How to Critique Art

Put aside judgement and evaluate the basics.

Art critiques. In art school, they are a pain. Students awkwardly stand in front of the class and explain what they’ve done with their latest work of art. Then the instructor asks the rest of the class to offer critiques that the student may or may not want to hear. Few enjoy the process when forced, but in the professional world, critiques are a beneficial tool to help artists grow and refine their skills.

Now, the critique process doesn’t come naturally to most people. It’s tempting to simply say that you like what an artist has done, but this isn’t a critique. It’s important to understand the purpose of a critique session, and the basic dos and don’ts.

Judgment vs. Critique

First, keep in mind that criticism in a critique session is not the same as judgment of the final product.

A critique session is not meant to establish if your work is good or bad. Varying labels of “good” or “bad” have no place in a critique session for these are judgments. Critiques, on the other hand, allow artists to get an outside perspective of their work’s many layers. Sometimes we are too close to our work, and we need someone to pull us back and shift our perspective. During a critique, your art is dissected and examined according to basic principles and elements of art making.

Never in a critique should anyone say: “I like this,” “I don’t like this” “It looks good,” or “It looks bad.” Instead, a viewer needs to dive further.

Why DO you like it? Is it balanced? Is it symmetrical?

Why DON’T you like it? Poorly executed? Cliché subject matter?

“I like it!” or “This sucks!” are not critiques. Critiques involve exploration of the following:

1. Technical assessment

When you create a piece of art, you use basic principles and elements of design. No matter what, whether you are conscious of it or not, you implement the concepts below.

During a critique session, viewers should evaluate a piece of art based on the these concepts:

The basic principles of design include:
  1. Balance- symmetry, asymmetry, where the piece is weighted
  2. Proportion- how the size of forms compare to one another in the piece
  3. Emphasis- which elements are highlighted; the focal point(s)
  4. Variety- the use of different elements to create visual diversity
  5. Movement- the path the viewer’s eyes follow (or don’t follow)
  6. Rhythm- the flow/movement created by repeated elements
  7. Harmony- how visual elements play together on the piece
Basic elements of art include:
  1. Line- the marks/strokes between two points
  2. Shape- 2D enclosed areas
  3. Form- 3D shapes; perceived volume of shapes
  4. Color- hue, saturation, purity; general use of color
  5. Space- background, foreground, middle ground; negative space vs positive space
  6. Texture- how something feels or appears to feel
  7. Value- degree of lightness to darkness; contrast

2. IntentIon

Often, I see artists get upset over feedback they receive about their art when it is clear the viewer has absolutely no idea of the artist’s intention for creating the piece.

During a critique the artist and the viewer should discuss the intention of the art and then compare and contrast that with the principles of art and design above.

For example, if an artist’s intention was to create a dramatic human scene, like Baroque artists from the 1600s who used dark values in the background and deep rich colors, but the artist instead used pastel colors and only midtones–this would be a really good thing to call to the artist’s attention.

If you are an artist seeking a critique, let your viewers know your intentions with your art and the kind of feedback you are looking for. Also, let the viewer know if you are stuck on any area.

3. Skill and execution

When our intention doesn’t match our execution of the elements above, critique sessions are beneficial to help get an artist on the right track. Skill and execution are touchier subjects to discuss in a critique, because a beginner artist may not want to hear “you poorly executed your shape and value here”.

When discussing skill and execution, always approach them as areas to improve upon. Again, critiques should never be a judgment of the artist’s work or skills. A critic should never say something like “You suck at making faces.” Instead, they can say things like “Your proportions are off. Your symmetry could use some work.”

Artists need to be okay hearing critiques that assess skill, as this is how we grow and decide which areas we need to practice. Now, if your intention was to make an asymmetrical and oddly proportioned face, then assessment of the technical execution doesn’t need to be covered (which is why it’s nice to let your viewer know your intention first).

4. The message and meaning

What is the artist trying to say? Is this message effective? How does the art make you feel? Is there symbolism?

