Recently, I read a statement in a chat that left me perplexed. It was from an artist who was going through a tough time because he couldn't handle a critique of his work. He said, "... In art, there are no criteria to distinguish the 'good' from the 'bad'... There is a risk of undermining this diversity and creating a creative environment based on homogeneity and uniform thinking," referring to art criticism.
Personally, I believe that being an artist requires great courage. To expose your soul in public is not easy, and creating a work of art is not easy either, neither technically nor conceptually. I believe in diversity and have the utmost respect for anyone who has chosen art as their profession.
That being said, YES, there are criteria to determine whether a work of art is good. Of course, there are. It is independent of whether you like it or not. It has nothing to do with personal preference. One can recognize brilliance without necessarily aligning with it.
Today, there is a whole narrative surrounding artwork that aims to connect the artist with the target audience, similar to selling perfume or a computer. The artists have become their own brand and are subject to many evaluations unrelated to their professionalism (because being an artist is a profession, let's not forget that). Knowing how to sell a narrative does not make the artwork better, unless we consider the narrative a part of the art piece. Should we?. art is an experience immersed in a certain environment and the surrounding atmosphere, narrative included, makes it a whole.
The more knowledgeable the viewer, the better their education and the more they have seen, the broader their perspective will be, and the better their judgment will be. I agree that their perception is influenced by an understanding of the narrative's scope. However, I wholeheartedly believe that not all art is good. Like in any profession, there are the talented, the exceptional, the mediocre, and the downright bad. That doesn't mean you don't respect the artist. The artwork and the artist are two different things. You are not your art, and if someone doesn't like your work, it doesn't mean anything personal, even though it may feel visceral and personal to you.
When receiving a negative critique, the first thing to do is reflect on what they are saying and suppress your ego. We artists are all ego. You don't get offended when you perform poorly on an exam. You punish yourself for the frustration of not having done better.
In any continuous improvement process, feedback from another professional, such as a mentor, is a fundamental step. Critical and constructive support allows you to reach your full potential, and you will be surprised by how much you can learn from each other. There are no mistakes or errors in art; it is an exploration of new paths, which is what fulfills you the most as an artist.
In any case, be thankful for critiques. You haven't left the person who critiques you indifferent. Be curious about their comments. Relax and enjoy the interaction, paying close attention to their responses. Remember that people are giving their opinion because we have asked for it, so we should respect their judgment even if we don't agree with it. They are dedicating their time to us, so we should show our gratitude. These conversations are precious.
You can ask questions like these, for example:
What is your overall impression of the artwork? What does it convey to you? You can start a conversation and share what you intended to convey.
What elements or aspects of the artwork grab your attention the most? This is the most constructive question; it will reach each person differently, and you can show them details they may have missed. They will be amazed.
How do you interpret the connection between the title and the artwork? Do you think they reinforce each other? Perhaps your goal is absurdity or humour. In fact, I have randomly titled my works just to gauge people's reactions and engage in a more lighthearted conversation, always with respect. You're not laughing at them, but laughing with them. It could be a wordplay alluding to a situation or a nod to a classical artwork. For example, I have a painting titled "The Mona Elisa." (From Monalisa Davinci's work, to Mona Elisa - The monkey Elisa, literal translation from Spanish- ). Not very smart but I got people attention.
How do you perceive the use of technique and colour palette in the artwork? Do you think they reinforce the message or intention? This is a more technical question. You'll have to gauge who you're asking; you might make them feel bad or come across as condescending if you're not careful.
Is there any aspect of the artwork that you consider particularly successful or problematic? This is the feedback you really want from the whole conversation.
Do you believe the artwork succeeds in conveying a specific message or emotion? What does it make you feel? Be openminded here, you may listen any kind of unexpected answers.
In what context or environment do you think this artwork could be more impactful or relevant? As an artist, this response is gold. You're inviting them to offer an alternative exhibition space that you can seize. Contacts and references in this world tend to be a closely connected circle if you're talking to the right person.
Do you perceive any artistic reference or influence in this artwork? In what aspects? We all have influences. Share them. Analyze where you come from. Prepare for the conversation. Every interaction with a collector is a job interview.
What suggestions or advice do you have to improve or strengthen the artwork as a whole? Personally, I love this question. I rarely follow it, but I like it.
Don't take everything literally. These are just suggestions to inspire you. Develop your own questions that help you understand how your artwork is perceived by others.
Don't worry and keep working and researching. Don't go crazy with feedback; filter what is interesting. Let the response rest, write it down, and read it after a few days. Storing the feedback you receive can help you analyze your own evolution over time. Sometimes, we are not aware of the path we are taking, and having a collection of responses on how our artwork is seen over time is a treasure.
To complete the circle, you can ask for a way to contact the person who provided the feedback (if it's someone who visits your exhibition, for example) so that you can send them modifications or new works based on their suggestions. This shows that their input has been valuable and that you build with them. It will generate a loyal following that may eventually become buyers.
And remember, you can't please everyone. It doesn't matter. There are so many people in the world that statistically, there has to be someone else who appreciates your artwork. We're all unique, but not to the point of being very, very alone.
My advice is to detach yourself from your artwork. There's nothing personal against you in a critique. In fact, if that person visits your studio, he will find something fascinating.
Do you have any experience to share? Go on!. I would love to hear it!
Good luck with the tricky critiques, enjoy the journey !
Best regards, Bego Lafuente, artist.