How To Critique Your Own Work – And Get It Right

We’ve talked before on this blog about how to deal with criticism, whether unasked or solicited. It can be difficult to react positively and appropriately to comments that criticize your art, and getting your response right – and treating each instance as an opportunity to improve – is always a challenge. But there’s another kind of criticism that is equally difficult to get right, though in different ways.

I’m talking about self-critiquing, that delicate balance between loving all your work uncritically because it’s yours and hating it all because it doesn’t match what was in your head. Many of us feel both of these emotions, at one time or another – sometimes even about the same piece! It’s natural – but don’t let your feelings run away with you. Here are some points to bear in mind:

1) A critique is not negative. Just listing the things you don’t like about the work you just finished and complaining about them for days on end to anyone with the patience to listen isn’t going to help anything. Yes, if you’re upset, you should deal with that; we all have art disasters from time to time. But that’s not a critique. What you need is to look at your work and be honest about it – both the positive and the negative aspects. There is always some of each. Be constructive.

2) This is a learning exercise. Finding things you don’t like about your work doesn’t mean that the piece is problematic – it could be wonderful! But a good artist is always learning, from others, from the world, and from themselves. Be open to what your own work can teach you.

3) Don’t forget to notice the positive. It’s easy to get so caught up in thinking about what you could improve and how to do it that you forget to appreciate the things you’re doing well. But this aspect of the process is just as crucial – you need to know your own skills and abilities to have a realistic understanding of what you’re capable of. This has an impact on your direction as an artist, and on your future works.

4) Be honest. Don’t look at it in the way that you think you should, using some hypothetical academic ideal – approach it from a frank perspective. Your evaluation must have integrity for you to be able to internalize the lessons you learn.

5) Consider the work from a number of angles – both physically and conceptually. Walk around it, try it out in different lights, put it in different places in the room. Look at it from a technical standpoint, in terms of its artistic influences, and when thinking about its subject matter. Take into account its position in the broader scheme of your work.

6) Emotions are ok. Some artists think that they’re only critiquing their work properly when they are being totally analytical about it. They think the emotional involvement they feel colors their approach in an inappropriate way. But the feelings a work stirs in the viewer are a legitimate element to consider – the most powerful art reviews, after all, are those when you can feel the reviewer was genuinely moved by the works in question.

7) Let some time go by. Yes, you’ll want to engage in the self-critiquing process almost as soon as the paint is dry, the print is in front of you, the sculpting tools put away. And that’s fine. The immediacy of the creative experience and your connection to it will bring out certain things as you consider the piece. Write them down. But then leave it for a while, and come back again later – you’ll often find that your perspective has developed in valuable ways, and your assessment gained in richness, if you give yourself some time.

What do you find useful to remember when critiquing your own work? Let us know in the comments!

2 comments

  • I think every point mentioned is a good one and should become habitual while in the creative process and following it, as well. From my perspective, I find it to be true, in every case, that I can immediately sense whether, or not a painting is going to satisfy the expectation(s) I planned initially. Many times after only two, or three elements are on the canvas, I know the painting is “off”, so I either allow it to dry for another beginning, or simply wash the canvas off with thinner and have another go at it right away. There is value in every one of the seven suggestions, but there is nothing to equal the boost of adrenalin experienced when an expert such as Angela DiBello tells you your work is “stunning”. It just doesn’t get any better than that!!!

    • When critiquing your own work you must try to remember what WOW factor attracted you to the subject in the first place, then look to see if you have captured that WOW factor in the painting, whether it be a color, tone,emotion or simply the composition.

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