Confessions of an Obsessive Compulsive Artist
Criticism, the word that strikes fear into every amateur or beginner artist. It's a word that can make or break you. But is it really all that bad, or should we listen to it at all?
First of all, I think we need
to determine what constitutes 'criticism' and what constitutes 'critique', because there is a difference. Critique is usually constructive and helpful. It can sometimes be uncomfortable, but ultimately it makes you a better artist. Being
able to listen to critique and use it to your advantage is an important part of being a successful artist. If we didn't have that, how can we grow? Similarly, being able to self critique in a constructive way is important. Knowing what is
or isn't working and persevering until we're satisfied is vital. As artists, we must never stop learning and striving for better.
Then there is criticism. This is unhelpful and usually someone's personal opinion from a very rigid perspective. Art is so subjective that it can be all to easy for an artist to take criticism personally. As an artist you are putting your soul out there for all to see. You're inner depths are exposed and if another person doesn't take the time to understand you, then they are unlikely to understand your art, especially if it doesn't fall into the realms of realism.
Identifying the difference is a skill every artist must learn and sometimes its learnt the hard way. It
can be upsetting to hear and even now, after nearly 30 years, if I'm tired or having a bad day generally, hearing criticism can be difficult. But when you reflect, its then you must decide, was that helpful and can I use it to grow? Or was it someone's
opinion where they may have misunderstood the purpose.
A lot of helpful critique, is not usually about the technical stuff. You can look at an abstract piece of art and embrace it for being abstract and still be able to critique
it in the sense of why the artist may have just missed the mark on conveying their message and how they could enhance it.
Unhelpful criticism usually comes when the person giving it is not looking deep enough. Critising technique and style is a bit of an 'eye roll' moment and can reveal a certain lack of knowledge in art. Art is not all about technique. It's good to know how to be technically accurate and realistic, as it enables an artist to understand form and value, but once that is mastered, technique is more of a side hustle. It is more about the feeling, emotion and that 'X' factor that counts. No gallery owner should be commenting on the technical ability of an artist who approaches them, they should be looking deeper. The physical act of creating and making creative technical decisions is the job of the artist, not the gallery. The subject matter doesn't have to be a carbon copy of a photo to be good art. It doesn't have to be completely in proportion or realistic to be good. You only have to look at all the major art movements to know that. But if you can stir the emotions of even one person, it's good art.
So, don't listen to the criticism, listen to constructive critique. Sort the wheat from the chaff and brush off the unhelpful stuff. Everyone is entitled to their opinion about your art, but if it doesn't help you grow, it's not worth your time. Just keep creating the way you want. Get your uniqueness out into the world. That's what makes us beautiful, being unique. Just as a flower makes no excuses for being what they are, they don't try to change to fit your criteria, they are what they are and so should artists be.
I get asked all the time where I trained. I take it as a compliment, as the person asking is clearly under the impression my art is a high enough standard, which must only have been gained from a formal art education.
did go to Art College, for 1 year. What did I learn? NOTHING! I'm not dismissing art education from formal institutions completely. There are some amazing programs out there, but having had under graduates through my gallery door with
their portfolios in hand, I'm sorry to say, I'm not overly impressed with what I see. Very empty portfolios, the artists admitting that they didn't gain an awful lot from their degree course in terms of technique or guidance. An accomplished and
skilled artist a degree does NOT make.
So why get a fine art degree? One plus point is that, if you put the work in, you get to exhibit via your educational establishment, in some great places. It allows you to show your
work in places like London and can open doors into some major competitions. But that's about it. It doesn't mean longevity as an artist at all. That comes from continuous hard work and passion for the subject. It's my view that this
is why Art as a school subject is not highly rated any more.
In the time of Da Vinci and beyond, being at art school gave you status in society. Art school students and artists were considered to be highly accomplished individuals
and looked up to with awe. Sadly, particularly over the latter part of the 20th Century and even now, it's considered a drop out subject for the less bright students. BUT, if you get a Fine Art Degree, some people believe this can only be achieved
by the best.
In fact there are some very famous artists who achieved life long success and didn't have a fine art degree. Rousseau, Khalo, Van Gogh, Yoko Ono and our very own Gary Bunt.
How do I know
so much, if I dont have a degree? How did I learn? PRACTICE and PERSEVERANCE. I have studied art, artists, art mediums, method, materials, style since I was 15. I read books, I walk round galleries, I talk to other artists, i experiment,
I research. It's my job. Despite my fruitless art education, I'm self taught.
