On Saturday I and a group of around 30 others paid a fee to see three fine painters critique a group of mostly-amateur paintings. Paintings were lined up along the walls. The group– Marc Perlman, Chester Arnold and Frances McCormack-– selected paintings to bring on stage. The audience eavesdropped on their three-way conversation about each piece. It was an interesting, unusual event that I had never seen outside an art class.
My painting was not chosen. I offer some random takeaways from the event, and a few impressions.
- Framing counts. Never use garage sale frames. Never ever, even if they “fit.” If you respect your piece, either hang it unframed or design a new frame for it.
- Just because you have an emotional connection to a surface doesn’t mean it helps the painting. One good pop art work was painted on a piece of wood from a crate. True, the crate had come from France and the Louvre, but the nail holes weren’t doing the painting any good. Your emotional attachment does not make a difference to the viewer.
- Composition, color, design, content, meaning and drawing were discussed, but much of the time they talked materials. Inferior materials can sink a painting. Buy the best you can.
- One really cannot defend a less-successful work if you bring it out in public, because the public decides on its success. Give your paintings a chance by using good materials.
- One good painting was still wet. The wetness dominated the critique of the painting, smearing black paint all over Mark Perlman’s hands. One element out of place can keep the viewer from appreciating your work.
- One painting was an exact copy of a Cezanne. The critics’ consensus seemed to be that if you wish to learn through copying, copy a hundred paintings , not just one. Really do it and allow yourself to learn.
- If you are doing a genre painting, such as a sort of linear, geometric, Mondrian-type abstraction, it helps to imitate the absolutely flat and smooth surface generally found in such paintings. Heavy impasto and imprecise lines don’t belong to that type of painting. Lobsters are good, so are strawberries, but you don’t want to mash them together.
I would add, however awkward, stand by your paintings, like Tammy Wynette singing “Stand by your Man.” Criticism has a place. My mentor always said that he painted for other painters. Never, ever paint because you think you might know what someone might like or approve of. Stand by your paintings, but you don’t necessarily have to show, or keep, every one. It’s only one point in an endless timeline of process.
I so appreciated the kind yet keen remarks of the commentors. Never did they deride a work of art or cross the line into condescension.
My own painting I had to criticize myself. It’s not the one at the top of the post, or the one at the side here, but one in a series in gold metal leaf that is quite similar. I didn’t get a good enough photo of it to post, as the gold metal leaf makes it difficult to photograph. Anyway, the negatives: careless, poorly conceived, not enough surface field depth or variety of line– too superficial. The positives: use of an interesting material, strong sense of gesture and movement, and good composition with interesting colors.
I am primarily self-taught and thus self-critiqued. I’m not sure I could have lived through four years of this in art school. What are your responses to critique and criticism?
Stand by your art.
Afternote: Satri Pencak kindly cited my blog. She has a fine curatorial website. I appreciate her discerning take on events and artists in Sonoma County.