The message and the meaning behind a piece of art can matter just as much or more than the execution of technical principles. During a critique, artists can ask the viewers general questions to see how their work is being interpreted. If the artist has a specific message they want to convey, they can use the critiques to refine the message.

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Okay, now that you know the basics of an art critique, keep the following in mind:

Not Everyone Knows How to Critique Art

In my experience, everybody thinks they are a critic, but not everyone knows how to critique. If you want someone to help you dissect your artwork, don’t pick just anybody. Random people on the internet should not be trusted immediately. I caution you against posting your work on Instagram with any broad caption relating to “What do you think of this?”

Choose a critiquing partner wisely. Find someone who understands the basic art elements and principles above. Maybe even show them this post. Or, if you do resort to soliciting advice from anyone online, make sure to ask for very specific feedback and find a platform with like-minded people. I’ve actually seen some really valuable critiquing happening on art subReddits.

The Danger of Personal Opinions during critiques

I want to make it very clear that not everyone will like your art or agree with where you are taking your work. If you aim to make your art look cluttered and chaotic, it’s very likely that someone will say they don’t like your art, because it is in fact cluttered and chaotic. If you are working with a critiquing partner who knows how to withhold judgment, this won’t be an issue, but as I said before, a lot of people have no idea how to responsibly and productively critique art.

Which is why it’s important to always create according to your vision. Don’t try to cater to the people around you (unless they are paying you for your work). You as the creator need to understand why you do what you do so that you can stay true to your art as you get outside comments, critiques, and judgments.

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Critique sessions can be really beneficial for artists at any level. And they can be especially beneficial if you ever find yourself feeling stuck on a piece in progress.

I know that it can be hard to find a critique partner that can be trusted, so in case you really need someone to help you, I offer 30 minute critique consulting sessions for artists of any level through my consulting services. Check out my consulting page for more details.

I hope you found that helpful! Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you! And make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every Tuesday.

-Kelly

Do want to help me create more blog content? I want to keep providing content like this for free, but I need your help. If you enjoy my blog posts and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep helping artists like you. Plus, you get extra little perks!

Further Reading:

How to Reclaim and Protect Your Creativity

Have you ever had your creative spirit crushed?

Some might say that I am too sensitive. Over the years, I have struggled with receiving criticism from others in any creative endeavor, because at times even a hint of “you’re doing it wrong,” can make me crumble into a pile of colored pencil shavings.

I’ve met people who are tough. Nothing seems to disrupt their confidence. Someone could tell scream “Your art sucks and you are failing at everything!” and they’d just brush it off and carry on with life. It would be awesome to start out tough and confident, but some of us just aren’t wired that way. Though, don’t worry. There are ways we sensitive flowers can build our own sanguine security.

When I was taking art courses in college, I felt my creative energy drain away as I butted heads with instructors and classmates. Everyone had their own opinions on what art should be, how it should be made, who it’s made for, and even if what I was doing was in fact art. It’s important to engage in critiques, ask questions, and figure out what drives you as an artist–but I found that the majority of my interactions in the arts community were making me feel small and inadequate. I began to lose my drive to create, because I allowed opinions from the outside world to pollute my creative spirit. I needed to do some internal work to build my resilience.

I know I’m not the only one who has been through this and I want to share a few tips that I have used over the years to reclaim my creativity and how I currently protect it today.

How to reclaim and protect your creativity

1. Define your intention and reason for creating.

This is the first place every creative person should start when they want to share their art with the world.

Anytime you make something and show it to another human, you will hear opinions, complaints, critiques, or questions about your work. Some people will like it, some people will hate it, some people won’t care, some people will tell you to make it into a career, some may tell you never quit your day job. If you are sensitive to this sort of thing, the best way to protect yourself from negative feedback or even to prevent your ego from over-inflating from positive feedback is to define why you do what you do.

Why do you make art?

Do you create for fun? Do you create to make a statement, to upset people, to comfort people, as therapy for yourself, as a means to capture beauty? Whatever your reason, put it down on paper.

