Dear Fox Foxerson,
Critiques are really hard for me. I got my degree in art at a time when women were intentionally discouraged and patronized. I’ve been through a lot as a single mom, worker and artist and most of the time it was difficult and mostly unsupported. When I agree to participate in a retreat or a “critique”, I find that most of what people have to say about others’ art is positive and they say nothing that supports me in my work. This has gone on for years and I now avoid retreats and groups and just don’t want to hear what anyone else has to say. I’m over 70 and I’ve heard all the subtle put downs, the lack of interest and the mansplaining. There’s a retreat where most of my old friends are going and I’d like to see them but I no longer listen to what anyone has to say about my artwork or anyone else’s for that matter. What should I do?
Dear Grandma Moses,
I’ll start by saying I’m sorry for all the hardships and mistreatment you’ve had over your lifetime. Seventy years of being knocked down would do a number on this little fox. So I just want to acknowledge that you are still making art, and that speaks to your strength. With a lifetime of putting up with crap, it would be hard not to just shut down, and I wouldn’t judge you if you did. I’ve shut down for less. You’re not only standing, but staying creative. People don’t realize that it takes courage to get to the point of having no more ______s left to give. Now that we have that established…
You are right to say that many people don’t know how to participate in a critique. “I like it,” or “I don’t care for it,” sucks as feedback. That is my humble opinion. Art is subjective. A critique on visual art is meant to answer questions about qualities such as composition, color, contrast, or value. No insults, and mansplaining is never welcomed. Don’t get me started.
But you asked me about whether or not to visit your friends. Answer: Visit your friends!
Friends and family are so important. This fox values their art just as much as any other artist, but in the end, my family and chosen family are more important than anyone’s opinion of me or my work.
If you can muster up the courage to pack up, get in your car, and push the accelerator, I’m confident you can voice that you decline the critique process. If you don’t want to hear feedback, ask to pass. But I would challenge you to ask at least one specific question that would make you feel supported. For example: “Tell me if you think the composition is balanced, and why.” If the person strays from your question and starts blah, blah, blahing, politely stop them and ask the question again. Always know that if you get triggered, you can walk away.
Art is a wonderful way to heal. This may be an opportunity to take all the crap you’ve delt with as a woman in this world, and in a space full of friends say that you’re not going to put up with negative criticism. Just a simple critique will do.
Happy art making!