Self-Critique

  I always hate it when someone asks me “What’s your favorite (book, movie. song, flavor, color)?” because my mind doesn’t work that way. I am more comfortable with naming things I like, as opposed to things I like best. But I am going to ask you to play favorites, in the interest of your daily practice.
     A useful method of self-critique is to select those works of yours that are personal favorites, most successful, or most cohesive works as a group. Try to choose them from the same time frame, say, the past few months up to a year. Identify that batch, and place them where you can view them as a group. Look at them objectively (if possible) for characteristics that are similar. They might have common subjects, color palettes, size and shape, compositions or materials. Anything concrete that can be seen across the board (not subjective things such as being “happy” or “calm”) can be noted as a characteristic. You may have singled them out by feeling their impact– but now we are going to find out what gives them that power.
     When you have a list of descriptive words, you can begin to think about the importance of these elements to you. Is using all bright colors a signature style you want to keep? Are you only painting landscapes because that is your heart’s desire? Why do you choose only square canvases? Do you work in many media, but you have chosen mostly one as your strongest? The answers to these question should help you define the future direction your work will take. Focusing on the ‘favorite’ works reveals what makes them special and how you can learn from them.

     This technique works well to try with other artists– but make sure flattery and judgment don’t creep in. We may not “like” our friends detailed depictions of crime scenes in oil paint– but we may find them “vivid, photographic, and narrative”. Paintings of angels may be charming, or peaceful– the artist expects that. They might benefit from hearing they are also “monochromatic, heavily textured, and miniature”. We are not telling others what or how they should paint. We are all trying to refine our own vision, to see what others see, and to make work that reflects our intention as well as our intuition.

It was the intriguing story lines apparent in my early relief prints that united them as a body of work and made them unique. This work, The Hallway, has a lot going on, even if you aren't sure exactly what.

The intriguing story lines apparent in my early relief prints united them as a body of work and made them unique. This work, The Hallway, has a lot going on, even if you aren’t sure what, exactly.

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