Thick Skinned

Attitudes and criticisms about art and performance are an ongoing part of any creative personal development.  If you've ever hung a painting in a gallery or walked out to greet your fans after a performance onstage you know how valuable these times can be. 

Recently I have seen several bulletins posted on my MySpace account where artists  present a new work that they have recently finished or works that are in progress.  Some simply invite you to visit their page and look.  Others ask for your input, your critique.  This can be a touchy subject.  When I browse other people's works among their shared pictures or portfolios (and I admit, I spend more time doing that than I should) it strikes me how the majority of comments left for works are the bare minimum of what I would consider feedback.  "I like this."  "Great colors."  "This reminds me of Picasso."  You may have comments like this on your photo page too.

When I get a bulletin, however, that actually ASKS for my input and feedback on a specific work, I feel obliged to give it.  I take the time to consider the work presented, I explore other works that artist has done.  Then I send a message that usually ends up being longer than I expected to share my thought and opinions.  Those ruminations often end up being as wide and varied as the works we see here everyday.  It's not an easy thing to critically examine a work by another artist, especially one you don't know personally. 

About a week ago I got one of these bulletins.  It was from a young guy who had done a painting overnight and wanted feedback.  I thought the work was awful.  I had already seen his work and there's a lot of promise there.  Great movement and color and use of negative space.  The new work was flat, technically flawed for a number of reasons and his color choices were more likely defined by which colors he had available than the colors he might have used if he had taken the time.  It was rushed, amateurish and well below the standard that I could see that he was capable of.  I took all of these things into consideration, and then wrote to him and let him know specifically about which areas of the new painting I felt could use some improvement.  It ended up being a long dialogue. 

After it had been sent I felt bad about being so harsh to his work.  It made me remember my first group gallery show where I lingered around a painting of mine to overhear comments from gallery goers.  Big mistake.  Two women examined my painting and then verbally tore it shreds.  They laughed.  They pointed.  I was devastated.  I actually had to go behind the gallery during the opening so nobody would see my cry.  (Yes, they were that mean). 

Of course, they didn't know who I was.  I wasn't wearing a name tag.  I would like to imagine that if they had known I had created the work they would have chosen their words a little more carefully to lessen the blow of their displeasure with it.  An experience like that can teach a young artist a great many lessons.

Regardless of how much you buy into the artistic stereotype, your artwork is not you.  An attack on it is not personal.  One a painting, sculpture or photograph is placed on a wall to be exhibited it takes on a life of its own.  The communion between art and the viewer is theirs.  The artist isn't involved.  What you, as the inventor of this work, know about its meaning is irrelevant.  Your job is over.  Art has its own job to do.  It doesn't need assistance.  If it does, then there's a problem.  

Criticism shouldn't be taken personally.  Everybody hears a bad review or comment about their work eventually.

Not everybody likes my work.  It used to bother me.  Nowadays if someone sees my work and says "I don't get it," or "That's nice" with that particular tone of vague disinterest in their voice, I can easily let them walk away without trying to push my art on them.  If they don't get it, they don't get it.  Plenty of people do.  There's a whole world of art out there, surely they can find some that pleases them. 

So next time you invite the world in to see what you've made, be careful.  Be thick skinned.  Keep your mind open and try to see your own work through a new set of eyes. 

If someone invites you to view their work and give them feedback, take them up on their offer.  The more input an artist has, the better the output.  We have a phenomenal artistic community and we should use the resources at our fingertips to all grow together.