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Art Critiques: Seeking Out the Opinions of Professionals

Featured-image-unbridled_Lynette Ubel
 

The prospect of subjecting my body of artwork to critique by an exceptionally accomplished artist and teacher lead to mixed feelings of fear and excitement all at the same time. While I brought the portfolio review on myself, I still wondered if I would leave the experience unscathed and empowered or if I would feel cut down to size. The one thing I did keep in mind going in was the knowledge that in order to continue to grow as an artist I must stay open to learning from others and hearing out the good, the bad and the ugly without taking any of it too personally.

As we all know art is very subjective, so it’s not wise to be one-and-done with critiques and reviews. When we seek out a variety of trusted individuals to look at our artwork through the lens of experience, we can start “connecting the dots” as far as the direction we are headed. With a wide range of input we can put together the common threads of what they all like and what they all deem as areas to improve upon. In this post, I’ll share how going into a professional review with an open mind can lead to exponential growth for artists.

what-to-expect-ART CRITIQUE
Two of several paintings that came up for discussion during my recent portfolio review. Left: “Winds Of Change” Right: “Complex Simplicity”

WHAT TO EXPECT

The basic elements of an art critique consist of description, analysis, interpretation, and judgment. In the description phase, the critic collects all of the information you might see on a label next to a piece of art in a museum. Information such as your name, title of work, year it was painted, medium, canvas size, etc. At this point, the individual critiquing the work has most likely spent some time combing through the portfolio on your website to get a handle on your style, use of color and composition. 

The Analysis

The analysis phase consists of looking at balance, contrast, movement and proportion. How do the colors, shapes, and textures in the piece work together? Does the work make use of contrasting colors, textures, or lighting? Does the work create a sense of movement drawing the viewers eye through the composition in a particular way? Does the scale and proportion of the different elements in the artwork help create balance and give a clear point of focus?

Interpretation

The interpretation portion of the critique consists of giving the artist feedback on what they see in their work and what they believe the overall meaning might be. In this part of the review, they will get a little more subjective and tell you how they feel and what mood a painting might emit when looking at particular piece. At this point you will start getting reactions with words like it’s beautiful, light and happy, or it feels dark and angry. Whatever is said just know that a dark, angry painting can be spectacular and a light happy painting can be just OK. Interpretation doesn’t necessarily indicate if the painting is good or not, but in this phase, you will start getting a feel for if the critic likes what you’re doing.

Judgment

Finally, the judgment portion of your art critique will give concise reasons for why a piece is successful or not and won’t (or shouldn’t be) be the individual telling you if your work is good or bad. It’s here that you will hopefully get constructive criticism, so listen carefully. It’s very likely that, if you have checked your ego at the door, you will hear good and bad things that back up what you already know about your work or that will reiterate things you have heard before in other reviews.


MY EXPERIENCE


One great way to arrange a quality review is by talking with artists that you admire and asking them who they would suggest for critiques and workshops. As luck would have it, one of my favorite artists Mark English was speaking recently at a fine art gallery close to my studio. After the event we spoke briefly and he suggested I talk with his son
John English, an extremely accomplished artist in his own right. From that exchange, my portfolio review was set with John and I was ready for anything I heard…good or bad. 
Paintings from my Chromatrail Series Collection have sparked very favorable interest from galleries, a high-level art advisory as well as a recent art critique.
Overall my work was very well received. In particular the series that caught John’s eye was my Chromatrail Series distinguished by linear trails moving through the canvas giving the feeling of waves, water and air. He felt this work was well done and unique to me which is very important for artists wanting to stand out and express their own voice. 

He walked through a few paintings in this series and pointed out compositionally successful ones as well as a few that he felt didn’t work as well. Interestingly the ones he picked out that he felt were strong I already knew were good, so that was nice confirmation. The feedback on some of the paintings that he felt were not as strong surprised me, but it led to discussion around my process which was tremendously beneficial. What he uncovered as we talked was that I don’t have true process and that I go on instinct and expressionism. To a point it’s great to rely on natural artistic ability, but to move to the next level every great artist develops a process.
lynette Ubel_Chromatrail Series
Examples of paintings from my Chromatrail Series include: [Left to Right] “Kaleidescape,” “Off On Cloud Nine” and “Star Struck.” All painted on 36” x36” canvases.
He recommended that I, amongst other things, sketch out compositions using pencil with light and dark color value. The point was made that working out compositions while on tissue paper is much more effective time and cost-wise than working them out on a canvas. This should have been obvious to me since, in my 30 year career as an art director, I always concept logos with sketches on paper before ever mocking them up them on my computer. Additionally, I realize how many times at a museum when looking at fine art we get to see studies and sketches of paintings along with the final masterpiece. 

My take away on the portfolio review was that I was given outstanding feedback on color, value, movement, composition and most surprisingly…process! I was empowered to trust my instincts a bit more when evaluating my own work and where I spend my time creating. I was also given suggestions for workshops and community life drawing events that could change my artwork in significant ways. Just by exposing myself to a highly professional art critique, the lightbulb went on in some totally unexpected ways! 

Take critiques and reviews for what they are; information to help you grow as an artist. They are not intended to crush your spirit or give you the impression that, “now you’ve made it.” Build on the information you receive, keep searching for new opportunities to hear what others think of your work and confidently grow your presence as an artist. 

Have you gotten a professional art review of your portfolio? If so, what was your experience and was it a helpful, or not? Share your critique experiences below!

Lynette Ubel

While Lynette’s 25+ year career has produced a versatile portfolio of award-winning photography and design, it is her calling as an abstract painter that is emerging in full, vibrant fashion today. Her artistic vision now manifests itself in contemporary abstract acrylic paintings that feature an explosive style of remarkable depth, motion, and fluidity.

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