Then, if someone shares their opinion/critique/commentary or whatever, you can hold it up against your original intention and reason for creating. As long as you are satisfying your original intention, then outside opinions don’t really matter.

I have had quite a few people leave comments telling me to try doing something different with my art. Past me would have interpreted these comments as “They are tired of what I am doing and I should feel bad because I didn’t please this random person and maybe I should try doing something different like they said.”

Current me is like “Nah. I did what I set out to do and I’m going to keep doing that.”

Defining your intention for creating and holding true to it builds your confidence and helps protect your creative energy.

2. Don’t waste energy defending why you do what you if being judged (rather than critiqued).

In academic settings, the art critique process involves a lot of explanation of what you did with your art. You can find yourself ‘defending’ your choices. Which, is a great exercise to teach you awareness of your own choices and art process, BUT this is an exhausting practice if you feel like your creativity is being judged rather than ‘critiqued’. There is a big difference.

If you ever find your art being assessed as “bad” or if someone is simply saying “I don’t like this,” don’t waste your time or energy trying to convince them why it’s not bad and why they should like it. As an artist, your energy should be spent on the actual creative process. If you waste your time defending your work, you’re not protecting your creativity.

Thank that person for their opinion and move on.

3. Always, always, always remember, it does not matter if your work is “good” or “bad”. Don’t leave room for internal judgment.

I used to be really critical of my work. This would leave me feeling frustrated and defeated when I would try to create, because I wasted a lot of time in the middle of creating worrying about my work looking bad. I polluted my own creative process with judgmental thoughts. Once you release your creations of judgment, your creative spirit can fly free.

There is no place for judgment while creating. Even when you are finished with a piece, don’t allow yourself to stop and judge. Move onto the next work of art. Take notes of what you want to try improving upon, and apply that to the next piece. Do not sit back and tell yourself your work sucks.

Few things have killed my creativity more than staring at a piece I didn’t like and ruminating on how terrible I am as an artist. The best thing you can do is to keep your creative momentum moving forward. Don’t judge. Just make things.

4. Only accept criticism from select people.

There will always be people who will dislike your art. It’s a fact that you can’t please everyone. You won’t be able to prevent negative comments about your creations (especially once your work reaches a larger audience), but if you make a decision in your mind to only accept and internalize the criticism from trusted sources, you can protect your creativity more easily.

This means you have the authority to ignore any and all negative comments from strangers on the internet. You have no idea who they are, their personal preferences, their experience in the art world, or if they know your drive as an artist. Don’t let a 12 year old on Instagram convince you your art sucks.

Opinions are not facts, and people are far to generous with their criticisms. I assure you, that not every critique should be given attention. Take criticism from the people within your field that you respect or the people who have reached a level you want to reach. Criticism is beneficial when it helps move you closer to your goals.

5. Find a trusted art partner with positive energy.

We could all use a cheerleader for what we do.

The creative process requires that we be vulnerable. When we are at our most vulnerable, negative comments can be incredibly crushing. Finding one person or a couple of people to share your creative process with who understand you, your art, your intentions for creating and have empathy can work wonders for your creative spirit.

Do not show your work to people who are consistently negative or hard to please, or at least don’t listen to their judgment and opinions. You don’t need to win over anybody’s approval when you are within the creative process. You need to nurture your creative energy and convince yourself to just keep going. Having trusted and like-minded people in your inner circle can give your creative spirit a boost.

I also want to say that it doesn’t matter if someone is ‘lying’ and they tell you your work looks good when they personally don’t like it. The important thing is that you have a support system that encourages you to keep creating.

If you don’t have someone in your life like that right now, read this:

Don’t stop what you are doing. If your creativity brings you joy, then make whatever it tells you to make. If someone said something discouraging, it’s okay! Just check in with yourself. Are you pleased with the process? Do you like what you’ve created? I promise you will find others who will enjoy what you are doing. And maybe what you are doing is just for you. That’s okay too! You don’t need to share your art with others. Sometimes our art can act like a private diary that’s meant only for the creator.

