On taking criticism, and the paradox of painting for yourself, but also (hopefully) that someone out there will like what you are doing…
“Ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself” – wise words sung by Ricky Nelson. So catchy, but the reality is, I care very deeply about pleasing everyone. If it’s not perfect, then really, what.is.the.point? Visual art is one of those things where, if you choose to display your work in any capacity, it will invite comments, critiques, helpful suggestions 😉 so you have to be prepared for feedback and how that will make you feel. Sometimes good, sometimes rotten.
I found an old high school painting the other day. I had forgotten that it even existed so it was a happy surprise. I thought, how could I have ever forgotten about this?
I painted this watercolour back in OAC art (grade 13 for all of you educated post-double cohort in Ontario, Canada). It was based on an old photo from the 70s when my parents were visiting Denmark – you can see my 1970s mom in the photo reference below 🙂 When I found it I posted it on Instagram and it appeared to be accepted favorably – some likes and nice comments. We can call it hit in 2018!
Unfortunately, I also found the peer evaluation for this work hidden in the same portfolio. It appears that I had forgotten that this painting was not well received back in high school – by one student critic in particular. Actually it’s a little soul-crushing to read this even now:
“I DON’T MEAN TO BE OFFENSIVE, I REALLY DON’T, BUT MY MOTHER PAINTS THINGS LIKE THIS. YOUR CONTROL IS EXCELLENT AND ITS TECHNICALLY VERY NICE, BUT ITS DEFINITELY SOMETHING I’VE SEEN PLENTY OF.”
There are some really nice comments on the same page. But this is the only one I can see. I mean, it’s kind of funny because I think I know who this was and I happened to know his mom, and I thought she was a very good painter! She liked to paint watercolor flowers 🙂 The same person went on to write, in response to the question: “What does this [image] imply?”
A quiet peaceful community in Europe. A place for retired seniors.
Seniors? Wait, what? And: “What does this work mean to you?”
Fair enough… And finally: “Comment on the quality of construction, technique”:
A beautiful painting. I expect to see a similar print in at least 5-10 seniors’ homes.
Again with the seniors. Sooooo, fair to say it wasn’t well-received. Or maybe he really, truly felt like people over sixty-five should be my target audience? But honestly, pardon me? It really hurt my feelings because 1. I am really, really sensitive and 2. In just a few lines he trivialized something I had spent a lot of time working on. It meant something to me.
I mean, I know what he’s saying. A street is a street. Is a street. It’s not really screaming teenage angst or even the suggestion of it. We were teenagers reviewing each other’s art. My painting is not that interesting, it’s not very exciting, it’s not modern. But… I’m not trying to be an exciting person, I don’t really take chances. I just am who I am. I feel pretty ok with owning that now… and isn’t it ok for my art to reflect how I feel and what’s important to me? Because I really like my life. I’m pretty happy. I love playing with colours. That painting was based on a picture of my parents travelling through Denmark, where my father was born, back when they were young. It has sentimental value for me times a million. It’s personalized. It does mean something, it is important.
I had a lot of artist’s block for many years. After I finished high school art maybe some of that self-doubt and lack of confidence in my work and my ideas and my subject matter continued to haunt me for a bit…
In my last year of high school art everyone had to pick a thesis – a topic of focus for the year. I was obsessed with my grades at this point and knew I would be applying to science programs at university. So the art school “game” was a little (a lot) tricky because I was really aware that every painting I was making would be attached to a grade. For me – if you want to turn something you love into an utter chore just attach a grade to it. I was literally frozen creatively by the opposing goals of wanting to create beautiful paintings and take a few chances, while trying to maximize my grades in art as well as have time for physics, chemistry, bio, calculus and algebra. I didn’t know it then but conditions were not favorable for painting my masterpiece.
It’s funny because going through my old diaries from grade 13 art, I have realized that the essence of myself has really not changed at all… Thirty seven year old me is still the same seventeen year old girl with a lot of the same worries, and concerns, and also the same things are still important to me. What makes us who we are is not something that we can change. It really stays with us. Seventeen year old me really wanted to paint beautiful, real things from the world around me, things that meant something to me. I was just lacking the attitude then to really own it.
I guess that’s why it took me twenty years to have the confidence to paint a 24″ x 24″ enormous painting of my micro cat and title it, “This is a Cat”. Because sometimes a cat is just a cat… is just a cat. It just took me awhile to get here.
So… kind of a personal post. To answer the question, how do you take feedback and accept criticism? I have no idea, I’m still super sensitive 😉 I’m still figuring it out. I think you need to just try to take what you need and then filter out the rest. I’m just going to paint what I like because that seems to be working for me – finally – and keep the wise words of my favorite high school art teacher in mind (he probably knew I was freaking out all the time, lol):
Thanks for reading!