that goes on the piece, not their well-meaning spouse or friends. I also tell them that criticism is like a buffet, pick and choose from what is said, If something resonates after careful thought then take it and try it on for size. But if the comments just are not going where your vision is, let it go. Never take others advice over what you feel inside. That is your compass. I’ve also told my husband that while I want his thoughts when I ask, please don’t tell me what’s not working before I ask for it. If I’m in the middle of making it work I don’t want outside comments to throw me off.

  23. I have the opposite problem. My husband thinks everything I do is wonderful. It isn’t. A false sense of value will kill growth as an artist. Don’t fall for that any more than harsh criticism; both stunt progress. I ask respected artist friends for input.
    Our only disagreement is subject matter … I paint what I want to paint; he looks at marketability. “Just who is going to buy that Chinese man? Paint another landscape, something smaller that appeals to everyone.” 🙂 No.
    I think it comes down to personal vision. Your self esteem must be bulletproof. A fragile ego can be whipped about by any random comment. Weigh criticism for its validity, either positively or negatively. That goes for family or a casual remark at an art show.
    I might add, regardless of your partner’s vocation is your criticism welcomed? Or even solicited? Your art doesn’t need anyone’s approval.

    1. Thank you for your comments. I am feeling like taking a break from painting because The criticism I get in my painting group is so hurtful. I’m 74 and started watercolor painting ten years ago. My teacher has become a good friend but he is very narrow minded in what kind of art he likes. Counterproductive is a good word for what happens when our informal group paints together. I think I have to quit this group. Last night my teacher and friend said “That isn’t your best work” He also really dislikes abstract art or anything new like alcohol inks. I like to experiment and I’m conflicted about whether I should continue painting. Thanks for your comments.

  24. Remember that you are painting (sculpting, etc.) to create something that YOU are proud of and expresses what YOU intend it to. The viewer is not you, so their comments come from their own point of view. Sometimes those comments can be helpful and point out something that you aren’t aware of – or not. My husband often says I “should” put a tractor in the field or a woodpecker on the tree, etc. – that’s what HE would like to see. He’s welcome to make the suggestion, but I can choose whether to add a tractor or say, “No, I like it better without any vehicles, but I’ll consider doing one with a tractor some day.” Same with less specific comments, such as “There’s too much blue” or “Those flowers look like eyeballs”. I can agree that there’s too much blue or that I hadn’t noticed the eyeball effect, thank him for pointing it out and modify the painting – or I can say that I intended the blue or eyeball effect, so I’m glad it’s expressing what I intended. The key is to remember that the person is usually trying to be helpful, but they are not YOU. So thank them for their input and then finish it the way YOU want to.

    1. After I wrote the comment above, I sat down to read a book about a famous artist while eating lunch. Looking at one of his paintings, I caught myself thinking: “That cow in the background is way too big – it’s out of proportion for where it is in the scene.” Now, from MY point of view that was a valid criticism – but perhaps HE had a good reason for wanting that cow to be bigger. It’s in the eye of the beholder. And since his paintings regularly sell for over $100,000 and mine don’t, maybe it’s OK for him to paint the cow “too big”. My paintings will please some people and not others. They may criticize me to my face or behind my back. I can learn from their comments, but in the end if I want to make the cow too big I can.

  25. My husband is an engineer. My problem is that he says NOTHING about my work. Not a word, good or bad. Of course his mon communicable persona is not limited to my art but to all areas of our lives and it has been a difficult challenge to our relationship for the last 35 years. But as far as my work is concerned it bothers me a great deal. As others have pointed out an artist’s life can be one of isolation. A few words would be appreciated — just acknowledgement if nothing else. I sometimes wonder how we’ve hung together. 😕

    1. Engineer? Non communicating?
      Get the book The Essental Difference: Extreme Male Brain Syndrome by Baron-Cohen in paperback. It will change your life.

  26. I have been lucky as my fiance is usually more positive about my work than I am. This really does help me keep going and work harder to make me like it as much as she does.

  27. If you have people “waltzing into your studio” and criticizing your work at random, my advice is to get a damn lock!

    Unsolicited criticism is devastating and often offered in a truly unkind way by people who don’t support your artistic life.

    I teach creative writing to adults and one of the primary rules regarding when and how to show your work to anyone, including family members or a spouse, is to find someone who supports what you do. They don’t have to like it, but they DO have to support your effort. I also tell my writers to be very specific about what they want if they ask for a critique or feedback from anyone. And if unsolicited advice is offered by anyone, just say thank you, usher them away, and lock that door!