Whatever negative comments or experiences are burned in your memory that prevent you from creating, I give you permission to let them go. Don’t deny yourself the pleasure that comes from embracing your creative urges. Keep painting, drawing, knitting, sculpting, or doodling on the margins of your notes in class. It doesn’t matter if the end result wins awards or earns you money. It’s all in the process.

Go get messy and show us the art that fulfills you.

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And that’s my little pep talk! Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you! And make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every Tuesday.

-Kelly

Do want to help me create more blog content? I want to keep providing content like this for free, but I need your help. If you enjoy my blog posts and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep helping artists like you. Plus, you get extra little perks!

Further Reading:

How to Get Free Art Supplies and Become a ‘Micro-Influencer’

Leverage your social following and work with well known companies.

The first time I got free art supplies from a company through my Instagram account was one of those “I’ve made it!” moments. Looking back, the supplies I received probably only retailed at $12, but I was still crazy excited for it. Whether you are a professional artist, or just a hobbyist you have the potential to become a micro-influencer on Instagram and get free products in exchange for social exposure.

This post isn’t really for everyone and getting the “free” supplies will require work. I will not be including resources here on how to just click a link, fill out a form, and get free supplies delivered to you. Although, I did provide something like that a long time ago that has since expired–I promise if I find more absolutely- no-strings-attached-free-supplies, I’ll let you know about it.

First, getting free supplies will require that you have a decent social presence for your art. I know. I know. It’s not easy to build a following online. I’ve written a lot of blog posts on how to grow a following on Instagram and I will continue to put out more information on that subject.  Though, lucky for you, you don’t have to have a butt-ton of followers in order to have social power as a ‘micro-influencer’.

What is a micro influencer?

Being a micro-influencer basically means that you have created a brand for yourself online and have a dedicated and engaged following. Micro-influencers are usually pretty niche and appeal to a specific audience. The exact follower range for a micro-influencer varies depending on where you get your information, but you can have anywhere from 1,000-50,000 followers.

Companies need to advertise their products, and often giving free products to a micro-influencer can be more cost effective than spending money on actual advertisements or paying big influencers. Also, micro-influencers often have a higher engagement rate than big influencer accounts.

If you currently have an account for your art above 1,000 followers, then you can start exploring your pull as a micro-influencer and approach companies for free products. Though, this will require you to step out of your comfort zone and make the opportunities happen.

Here’s How to Get free Supplies as a Micro-Influencer

1. Reach out to art supplies companies you want to work with.

Yup. I’m telling you to ask for free products. Though, you need to start thinking about how it’s not a ‘free’ product and it is actually a trade. In order to get a company’s attention you need to convince them you have something to offer. Having an engaged audience that will be interested in the products you mention is the main draw.

Customer service contact information is usually listed on company websites. I look for an email address and craft a basic email that includes a few key things:

  • Start with an intro of who you are.
  • Explain your current social power (how many followers, your engagement rate, your niche, and how you can provide a benefit to the company by promoting their products).
  • Ask if they would be interested in providing free products in exchange for social exposure or as a focal point for a review.
  • You can even ask to partner in a giveaway.
  • Consider making/offering YouTube reviews or blog posts as well.
  • Thank them for their time.

You have nothing to lose by approaching a company with an opportunity that can benefit both of you. Just focus on what you can offer them and be prepared for rejection.

2. Tag companies on social media.

When you create art and post it online, start tagging the companies that made the supplies you used. This is a really indirect way to open the door to getting free supplies, but occasionally these companies take notice and may offer up more supplies as a thank you for your dedication. Your success is their success.

Don’t hold your breath, though! The direct approach will work much better.

3. Let the universe decide.

If you want to leave everything up to chance, you can just focus on your art and growing your following. As you build a bigger presence online, companies may reach out to you completely organically to offer you free things to promote on your account. This has happened to me multiple times without tagging or mentioning any company.

