Thursday, August 18, 2011

Don't Ask your Mom ....

     One piece of advice I received from my first art teacher, Amado Peña, was “Don’t ask your mom if it’s good.  At the Anderson High School Art Department, Peña ruled with an iron prisma color (a weak attempt at art humor).  He was no bullshit.  If your art was crap, he would tell you straight away.  He expected every piece to progress nicely from the last.
     We’ve discussed self-critiquing before, but this bears repeating.  Your ability to critique your own work is of paramount importance.  If you only show your efforts to a small inner circle of friends, you will only get positive feedback.  I suffer from this dilemma myself ….. and it is with my wife, Pam! 

Art Critic by Norman Rockwell

    Sometimes I know she’s reluctant to give her honest opinion, because I usually take it poorly.  But I have to admit, she is usually right!  She knows my work better than anyone else, and can honestly critique it from many angles.  Sometimes I just don’t want to admit she’s right on the mark. 
    Did you ever write a paper in college that took so much out of you that words like the and dog start looking wrong?  The same phenomenon happens to artists after 20 hours of drawing or painting.  We artistically forget how to paint the – and others can see that it is not a correct representation.  The question is will they tell you?
     Chances are they are reluctant to hurt your feelings, or they feel the overall effort is fantastic from their limited art perspective.  Either way, you are going to get bad information and think you’re “the gift”.  My advice is to find some inner circle of art friends who aren’t afraid to tell you that your painting has broccoli in its’ teeth.  Your job is to learn how to take the bitter pill in a civilized and gracious matter … something I, myself, have yet to perfect.
     Look at the critique with serious introspection.  Are they right?  Could their suggestion make the painting better? 
    This goes both ways.  When you are providing an opinion, please do it with a professional attitude.   I don’t offer an opinion unless someone asks.  Then I preface my opinion with a disclaimer:  Don’t ask me unless you want the truth.” 
     Michael Bane, a TV host on the Outdoor Channel, gives wise counsel: generally, people will love you if you tell them something like the truth, but if you tell them the truth they will despise and disdain you.

Hard Candy by William Matthews

     So my advice to you is stick with professionals and artists who act like professionals.  And don’t be afraid to praise your peers.  Let them know they have impacted you and your work … it’s why they do it.  I remember two years ago at the Coors Western Art Show in Denver when Willie Matthews and I were discussing his work at the show, and I mentioned that I really liked his painting, titled “Hard Candy” (a painting of a buckaroo with a tootsie roll pop).  He got animated and we had a great discussion about the painting.  It was executed beautifully and is, in my opinion, an iconic painting by a master watercolorist. 
     So there it is …. be a critic with a light hand and a helping heart, but speak the truth.  And if you want to honestly know if it’s good ….. Don’t ask your mother, ask your wife.

1 comment:

  1. This is so true! Sometimes though, even the wife is too afraid to hurt my feelings. Which is kind of scary, cause if I have broccoli in my teeth, she is the one I would expect to tell me. I'd rather her say it before I find people staring at my mouth when out in public having a conversation.

    After you've been around as long as we have, I'm like "Just tell me if it sucks." And as you said above, I've learned that even experienced people love a nice compliment too.