Constructive or Destructive Criticism
Please see my other arrogant advice on this. If you must cater to the
unwashed masses, make them a page of their own where they can race through
without really seeing anything.
If you ask for opinions you will get them. Not everybody is going to agree
with you. Very few of them will actually be helpful to you as_an_artist.
Not even the opinion of Rembrandt would be a hell of a lot of use to you,
unless it was to tell you to be your own judge and do it your own way.
Even technical advice has to be carefully filtered, and most of it thrown
out as fast as possible. If you ask how to achieve something that you have
thought of, that is OK. If you ask someone to evaluate what you have
achieved, that is a dangerous practice that will end up suffocating your
If nobody likes your work, you are not communicating or you are
communicating something nobody likes. Maybe you would want to look at that.
Maybe in such a case it would be well to ask people why. But it is still
Give you some examples. Twice in my life, I have had all my work thrown out
of a show. Once with photography and once with paintings.
In 1959, I made the allowed four 16 x 20 prints to enter in the
Professional Photographers of America international exhibit. The Texas
professional photographer's association (whatever they were called, I
forget) show was coming up in Austin where I lived, about a month prior to
the PPofA one, so I entered my prints in that one, first.
It took a certain number of points to be accepted ... I think it was 30 ...
and each of 5 judges got 10 points to grant per image. There was black
tape over all the signatures so the judges didn't know your name. Nobody
ever gave ten points. If they gave six or seven that was very good, and you
got accepted. If you got 40 points you got double merits and your print
went to the association's "Permanent Loan Collection" ... a black hole from
which it never emerged. The same rules applied at the national level ...
the PPofA ... and I think they finally did build a museum at Winona,
whereever that is. Maybe my old prints really are there.
Anyway, my old teacher from the University of Houston was one of the five
judges. I got to sit in on it. You could do that but you had to shut up no
matter how insulting the judge's comments were, and I suppose if you had
said something you would have been banished forever, so nobody but the
judges ever spoke.
Well, four of the judges liked my prints and gave them the six or seven
points, but Martha Pyke, my old teacher, who had taught me her style of
soft focus, frilly Southern Belle costumes, stuffed white doves and dogwood
flowers in the background and around the edges ... did not go for my new
style. She gave me point values like 2 and 3, and even 1 on one of them,
and all my prints were therefore rejected.
After the show, I went to see her and asked for a private evaluation. She
obliged me. One by one she told my my photographs were ugly.
I said, "But Martha, what about the lighting?"
"Oh, that's perfect"
"What about the composition?
"What about the print quality?"
"It's very good."
"Then what's the matter with them?"
"They are ugly." Then she looked me in the eyes and said "Doug, I wish I
had a student now who had what you used to have."
Well, you can imagine how I felt. I took my rejected prints over to a
photographer friend and asked him what he thought. He said they were fine
and to ignore what was said about them and send them to the International
show anyway. So I did. Not that I believed anything good would come of it,
but because I might as well. Very apathetic.
All four of them hung and two went into the PPof A Permanent Loan
Collection. One of them got an impossible 47 points.
Fast forward about a quarter of a century. I joined an art association here
in Sacramento and entered twelve paintings. All twelve were rejected.
Remembering that experience with the prints, I entered the same twelve
paintings in another show put on by the same club six months later. All
twelve hung. Four of them got awards, including one for the only watercolor
portrait I had ever attempted, and "Best of Show" for a large scene of the
American River Canyon.
The Sacramento Bee newspaper bought that one and paid nearly three thousand
dollars for it. (Average prices in that particular show ran about $300 to
$500.) My first casein painting sold at the show for $350. The owner of a
local gallery came up to me after the awards presentations and asked me to
exhibit in his gallery. He sold another one the next day for $350. A month
later he put on a show with the rest of the twelve, augmented by some more
I had painted in the interem.
One of the paintings that sold at that show for over $3000 ... I forget the
exact price ... was "Egret at Shaelor Lake" (He named it that ... my name
was "The Last California Mountain Egret". Here is a picture of it:
<http://www.douglasfairchild.com/lastegret/lastegret.html> The gallery also
published a limited edition print of it.
The fate of that particular painting is significant to this story because
it is the one I took into a prestigious gallery here to show the owner, and
he spent half an hour of his time doing his level best to convince me that
it wouldn't sell.
Over the next year, all of those rejected paintings sold, for a grand total
of about $27,000.
A couple of years later, I found out about a week long workshop up near
Mount Shasta, that was being put on by a great fine artist whose work I had
much admired in Southwest Art Magazine. So I paid my money, called up a
friend who lived up in Redding to arrange a sofa to crash on, and went up
there to learn from this artist.
He looked at my approach to painting. It was all wrong. He said he had
never seen anyone start off a painting the way I did. I was using the wrong
colors and going about it backward. No surprise in that ... I did take some
drawing courses in college, and even dated the life model for awhile,
although she had her clothes on then ... but I never took a course in how
to do a painting. That, I learned years later by going to the art store,
buying a bunch of paints and brushes and just doing it. Practice, practice,
So he told me how to improve. He was sincere about it. He really tried to
help. I think he took a special interest in me because he invited me to
lunch several times, and I got occasional letters from him for several
years after that, in which he sent me clippings of other artists' work he
thought I would like.
However, the net effect of all his well intentioned advice was that it took
me nearly two years to get back to the point where I could paint a good
picture again. He could do it his way. Others obviously could do it his way
... and the proof of it was that their work looked just like his. But it
messed with my mind when I tried to mix his way with mine, and I didn't
want to be an imitation of him.
So ... back to where this began: you are a very good artist. My advice is
to be circumspect about accepting advice in art. Ask how to accomplish
things you like or want to accomplish, see what others have done and learn
from them. Ask them how they did it. Even copy their work for study and
learning. But don't solicit evaluation, even from accomplished and
recognized masters ... I should say *especially* masters, as their opinions
weigh so heavily ... and don't ask them what they think of your work. It
doesn't matter a hoot in hell what they think, and it will lead you astray.
When you do get it, prick up your ears, open your eyes sniff the wind and
thoroughly analyze all that is being said. Don't ever let it pass into your
mind unevaluated where it can operate unmonitored on a level below your
conscious awareness and influence your thoughts, opinions and emotions
without present time permission. Sure, some of it is valid. Yes, there is
much to be learned, and sometimes you can learn it that way. But it is
full of hidden traps. "Constructive criticism" is an oxymoron, no matter
how much the giver intends to help. And not all of them, sad to say,
intend to help.
Meanwhile, keep up the good work ...