Some men, like a wet dog, sprinkle a shower of advice over you when you are least prepared for a bath. AUSTIN O’MALLEY
While perusing lots of serious quotes about advice, this one (above) made me laugh; I hope that it gave you a chuckle as well!
This painting of local butterflies evolves a little each day. There are times when I am tired and don’t have 100 percent concentration, but I try to discipline myself to pick up the pencil or brush and dabble. There are about a dozen paintings in various stages, all waiting for my attention!
This painting evolves without the aid of preliminary pencil – I study the butterfly in hand or else a photo, dip the paint brush in a watered-down color and wash in the basic areas. The fine details evolve with each new layer of washes, starting with watercolor style and then thicker and finally meticulous attention to detail. Most every evening when I push back and eye the painting from afar, I think, “There’s no way this is ready to be shown for Timeout for Art!”
Even though this will evolve into a strong painting, I know that’s it’s hard for many people to see an unfinished painting and see it as that – a painting in progress. There are times, like when we look our worst and answer the knock at the door, we wish we’d had had a warning.
Maybe that’s why it’s a compliment when an artist invites you into their private space… An unsolicited critique might not be embraced, after all, the painting is in progress!
Have you ever been working on a personal project, and you’re moving along at full-throttle because of the joy it’s giving you? It’s a bit like riding an invisible current of energy that fills you with feel-good endorphins and grounds you at the same time. Each time that you stop, you give it sideways glances and confirm, ‘This is good.”
It was a great joy to witness my friend Marie design and paint a “Shoulder-therapy Painting (below)… At first she questioned all choices, and as the painting progressed, so did her self confidence.
You’re anxious to resume and are instantly comforted by the creation process. Out of nowhere, it seems, you lassoed an idea and rode it through hills and valleys until it was ready to present it to a larger audience. It’s an amazing gift; maybe that’s why artists often have that “I know a secret’ sort of smile that allows them to float through the day.
It’s also amazing how one one unsolicited remark can tip the mood … it’s like walking along and watching butterflies when there’s an unseen obstacle in your path. You stumble, and maybe you quickly catch yourself, or maybe you lose your balance and fall – but whatever the reason, it causes you to lose sight of the insect or bird; you focus on what just happened, and the mood of the moment is altered…
Artists are highly -sensitive people, and many things can alter the expeprience of creation. Because of witnessing how an unsolicited comment can backfire, I try to always find something positive to say about a student’s work, or else remain silent!
I remember once (a very long time ago!) when a woman walked up to one of my paintings at a trade show and stated, “That’s depressing.” The study of woods in the wintertime was drawn and painted from life, and my mood had been one of peace and joy of working in that setting. It captured exactly what I intended, and therefore I was not thrown off balanced by her comment. At that same show one of my paintings won ‘”Best in Show.” As a friend and I stood near the arrangement of paintings, another person stepped up, looked at the paintings then at me and stated, “You’re the artist.”
I thought that my friend and I looked basically the same, dressed in suburbia-type clothing and trendy hair styles. For a long time I wondered, “How could she tell? What was different about me?”
I think that negative and positive comments help us move forward; we learn to believe in our own abilities, our own inner voices, our own tastes and choices of subject matter. If we’re smart and leave our egos outside the conversation, even negative criticism can help us evolve.
Another comment that burns deeply in my memory was one made at a week-long workshop. The instructor stressed the importance of creating art every day, and it was the hours that made the difference in being a novice painter or an exceptional one. One dear sweet lady countered wtih, “But I have two teenage sons, and they participate in sports… and I cook breakfast and supper and I have a husband and — “
And he bluntly stated, “Well you just need to stay home and bake cookies.”
I am still shocked at his statement, and I have often wondered if his comment nudged her away from art, from watercolor. It might have made me give up there on the spot had he said that to me.
Now that my skin is much thicker (partly because unsolicited remarks taught me to ignore them when necessary!) I am able to stay true to my own voice, to paint from my heart – my soul, and not paint what someone else suggests. Some artists might have trouble weaning into highly-original works of art because others have offered insensitive or advice that was not requested.
There are times when we embrace critiques, either when we hit a wall and are unsure what’s wrong or what’s needed. That’s when feedback is helpful, especially when it comes from someone we respect. A sensitive teacher can often point the student to a stronger end result.
For my own personal experiences, an unsolicited critique hurls me out of that spiral of focus, and I become off balanced. I no longer see the painting through my own soul, but through the eyes of the person who critiqued it. Their words echo in my mind, and they sometimes get stuck there, even though I know that my own true vision is sound and has (had) a purpose. Sometimes the joy of painting that particular subject evaporates, and I abandon it. I should be able to conquer that negative reaction, but it’s still one that affects me.
If you’ve ever wondered why people aren’t often invited to see paintings in progress, perhaps that’s why. The artist wants to reach that point when it’s ready to be presented to a wider audience… or to be classified as ‘an exercise’ – one to be tucked away or burned (as a catharsis.)
Thanks for listening, and thanks for your patience while I’ve been exceptionally silent on WordPress. I’ve been writing this while two pre-teens have played duelling music on their phones in this small ‘internet’ nook. Perdon all mistakes or conflicting thoughts! I was given an unsolicited playlist of conflicting music!
Life has been busy, but all’s fine in the cloud forest.
I’d love to hear about your own experiences… Do you like to have someone peer over your shoulder and offer unsolicited critiques? Does a negative critique affect the spontaenity of your painting?
Until next week,