Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Necessity of a Critical Eye


As a follow up addendum to my response to an artist friend's query on yesterday's post, I wanted to add to what I had already commented about the situation of sometimes not feeling 100% positive about a work in progress, by talking a bit about the advantage of an outside, critical eye.

As a human being, I know the importance of and the need to be able to rely upon a respected friend's viewpoint on any given subject or discussion, whether that viewpoint jives with mine or is oppositional. As long as the comment, criticism and points of discussion are coming from one whose opinion I have respect for, I can listen and engage, be spurred on to think in a slightly different way, or to see a situation from an entirely different angle. As an artist, I find equal value in relying on the comments and critical analysis of another artist whose work and expertise I respect and judge to be exemplary.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to live within easy distance of fellow artists and who can spend time in each other's studios, know the value of an ongoing conversation about all things art, as well as the importance of having another set of eyes to view our work, either while in progress or at a finished stage, or when there might be a bit of doubt clouding the way ahead. We artists spend so much time alone with our work, sometimes that closeness masks needed editing, rethinking or fresh takes on what we thought were original ideas.

To be able to have a fresh pair of eyes walk up to a work and see that work, from the separation of an outside viewpoint without the constraints of having originated the idea or thought about it (mulling over the various compositional possibilities), can and often does result in a question of, 'Why did you do that?', or 'Why did you put that there?', or 'Do you think that shadow is strong enough?' Having someone who does not know your original inspiration for a work or compositional idea, initiate a discussion about aspects of that work that might not, to their way of seeing and thinking, relate or work or know the reason for, is a good thing. I have experienced being on the receiving end of those questions any number of times and when presented in a non-threatening, positive, knowledgeable way, have almost always realized the need for a slight modification or rethink of some portion of a work, ultimately to its betterment.

I too, have found myself on the questioning end of the discussion as well. Many of my friends know that to me, the importance of a well thought out compositional idea is primary and with that in mind, they will often ask for my input on a sketch idea or, perhaps, how they can better serve their own ideas by varying their composition and placement of subject matter. This however, is not the kind of interaction that comes easily to those with whom you might only have a passing acquaintance. There often has to be a level of mutual trust, respect and friendship before those sorts of candid expressions and ideas can not only be voiced, but also heard, appreciated and acted upon.

Having a basic belief and confidence in your own abilities as an artist and knowing that your creative ideas are well founded is the best of starting points. Being able to listen to and respond to positive critical analysis, on those occasions when there might be a bit of doubt or an inability to understand and see what might be throwing off your total happiness with the way in which a work is progressing, can be beneficial and move your creative view just that much farther.

For those artists not fortunate enough to live close enough to other artists to visit in person, thank goodness for email, the Internet and digital photography! How easy it is now to take a digital image of a work in progress, send that image to a fellow artist and say, 'What do you think?' I have also found many times, the simple act of visiting an exhibition or spending an hour or two at a museum or gallery can open you up to new considerations. Focusing in on a particularly appealing work hanging in a museum, often has the result, for me anyway, of experiencing that 'ah ha' moment when you say to yourself, 'Why didn't I think of that . . . . . way of portraying that sort of subject . . . way of emphasizing light and shadow . . . way of using that compositional structure . . . way of doing something a little differently.'

I have found that since beginning this blog and talking about the many aspects of my personal approach to art, the ways in which I formulate ideas, use reference and compose and see what it is that I want to achieve through my drawings, many have found common ground with what I have had to say. That's great. But, I have been on the learning end as well, discovering other blogs and web sites of artists whose work, themes, compositional ideas and mastery of technical style I have come to respect. And even though I may not know them personally, I frequently have found much to nod in agreement with and often have come away with that extra understanding of something I thought I knew all about!

In the end, I feel, it is simply about exposing yourself to and taking advantage of those around you and those who have come before, whose ideas, experiences, base of knowledge and creative influence you find appealing and that you can cull ideas from and take meaning from.

1 comment:

Dean Richards said...

My wife is a talented graphic artist that offers valuable critique which often pushes me to look at compositions with a fresh eye. I've often wished I could get that first, never seen before initial impression of something I'm working on. She provides that view with respectful candor. As artists we need to learn to allow this important input when offered from a trusted source.