  28. I used to have a spouse who never supported any of my arts. Note I stated “used to”.
    Now I have 3 cats and a greyhound who support everything I do, even spending hours in my studio.

  29. Fortunately for me I don’t get negative criticism. If I did, I’d tell that person to take a hike and go look at art he likes. Water off a duck’s back.

    Seriously, art is subjective and is created from the heart. People who don’t understand that have no place criticizing.

    1. But there is objectivity to the subjective experience of humans.

      Much art could be improved just be understanding fundamental design techniques better.

      Great ideas, but poor execution.

      Try getting hired as a comic book artist without understanding anatomy and perspective and tell them “it’s subjective”. You won’t get very far.

  30. My husband has great intuition about artwork – and we love visiting museums and gallery shows together. He has had the opportunity to work with some blue-chip art and master works-on-paper, i.e. Rembrandt etchings, Toulouse Lautrec lithos, Picasso drypoints and linocuts, so I really value his opinion. Mostly he is upbeat about my works in progress, and I appreciate his enthusiasm. He does point out things I overlook, like does the subject of my painting make sense and is it appealing or powerful. He reminds me of the common man’s viewpoint – do you really want to center your painting around that unattractive person? And occasionally he just doesn’t get what I’m up to, but that’s OK.
    For more technical, nuts and bolts advice, its important to get frank feedback from one’s artistic colleagues.

  31. Thanks for this great question — I love the answers!

    While my husband’s not an artist, he is a creative type. I rely on his opinion as a piece nears completion — in that stage where I’m not quite satisfied with it but can’t quite put my finger on why. He can often spot what it is, or asks me questions ’til I can. He’s also been super helpful over the years when I know I’ve made a “mistake” and need to somehow rectify it to save the artwork. He comes up with inventive solutions I often take!

  32. I try to get critiques from many different people, some with an art background some without. I listen to an opinion and decide if it makes sense based on what my vision for the particular piece is. My husband, who has a good eye for design and color, is not educated in art, but he gives me his opinion and I respond. Sometimes he has a very good point. Other times he’s way off the mark. We both understand that his opinion is one of many and is just that, his opinion. If I don’t agree, I don’t take his advice. He’s fine with that. He often doesn’t like what I do, but it’s my artwork and I need to be confident enough to make the final decision. If we have strong difference of opinion, I simply tell him he should make his own art.

  33. My partner is not creative and it is sometimes a struggle. But, like you said, I use his input as a sort of proxy. He is also very useful when I get too involved in a piece, he tell me exactly what he sees without nonsense words or elaborations, something like ‘ that looks like horse’ or even ‘I don’t get it’. It helps me to see my work from a different angle and makes me think. Other than that I disregard his comments of what he likes or don’t like because he has very little comprehension of my aims and what it is all about. What gets to me more is when he comments on the amount of work I have done in a certain period of time but I work through it and often tells him to pick up a brush and copy what I have done to see how long it would take him to do it, that silences him very quickly. He is extremely useful with graphic design projects because he does ‘aberrant readings’ very well, his non education makes him look at things straight forward and like the general public would perceive it.

  34. You know what I find that it’s harder to get an honest critique because people don’t want to actually critique because they don’t want to hurt your feelings I have been trying to find an acquaintance that will be honest, mostly I get stuff like “oh I love your work don’t know what would make it better” …….it’s almost as depressing as” your work sucks” which I do enough of myself….

    1. I had a ‘visiting artist’ art teacher in college who did that [“oh I really like this, well done, nice lines, this is great”] – drove me INSANE. Finally I took the reins and proceeded to critique every piece of work that was up on the wall for that purpose – what was working, what wasn’t – and that FINALLY got everyone to start talking/discussing/critiquing. And as upset as some people were with me initially, I somehow became the person that people from all different departments would search out because they knew they would receive an honest critique and it was about the work, their goals and wanting them to be as successful as possible.

  35. I too have had my fair share of comments ; both positive and negative. Where with the positive comments I try to ask what they like about it. and if its a negative comment then I will re examin my piece and ask if myself if ‘ I’ still like it, and if I do then I will just say so, and if they have time I will even explain further about my work and what achievement I have gained etc. Most of the time , only ‘ I ‘ will decide if I am totally happy with a piece or not.

  36. Re. Criticism What do you do when you are sitting with- a hopefully new – gallery director and they are criticizing your artwork – do you defend your work…try to explain it.. ( in less than the 30 seconds they are going to listen to your response)…tell a funny personal story about how your cat knocked over your turpentine… or smile grimly and start packing up to leave??? This scenario just takes the fun out of being an artist.

  37. I know I’m just a “scratch” painter who has no real training however I like what I like when it comes to my work. There are times when I’m stuck with a piece and I just can’t get it to look like I see in my head. I struggle to stop and start a new piece just for moving forward. That is when I really like my wife’s down to earth comments. Usually it is Hmm I don’t see it… what are you trying to say? Of course that is what I’m stuck on 🙂 She then proceeds to tell me what she likes and doesn’t. I might be frustrated but it is still going on the wall and I want the non-trained eye to see something. Early on she was quick to point out my still life scenes were too still. “there needs to be life there, add a bird!” Advice well taken as almost all my stills have a creature somewhere that you have to find if your looking or are surprised when you see it. Do I paint some awful things? oh yeah but usually it is just so I can get perspective even if it is from my #1 critic. 🙂

  38. I do art for me, not my husband. And if he hates a piece, which he has before, I smile — knowing someone else will love it. Then I hang it up in the hallway next to our bedroom and taunt him with it until I feel satisfied. He’s a musician, when he sings something wrong I let him know it and then he sings it even “wronger” and louder…lol. We have a give and give relationship. And we love each other madly even after 18 years of disagreeing.

  39. My worst critic has always been myself. Over the years I have torn myself a new one by falling for my own self doubts. The times I have gotten negative, critiques or unsolicited critiques, my first question to myself is, are the jealous, (as in are they another artist concerned I might be competition or I thought of something before they did)? Are they criticizing and discouraging me from pursuing art (i.e. family who told me I would starve, or it is not appropriate to making a stable income). Are they should-ing me (you should get a real job) or are they jealous because I am doing something they are afraid to do? Try out a dream to see if it fits.

  40. My husband is the apposite. He always likes everything. Which is not big help to me at all 🙂 This is just his personality and has usually the same approach to everything is his life. I value honest opinion from others. I am not discourage from it. It is a learning process to me. Sometimes others opinions can be very value for our art business.
    Sometimes those can lead to new ideas. The important thing I think it is to know the difference between the right and wrong critics. We have to do our own judgement on that and know when to learn from them or not. Friends usually will always like your art just because they are your friends and don’t want to make you feel bad.

  41. I was a closet artist for years. Every time I would attempt to do anything the least bit creative, whether drawing. cake decorating, sewing, anything, my husband would come along and criticize what I was doing. After several of his criticisms, I would get discouraged and stop doing it. He was the only one who’s criticism bothered me and that was all he seemed to be able to dish out. I was miserable and felt like a large piece of myself was missing. I started doing my art only when he was away and hiding it before he returned. I had very low self esteem.

    Finally I decided to get my life back. I told my husband that I was going back to school for art education. At first he was a little freaked out. He didn’t want me to turn into some “weirdo”, like he considered all artists to be. I assured him that I would still be the same person I had always been, but a much happier version of myself. I told him that this was very important to me, as important as his reenactments were to him. I think he got it.

    The entire time I was in school, I would not allow my husband to comment on my artwork until it was finished and I never asked for his opinion. The main thing I learned in art school was confidence. I discovered that I was a much better artist than I ever gave myself credit for.

    Now, years later, I still will not ask my husband for his opinion on my artwork. He has come to appreciate it more. Though he still sometimes criticizes it, I am now able to ignore his comments. I currently do most of my artwork in front of the public. There are many comments, occasionally a critique if I ask for one, but no one ever blatantly criticizes it. Even if someone comes along who does, I can handle it.

  42. I have one friend who I run stuff by. Otherwise I feel like there’s going to be a bias with friends and family and they’ll say “oh it looks great”. The only family member I took artwork to critique was my mom, who had an excellent eye for things that didn’t work. This was so ironic because otherwise our relationship was pretty poor. If only it had been as good as the critiques! Now I show my paintings to a couple of art mentors. Taking workshops is a great way to find potential mentors. One is an instructor I met and the other is is an art consultant who really believes in me. But she won’t hesitate to tell me if it doesn’t work an why.

  43. As an artist you have to know what you are trying to accomplish.
    If you receive a critique of your work that includes ways that you believe will take you closer to your goal, then use it. If the feedback leads you further away, dismiss it. It is easy to be emotionally affected by words from others. The hard part is to listen carefully to everything they say. Then hold on to it, process it. Get an emotional distance from the words. And THEN decide what to hold on to and use and what to dismiss as it’s not true to your goal/vision/etc.
    I think a person who happenstance walks into your studio without invite and blurts out whatever the heck they want is rude and should be shown the door immediately. It’s not constructive and goodness knows how disruptive it can be to your artistic ‘flow’. There is a time and place for critiques and ideally it evolves into a conversation. LISTENING and allowing people the time and space to give their own thought/opinions/critiques of your work without interruption can also lead you to discoveries and ‘aha’ moments you never thought of but that feed your concept and give additional depth to your work.