One time I got free soup.

Yup. Soup.

Additional things to consider

Greedy Companies- When free supplies aren’t enough.

If a company approaches you with free products, do not let them dictate the terms of how and if you present the products on your social accounts without considering requesting additional payment for your time and work.

Free supplies can only buy so much from an influencer. Your following has a value and sometimes a free product isn’t enough. I’ll go over actually getting paid to promote products in a bit.

Whenever a company approaches me, I tell them all the same thing: I’d be more than happy to try your product. If I love it, I can share on social media as I see fit. If I don’t like it, I simply won’t say anything. If you want control over any part of the post, then you must pay for a sponsored post.

Companies weigh the cost of paying for advertisements against the cost of free products for influencers. Learn how to establish the value of your posts vs. promotions.

Companies likely aren’t just going to give you free products out of the kindness of their hearts. Free products are just another way to advertise. I know when I first started getting offers for free supplies, I didn’t realize the value of my social exposure. So, I want you be smarter than I was and to evaluate your Instagram posts through two things: 1) the ‘reach’ of your average post through the post insights (see the left picture) and 2) a hypothetical promotion spend through Instagram (see the right picture).

You will need your account to be a business account to see both of these screens (you should get on that if you haven’t already). I took a look at the insights from one of my posts in July 2018 (I had around 53,000 followers at the time). You can see the post reached 11,343 accounts. If you scroll to the bottom of the insights, you can see an option to promote the post.

I want you to go through the promotion screens until you get to the one that looks like the right picture. From here, you can slide the Budget and Duration around until you get a projected ‘reach’ that is similar to your post. That will give you an idea of how much a company would have to spend on one post in order to get the reach your average posts get already. Then just back out of the promotion.

If a company is sending you a $20 kit of supplies, and you reach an audience of that would cost more than that through paid promotions, the company will likely be happy with the results. Not to mention, the retail value of a product is marked up from the actual cost of making the product…

Greedy Influencers- Are you asking for too much?

If you approach a company first, be mindful of the value of the products you request when compared to the value you can give the company. By looking at the cost of advertising vs. the reach on your posts like we did above, you can get a better idea of what kinds of products you can realistically expect to get for free.

Breaking away from your brand- Don’t promote unrelated content.

If a company reaches out to you and their products have nothing to do with you, your art, or the brand you’ve created–then I suggest not promoting the product on your social media accounts. Building a social following takes a lot of work, and if you start to pollute your brand with content your followers have no interest in, then you risk losing dedicated followers.

Stay true to the brand you’ve created. Though, you can get away with posting company shout outs in your stories that stray from your brand a bit.

Instagram micro-influencers can make money in addition to getting free supplies.

Free supplies are great, but free supplies plus a paycheck is even better. If you are reaching out to companies, I wouldn’t push your luck with asking for free supplies AND money unless you really have a good deal to offer them. But, if companies approach you to promote their products, you have all the power to ask for more and/or turn down or accept the offer.

You can find a lot of different suggestions for what influencers should be paid, but it’s different for every company you work with and you will need to develop some negotiating skills. Though, to get a general idea of what you can be paid as an influencer check out this Influencer tool by Influencer Marketing Hub.

Moral of the story…

You can get free supplies if you work for it and create opportunities for yourself. Keep in mind that companies will be more willing to work with influencers who can clearly benefit them. Sell yourself. Start searching for email addresses and send out a couple of emails and see what happens.

Becoming a micro or macro influencer doesn’t sound like it should be a real thing but it totally is. You can start at any level and the bigger you get, the more opportunities you can create for yourself and the more free stuff you’ll be able to get in your mailbox. Though, the bigger you get, the more you should demand payment for your social posts.

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I hope you enjoyed this post! Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you! And make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every Tuesday.

-Kelly

Do want to help me create more blog content? I want to keep providing content like this for free, but I need your help. If you enjoy my blog posts and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep helping artists like you. Plus, you get extra little perks!

Further Reading: