As a painter you are bound to encounter the well-meaning person who just has to share their opinion of your painting. You didn’t ask for it. You were quite happy before hearing it however after they’ve shared, you stand there with that little voice of doubt, “Hey, maybe they are right, your painting isn’t that good…”
At that very moment you have a choice to make.
Either, you can give that person’s opinion permission to weigh in or you can toss it out on it’s ear. It’s your choice. It’s always your choice. You’re the painter. It’s your painting.
I remember a story from when I was a kid about the sun and the wind. They were having a contest about which one could get the man walking on the sidewalk to take off his jacket. The wind went first. It blustered. It blew. It shrieked at the man. And all the man did was clamp down harder on his jacket, not letting the wind in. Then it was the sun’s turn. The sun turned on its radiance and everything grew warm. It wasn’t long before the man took off his coat due to the gentle heat.
Besides being an analogy for the crazy weather patterns in Michigan where I grew up (Yes, it changes that quick) Criticism and Critique walk a similarly fine line but drive different outcomes. Either your artist coat stays on or it comes off. The difference maker is who’s giving the opinion.
If the content of the conversation is coming from someone who isn’t in the painting arena with me or is a person off the street – I tend to “clamp down on my coat” and not let their bluster in. Their opinion sounds like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon “wah, wah, wah, waaah…” If you paint a lot of plein air, you will have plenty of opportunity to “clamp down on your coat”.
However, if the opinion comes from someone I trust (fellow artist, spouse, instructor) I’m more apt to “take off my coat” and let their wisdom penetrate like gentle sunlight. Think about it, you’ve paid to be at that workshop for a reason. It may not always be what you want to hear but it’s probably more along the lines of what you need to hear. So take off the coat – let some light in.
A few years ago I was a workshop of a renowned artist. He stopped by my painting and while talking to me began scraping off the orange color I had worked so hard to get. He asked, “Do you know why I just did that?” My initial thought was, to see how mad you could make me? Instead I just shook my head no. He continued, “I think you did good but you can do better.” And he walked away. I returned to my painting with some rather feral emotion, some would call it “aggression”. A few minutes later he came by and taking me to the side, said, “That’s a much better orange. I knew you had it in you. You know I wouldn’t do that with just anyone.” I replied “I was wondering why you did.” His reply was sheer sunlight, “I did it because you have broader shoulders than you give yourself credit.” Now when I’m out painting and it’s going ugly, I fall back on his words, and I chuckle to myself. If I hadn’t “taken off my coat” that day, I’d have missed it.
Remember – it is always your choice. You can either “clamp down on your coat” or you can “take off the coat and let the warmth in” Choose wisely but it’s always your choice.
Onwards and Sideways,