  44. I have a spouse who will ask if I am finished with a piece and when I say almost, just letting it sit for a few days to look at it with fresh eyes. She will say it looks great to me. I never get anymore than that on any piece. While my wife is very supportive and likes my art, she can’t seem to critique it. Maybe that’s her way of staying in a safe place.

    I am fortunate to have an artistic son who majored in Graphic Design and is now an art director. If I send something to him for his critique he is really good about responding with excellent comments of things that he sees regarding values or contrast.. His comments are always helpful. Sometimes he just responds, wow, Dad, beautiful and I know its okay. I have another artist friend I send my pieces to for input and she is very knowledgeable and wonderful with feedback. Gentle constructive critiques from those who care are appreciated and valuable.

  45. I am a consensus builder. I found myself at a crossroad in the direction of my future work, so I asked for opinions. Criticism is valuable, up to a point. One of my brothers and I are close. He complained that my watercolors were too washed out….he was right, and I found a way to add more contrast, even going back and repainting my work that was still in stock. My longtime partner has offered all kinds of advice, some good, some not. She often wants me to try things I have already experimented with. When I told her I already went down that road, she complains I am SO negative! So I reset the discussion of my business with this crucially important person in my life, and discuss my art only when I have formulated some concrete choices. Friends are almost useless to talk to, as they suggest directions tried years ago, or suggest the obvious. We all need to remember that that people mean well, even when dispensing bad or useless advice/opinions. At the heart of your art is, well, your heart. Listen to it and it will lead.

  46. ~ With an open mind I listen and sometimes appreciate advice or critic from others and their view point in creating art as I see it as a learning process, by reinventing myself with different techniques and the materials I work with like at this time using gold/silver leaf with the acrylics I paint with on canvas. In the end it’s ‘my’ satisfaction with the completed work that takes priority in a professional way . . .

  47. ~ With an open mind I listen and sometimes appreciate advice or critic from others and their view point in creating art as I see it as a learning process, by reinventing myself with different techniques and the materials I work with like at this time using gold/silver leaf with the acrylic I paint with on canvas. In the end it’s ‘my’ satisfaction with the completed work that takes priority in a professional way . . .

  48. I met my wife because she saw some of my paintings, liked them, and contacted me. Needless to say, she has excellent taste. She will often have very specific and colorful opinions about where a particular work falls short, and I’d say that about 99% of the time, after reflection, I agree with her. One very memorable day for me, she sat down on the floor before a portrait I had completed and studied it for at least a half-hour before telling me that there absolutely nothing wrong with it. That was a thrill. She always has clear explanations of where a weakness is and also about specific improvements in my work. It is lovely to have a wife who cares so passionately about what I do.

  49. Any extended family I have hates my work. Once I kick off it will all end up in the nearest dumpster. That is why I place as much of it as I can in museums and curated collections while I’m still breathing. I’m old, health is poor and the writing is on the proverbial wall.

  50. Reading the comments has made me consider the critique that I’ve received over the course of my life. My first critic was a 9th grade school teacher. It was an “experimental teaching” environment and as such they tried different approaches. When my work was criticized, I really wanted to give up but I didn’t. That same teacher entered my work in a city-wide contest which I won and thus launched my art career.

    In my 4th year of Art College, my instructor told me I was the “epitome of the average.” I spent the rest of the semester proving him wrong and had an illustration accepted into an international competition in New York.

    There is a difference between critique and criticism. Perhaps it’s how I receive it that defines the difference. The manner in which it’s given is important but I definitely have to choose how I receive it. I decide whether to acknowledge it’s importance or let it go and follow my own path. In the case of my husband there is great value in having his support for my career.

    I enjoyed reading the input on ground rules for critique and being in control of the process. Critique has to be a two-way conversation.

  51. I respect that I am not always the best judge of my own work. Sometimes I honestly don’t know. A piece I love can can elicit “meh…” and sometimes something I’ve dashed off and don’t think much of is one family and friends all like a lot. My husband and I share a big overlap in our artistic likes and dislikes. Although he’s not what would be called a “creative,” he’s sensitive, intelligent and most times is a good sounding-board. But I’ve come to realize that our tastes diverge in some areas, and that’s OK, too. What he’s not crazy about, someone else will probably like. I think the most important thing is to encourage input but temper it with my own sensibilities and the confidence that, even if a piece needs work according to others, I can still trust my own intuition.

