Monday, July 18, 2011

How Do You Give an Art Critique?

Is it appropriate to give an artist a critique on their work when they have not asked for it? If an artist asks you to critique their work, how do you go about critiquing it? Do you give negative feedback? Should you always give positive feedback? 

In my opinion, if an artist has not asked you to critique the work, then don't. There may be reasons why the artist has not asked. Maybe they have not reached the point where they feel strong enough in their artistic pursuit to take a critique. Maybe they are still experimenting with their artistic style and they may feel squashed creatively to hear a critique of their work. Or, conversely, the artist may have reached a point where they feel strong enough in their personal artistic expression that they might not feel a need for a critique.

However with all of that said, I have given unsolicited feedback in certain cases. I try not to be negative but constructive. I only give unsolicited feedback to a beginning or emerging artist whom I judge to have that "certain something" like talent or intent where I think my comment/feedback would be helpful to their artwork.

The feedback, whether solicited or not, that will be helpful to the artist comes from an art making standpoint (formal art elements) such as, "By using blue or purple instead of black in the shadow areas, a new life-force and vitality would come forth in the work." For unsolicited feedback, preface the comment with something like, "I know you did not ask for feedback so take whatever I say with a grain of salt…."

There are positive and negative ways to go about giving critiques. Whatever you do, stay away from negativity as that can have the effect of shutting down the creative spirit very quickly. Talk about the work of art and do not attack or judge the artist. Use what I said earlier about giving feedback in terms of formal art elements. This will help to depersonalize the critique.

The artist is always in control of how to use the feedback from the critique. The artist might decide that what has been said feels right and true for their art, or not. The bottom line lies with the artist and their particular work. Only the artist knows what they are trying to accomplish with their particular form of art.

I think if an artist is serious about improving their artwork, they will appreciate, welcome, and solicit critiques. Any artist who has been to art school knows that their art gets better through critiques. Always give positive and constructive comments if asked for feedback on the art.

When I began to paint my first landscape paintings, I sought out the critique from a local art professor. I cannot tell you how helpful this was. At times it felt mighty uncomfortable as well. Somehow, he maintained a position of balancing comments on my talent as an artist with the needed criticism of how I was going about my painting. We remain friends to this day and talk fondly of those times when I asked for his feedback and took it in, or not. My art has benefitted from positive and constructive feedback.

What is your opinion? When do you give a critique? And how do you go about it? Do you have a formula for critiquing an artist's work? I would love to hear from you.

Pictured above: Simplicity, oil on wood, diptych, 48 x 48 x 1 inches (two panels 24 x 48 x 1 inches each). ©2011 Mary A. Gravelle. Available. Contact Mary Gravelle at for purchase information.

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