An honest critique

When is the last time you had an  honest critique with real people looking at your actual work? It’s been a while for me. My biggest critic is my husband. I’ll walk a painting out to him, and he’ll usually say ah hmm m.  That means it’s OK. The longer he pauses, the worse the critique will be.  I love my husband, but he knows nothing about art. He does have a good eye, though.  And that’s great. Periodically, it’s good to get specific, targeted feedback in an honest, informed setting. What specifically do you want feedback about? Being specific and targeted, in my opinion, is a great way to advance your skills. Maybe you want to improve your compositions or edges, or have been working on specific subject matter, like trees, water or rocks.


As an art teacher, I bring my students through a four-step approach to looking at art. It’s a systematic approach. It is how I was taught way back in college. It’s actually simple. First, you describe the art.  “I see…” just the facts, as if you were on the phone and describing the art to someone who can’t see it. Next, you analyze it, getting into how the artist used the elements and principles. This will make you sound artsy and smart. “I like how the artist created a sense of rhythm with repeating the trees” or “Notice the variety of textures the artist used” Thirdly, you interpret the piece. “I think the artist is trying to say wilderness is a formidable, lonely place, but you can find peace”. It’s a juxtaposition of sorts “blah, blah!” And lastly, you evaluate or judge it. Is the piece successful, to you? Do you “like it”? That’s the basic approach.  It works in a general sense and is a great method for discussing artwork you are unfamiliar with, especially in the academic sense.  But in the practical “what do I need to improve” sense, it is lacking a bit.

One of my goals for this year is to get my art properly critiqued. In order to do that, I and my art must get in front of people. Plein air events and paint outs are wonderful. Lots of knowledge there. Ideally, you want a critique from someone who you admire. Someone who has proven themselves. Climbed the art ladder. I am suggesting you organize a critique. Find a public venue to display your art. Invite about a dozen people to participate. Encourage participants to pick a topic to discuss when critiquing. In school, we tend to steer away from negative comments (it’s school, after all), but there are ways to suggest an artist try something without sending them sobbing into a corner..  Posting your art online is another option. There are a few sites where you can post either works in progress (WIP) or finished works and seek criticism, as opposed to just thumbs up and likes. Wetcanvas is a site I regularly use.

Lisa David, The Chase

Lisa David, The Chase, 16″ x 20″. Remember chasing the ice cream man with your dollar?


True Story: I entered a show locally and received a modest award. The juror went around and gave feedback on each specific work. My work really resonated with him. Yay, I thought. Until he started giving some criticism. Shhhh people gabbing- I wanted to hear every word. I had been so immersed in the making of the art, I overdid it. I added detail to the details! Rather, he suggested the work would have been stronger if I didn’t have so many sharp edges. That night, I went home and read all I could about edges. Now, it’s something I work to improve in each painting.