  52. Thank you Jason for devoting this blog post and your podcast to this subject!

    Critical feedback is a powerful tool to employ in any endeavor, but especially in the fine arts when the reaction or read of an artwork varies drastically depending on the audience and the context of its presentation. Now add the element of feedback from those that you love and ahhhhh, you’ve got added potentiality for better… or for worse.

    I’ll start by saying that I am in my element directing a critique, teaching others how to get and receive criticism, and then find a productive use for the feedback they receive. In my 17 years of teaching at a private art college, my ultimate goal was to empower every student with the tools of critique: finding their own questions, directing and receiving constructive criticism from others, and then implementing what makes sense in their own voice. In my opinion, the key to requesting feedback is to first ask yourself a series of questions at the appropriate time: usually after the work has been developed enough to start speaking to you. This is usually not the onset of the project. Then seek out feedback once you are prepared with your own questions about the work. Always knowing that you, the artist, is in the driver seat and that it is in your interest to maintain the focus of this constructive criticism.

    Also I agree with what has been said here about unwanted and unsolicited feedback: politely thank them for their interest and redirect the conversation in a manner that best suits the situation.

    I too have received my share of painful and hurtful remarks, usually unsolicited and non-constructive. In hind sight, I see that these remarks came out of unhappy and possibly angry people that needed a place to vent, or looking for validation. I imagine, all of us have had at least one such encounter, if not more.

    And yet on a brighter note, it is truly a gift when you have someone you respect and trust available when you need them. And as Jason said earlier, communication is a key component to cultivating this trust and having productive exchanges.

    Communication is what I have with my husband and it is something we both think is important. My husband has a sensitive eye, but that is no surprise as he is an exquisite fiction writer, with a background in theater. He understands and can articulate his passion for all the arts. He is also a brilliant patent lawyer. This means I get well rounded feedback, from business advice to his lucid and deep connection to my work and others.

    Now here is the caveat: he has difficulty looking at my works at the beginning, in fact he pretty much will not come to look at them unless he knows that I am near to completion. The reason he gives me is that he falls in love with my beginnings, and is heart broken when they shift! He has said, maybe more often than I care to hear, that he would love to steal these works away from me so that I can’t do anything else to them. Hmmm, he has a point and I understand this. But I’m the driver here and I have generally more to say inside the work and process. Perhaps soon I will do an entire show of large scale paintings where I specifically restrict the amount of time I spend on them.

  53. I don’t show my writing or art to anyone in my family until I know it is finished and have moved on to something else. In the case of writing, I only show it to them after it is published, if then. I am an abstract artist. My family members prefer representational work.

  54. WOW!!! Another touchy subject. This blog sure knows what makes a creative person tick!
    Thanks Jason…just for being HERE.
    About criticism….shall we take a peek at the critiques of known forgers who achieved the highest accolades for their forgeries but were shunned for their own originals? No…we won’t go there….we’re discussing close relations who offer their 2 cents, not the “experts”.
    Sometimes I get a bit put off by comments about my work….worse yet is indifference. Comments are usually solicited by yours truly, and I am asking for advice about how to proceed. Most often I reject them, but I have benefited by them as well. I guess it depends on how open your mind is concerning your own work….how confident you feel about it and yourself….AND your relationship with the commentators!

  55. My husband (of 25 years) and I are both professional artists, we met in art school 30 years ago. We have strong mutual respect for each others work and process, so constructive criticism is saved for when asked. We don’t presume to know better. If I want his opinion, I’ll ask and get it, and vice versa, but ultimately we’re both confident enough it what we do that we keep our problem solving “in house”, so to speak (aka if I don’t like something in a piece I’m working on, I figure out how to solve it).

    If I had a non artistic spouse we’d have similar boundaries, limited by a non-expert perspective. It would be OK to share some basic impressions where something “jumped out” at him, but unless he want me to come to his job and stand over his shoulder and criticize every move, he’d better just let me do me and he can focus on his own business (maybe it’s good I’m married to an artist, lol).

    More so than ever it seems everyone feels entitled to an opinion on anything they see. Too many people out there are looking for something wrong just to feel superior. Design by committee is a recipe for failure.

    Ultimately it’s up to the individual artist how much and who they want to take opinions from, but if it’s negatively affecting your ability to work, you need to rethink things.

    Basically, criticism needs to stay in it’s lane, so to speak. It needs to be understood as just a suggestion, delivered with consideration and basic kindness from a place of expertise and/or a sincere desire to help, and with a deep respect for the artist’s final say in any decisions. Sometimes my husband asks for my advice and doesn’t follow it… that needs to be OK (and it totally is).

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