The Art of Art Feedback

Hi everybody, my name is Greg and I’ll be your guest-blogger this evening.  Yes, I’m the husband Greg that Ginger mentions from time to time.  And yes, despite a recent knock on the noggin Ginger is okay and doing well.  She’s busy in the studio and will return to blogging soon enough.  In the meantime, Ging has asked me to write a few words this week.   So I shall follow the advice of my sixth-grade English teacher (shout out to Ms. Fawcett!) and write what I know.  And what I know is how to be married to An Artist.  So buckle up, here we go…

The 2017 Codex is just around the corner and Ginger is hard at work on new books.  Some of them are just in the idea stage while others have advanced to prototypes.  So I frequently hear Ginger ask, “Hey, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind giving me some feedback on this new book..?”   And here is my reaction:

a_deer_in_the_headlights__by_james_the_nose

“Deer In The Headlights” by James-The-Nose on deviantart.com

Ah yes, the art of giving art feedback. Those of us who know an artist or perhaps even live with one have been asked to critique new work.  It is a veritable minefield that I occasionally successfully navigate (the unsuccessful navigations could be their own column not to mention material for marital counseling).  Here are some guidelines that I have learned along the way.

  • If you’re the significant other of an artist then your first thought might be, “Why me?  I’m not an artist!  I’m not qualified to say nothing!”  Ah, but you do know how to have an opinion and that’s the first step.  The next step is to not be intimidated.  Treat the art piece as you would a movie, a ball game, or a business plan.   Objectively evaluate each aspect of the piece.  Say what you think works and what doesn’t.
  • Get yourself in the right frame of mind.  Turn off the TV and put down the phone.  Go to a room away from the kids or pets so they don’t distract.   Be aware of your own feelings, are you tired, hungry, stressed, or cranky?  Sometimes I simply have to tell Ginger “I’m really tired right now, let’s wait until I can give it my full attention.”
  • The artist values your opinion and thinks you have helpful insights.  Being asked to give a critique is an honor.  In fact, I like seeing new work because it’s like seeing a new side of Ginger.  I think it’s very cool that even though I’m not an artist Ginger still thinks I have useful things to say about her work.  In return, I have a responsibility to give an honest assessment.   Don’t just dismiss the work with a “hey, great!” or “yeah, its nice”.  Sure, everybody likes to hear praise but the artist probably wants something more helpful.   Which leads me to…
  • You aren’t doing the artist any favors by watering down your feedback.  My mother used to tell me “if you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all”. (A phrase which Ginger often reminds me in social situations, to little avail.)  It’s a nice sentiment but I don’t believe it’s true.  Sure, honesty can be dangerous.  There are times when I have strong opinions and maybe Ginger isn’t in the right frame of mind to hear them.   I might make an observation or suggestion and Ginger might disagree and push back.  We’re not arguing, we’re having a dialogue.  And that dialogue can help Ginger clarify her thinking about the piece.  She might storm away in anger but, at the end of the day, Ginger realizes I was just being honest and she appreciates my candor.
  • BE SPECIFIC! Saying, “I don’t like it” is vague.  “This font is hard to read” is more specific.  “It’s confusing” is vague.  “I don’t understand the jump from this page to the next” is better.  Specific is helpful because the artist can then re-examine her choice and decide whether to keep or emend it.  (Though sometimes I think that Ginger’s silence means she’s re-examining her choice in a husband).   Specific feedback is actionable.  “I don’t get it” is vague, what’s Ginger supposed to do with that?  Be specific even in your positive feedback, what elements work and why?  What aspects (materials, colors, flow) work well and why?  What stands out to you?   Despite the fact that it might kill me I realize this is a case where more talking and more words are better.
  • Gently play the devil’s advocate and question each element of the work.  Why is this here?  Why did you choose this? Does this element add to a piece or is it just distracting?  Did you do this just because you can or because the work needs it?  Sometimes I sound like a two-year old asking “why?” over and over but I think it’s a question that needs to be asked.
  • Don’t let the artist give a long introduction or explanation before presenting the piece.  I feel the work should speak for itself.  Too much explanation can color my impressions of a new work.  If there’s a lot to be said then say it in the piece.   Don’t try to sell me on the idea.  Let me look and form my own first impressions.
  • Don’t just focus on technical details, how does the work make you feel?  Sure, comments on book structure, material choices, and other technical aspects are good.  But the point of any art work is to communicate with the viewer’s intellect, heart, and soul.  Does the work touch you?  What emotions does it evoke?  Again, be specific.  Some of the best feedback I can give is to tell Ginger how her pieces make me feel (sad, angry, bored, in awe, curious).
  • Don’t take it personally if the artist doesn’t agree with or act on your ideas.  They are just suggestions from one person.  It’s the artist’s work and the artist has the final say.   Don’t be a baby and get exasperated.  Don’t throw up your hands and exclaim, “They why did you ask for my opinion then?!”   Art feedback is no place for sarcasm, belittlement, or condescension.

I hope you found this useful.  If you’re an artist then maybe forward it to the people who get to see your works in progress.  And I hope this gives you some insight into how us non-artists feel, go easy on us.   -Greg

6 responses to “The Art of Art Feedback

  1. Excellent, Greg, thank you!

  2. dondreamignmind

    Nice post Greg. I’m pretty sure there’s never a place for belittlement or condescension. But I’m hanging on to my sarcasm. 🙂

  3. Great advice Greg! Thanks! I think these are important questions we should also ask ourselves as we are creating a piece of art eg why did you do this? Why did you make this choice… I hope you are feeling much better Ginger!

  4. This is pretty brilliant, Greg. Great questions and respectful of the art and artist, with just the right amount of humor. (Hmmmm, sounds like I am critiquing your critiquing skills …) Very worth sharing, I’ve bookmarked it fir that purpose. Thank you for writing!

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