With or without a degree, you can be successful as an artist. What is success? Well it's probably a whole other blog post, but to
me, the title of success depends on what the artist is trying to achieve and then it's up to the people that look at their art. If you want to make a career out it, success can be measured in sales. If your art is selling and people want to buy
it. I consider myself successful because my work sells. I've still got a long way to go, but that's the nature of the job. The bottom line is the most important thing to prestigious galleries. You can be judged by a few 'experts' in
competitions, but if you want a career you must have what it takes to sell. You must have that special ability to speak to someone's soul so much that they just HAVE to have it!
So when you're faced with choosing an artist, be it for a commission, to learn from or to buy from, don't go by their CV, go by their work. If it speaks to you, it doesn't matter how or where they've trained, it doesn't matter where they've exhibited. What matters is if you rate their art.
'The principles of true art is not to portray, but to evoke' - Kosinski
Someone said to me recently 'I guess to be a good artist, you have to have a wide variety of media and styles that you can do'. I immediately corrected her witb, 'it's quite the contrary actually. You must be recognisable. If your art was in a gallery with no name on it, the viewer must immediately know it's one of yours'. if you don't have a distinctive style, you won't have collectors and therefore you will, forever remain, an unsuccessful professional artist.
Think of all the greats, Rembrandt, Lowry, Picasso, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Carlo, Turner. They have one thing in common....they are all different. They
are unique. How did they get there?? They painted, and painted and painted, then they painted some more. Between them they produced thousands of artworks, not all of which, ended up on a gallery wall. Some were ridiculed and died
paupers, but their legacies live on.
So now, one of the most asked questions among creatives, 'how do you find a style? there is no magic formula to this. The simple answer is to keep painting, keep all your work and compare
only to your earlier self. Find a common theme that may run through and go with it. Push it further and see where you end up. Get up every day and paint and don't feel guilty about doing this. Just keep going, as though you were employed
It's been a long winter, not seeing friends and family, not having any set routine, cold, damp days. You've hammered Netflix and seen everything, you've done more daily exercise than ever. If you're anything like me, you may have led a horrendously
busy life pre-lockdown and, at one point, welcomed the forced slowdown to embrace new things.
Being an artist can be great in times like this. You can really dedicate large blocks of time to develop artistic skill and even set
a new course in your art, like a journey of self-discovery. The initial excitement of embracing a new age in your art is full of hope and you feel ready for the challenge, if anything, as a distraction from what's happening in the real world.
In my house, that initial excitement is there almost every morning. I wake up before the crack of dawn (it's currently 5am as I write this!), with a million ideas whizzing round in my head. It's like a burst of mental energy, itching
to get out. In an ideal world, I'd be up, paint brush in hand, and I'd paint until I could paint no more. In reality, the fact that I share the house with a husband and two kids, limits this activity somewhat. Not able to use my studio, I'm
holed up in the kitchen at my easel most days. Thoughts of having to get everything out, then put away again before breakfast, home schooling, housework, dampens the artistic flow, just a little. Pre lockdown, I'd drop the kids at school and spend
the day in my studio working. Now, more than ever, the lines of work and home are blurred and I'm torn between the guilt of not giving the kids my full attention and those little artists in my head, screaming to be set free. This makes for a very
The feeling of demotivation is a killer, which can lead to depression and all sorts of other health conditions. You start to give up everything, even getting out of bed, and even though art is a therapeutic
experience and the Bob Ross fans out there will have been left on cloud 9, thinking what a wonderful job, being an artist must be, let me tell you, it can also be a demon. Artists have creativity running through their veins. Their very existence
is to create. It's as important to them as breathing. If an artist can't do their thing, they fall hard mentally. This, in turn, can lead to what is called 'artists block'.
You may have heard of writers block, well
visual artists get this too. Where they feel like everything they do is rubbish, they've lost their skill, they can't make good art anymore. I've seen countless posts on art Facebook pages lately, where artists are asking how to get out of this
rut they find themselves in. Some even talk of giving up art completely. I've experienced this in the past and it's horrible. You're in a black hole that you can't climb out of. So, how do we stay motivated and avoid, or climb out of,
The answer is, you claw your way out! Those little artists screaming in your head can be silenced by giving them what they want. Grab a sketchbook and draw anything. DRAW ANYTHING!! An apple, a cup, your fingernail, ANYTHING. Then, scroll through google, or find a tour of one of the galleries. Look at other art, draw inspiration from other art. Cherry pick the things you like about it and explore those things. Do some finger painting, face painting, get out the palette knives and plaster a camvas with nonsensical colour. All this will trigger your creativity again. And, if, like me, you struggle with creating or family, get the family to do it with you! They may produce something that inspires your next masterpiece. Make a dedicated time to art. Block in a whole afternoon of creativity. Force yourself to be bold, push your own boundarie and see what happens. Most importantly of all, take each day at a time and be kind to yourself.