The Laws of Nature

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Designing the Self-Critique

David Hockney

Art Without Compromise by Wendy Richmond
Chapter 3: "Life Support"
section 3: "Designing the Self-Critique"

Before delving into Richmond's book once again, I'd like to sing the praises of the New York Foundation for the Arts for supporting the advancement of artists in their careers. I have just been awarded a grant from NYFA to support my solo exhibition in Maine this summer, and couldn't be more grateful.

Now, onto section 3" Designing the Self-Critique," which begins with the sentence: We are all hungry for critiques. This is something we've discussed many times on this blog, so it will be interesting to learn this author's viewpoint. She notes that we can't always get good, honest feedback and must find a way to conduct a thorough self-critique, especially since most of us work in isolation. Objectivity is key to this process. What insight does Richmond offer us?

1. Think the opposite - look at the other end of the spectrum. For instance, in reviewing one of my own paintings I might say "my work contains too many hard edges." The opposite would be to say, "my work contains too few hard edges," and then work to further exaggerate that characteristic. I believe that what Richmond is getting at here, is that our work improves if we accentuate an important aspect.

2. Put it up - display your work all over your house, especially while it's in progress. I like accidentally "bumping into" my work here and there when I'm running around the house attending to other matters. The encounter is often unexpected, and so I have a fresh look at my work and get a better impression of where it's headed.

3. Paste it in a publication - this is a really neat idea that I've never tried. Take a photo of your work, reduce it in size, print it, cut it out, and then paste it in an art magazine. Seeing your work in that context helps "illuminate its flaws, its virtues, and its relevance in our contemporary culture."

4. Recreate it in another medium - here, Richmond uses David Hockney's approach to illustrate her idea. He is a painter who also uses photography to develop a technique called "joiners" ( a series of photographs of a scene over time that were pieced together) to create a 2-D map of time and space. This work informs his paintings.

The purpose of these four approaches to a self-critique is to help us gain new persepective, which is important to those of us who tend to work in solitary confinement.

Your thoughts??


hw (hallie) farber said...

At last--I actually do most of these things; hesitant about messing up my art magazines, though. I love David Hockney and his "joiners."

Congratulations on your grant; you're teaching us, by example, that discipline and hard work pay.

hw (hallie) farber said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hw (hallie) farber said...

Make that great work, discipline and hard work!

(I tried html in the previous comment; instead of making "great work" bold, the words were deleted.)

Imagine that "great work" is in bold letters.

Carolyn Abrams said...

Congratulations Kathy!!

Unknown said...

Great ideas! I will be trying all of them in some way in the very near future!

Teri said...


Interesting topics to think about. Thanks.

M said...

Congratulations Kathy. It is so great to have some additional financial support for a solo show. I know the labours of writing grants and that rush of success. You deserve it.

As for today's post...
These are interesting suggestions and the only one I do is put my work up in odd places in the hours so I "bump" into it like it is new. I often move the same piece to different locations in the house. Interesting what different light can do to your critique.

I particularly like think the opposite. I've never tried that but I will . I guess I'll be saying "My work has too much pattern."

Past it in a publication is a bit scary but it's worth a try. Have you ever noticed when you are on someone else's site and a thumbnail of your work is in their blog roll that it is a great critique opportunity? The smallness seems to knock it down to the important components.

I'm still thinking about #4 and how I would make this suggestion work.

Unknown said...

Hi Hallie - Hockney's work is inspiring! Thanks so much.

Hi Carolyn - thank you!

Hi Sheila - yes, I'm interested in trying the ones I haven't yet used. They're great ideas!

Hi Teri - thank so much!

Hi Margaret - thank you! I agree about the importance of viewing work at the thumb-nail size. When I'm working on a painting I usually photograph it at various stages and then view it at thumb-nail scale on the computer to see if the overall design works. It's very useful.

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Unknown said...

Hi Pam, I'm honored by your generous comments and your presence as a valued member of our discussion group! Thank you. It was serendipity that brought you to us. :-)

Celeste Bergin said...

Congratulations on your grant, Kathy!
I consider myself fortunate-because my paintings are almost always completed in one sitting, alla prima. So, when I am done with it, I am truly done with it--I seldom revisit it. From that standpoint it generally hits or misses and I am much better as appraising my work now. I check it against the criteria I have learned. I'm not sure I understand the value of the "opposite" thing--is that like paradoxical intent?

Stan Kurth said...

Kathy you are so sweet, so observant, so positive, so kindhearted, and so talented and intelligent. Like Pam and I'm sure all the others here, I feel so blessed by what you do. If I wasn't so old I'd say I feel like a protege. You have enriched my life immensely, not only with your beautiful imagery, but with your words of wisdom and generosity! Thank you!

Congrats on the grant. What are your rates for ghost writing?

Yes yes yes and yes to all that Wendy says here with the exception of #4, although sometimes I'll make separate sketches or thumbnails to workout a compositional problem. My self-critiques are of this nature. I spend more time examining my work than I actually do physically working on it. Like Margaret, I put it in a variety of lighting situations where I can scope the color or see how the values hold up. I also put it in areas where I can see it as a reverse image either in the reflection of a mirror or large window pane. Have not tried pasting in a magazine but I often intentionally reduce images to very small previews in Photoshop to see how the design holds up as a thumbnail.

Unknown said...

Hi Celeste - I think that Richmond uses opposites in her thinking to help define one of the important aspects of her work and then exaggerate it. I could be wrong, but it seems as though establishing dominance is the goal. At least, that's how I interpret it. Thanks for your comments!

Hi Stan - I'm blushing!! and wish I could live up to all that praise, but I can't. Thank you for your generous words and kind support. It's wonderful. I've wondered about how you evaluate your work since I've been studying it for awhile now. Your drawings and paintings look very decisive and convey a strong viewpoint. I admire that and figure that you must begin your work with the design already figured out. I'd like to know more.

Tonya Vollertsen said...

Hi Kathy, Congratulations on your grant! How exciting!
This is an interesting topic. I do some of the things you mentioned but not all. Great to have some new ideas to try. Your blog is such a wealth of information and inspiration, thanks so much for keeping it up! I love to get my coffee in the morning and come get my Kathy fix. I always feel a little smarter after. LOL!

Unknown said...

Hi Tonya - thank you! and, thanks for joining our conversation. Hope to hear more from you in the future :-)

-Don said...

Hi Kathy... Sorry I'm so late to the conversation. Yesterday I got ALL my old work out and my studio is still piled pretty high right now. I've been doing a little self-critique of pieces from 4 different decades right now based on what I've learned in those years of creating. It's been a fun exercise. There were many misses and a few hits along the way. But, every one was a learning experience. Can you believe I've even found stuff I forgot I had created? That was pretty cool.

As far as Wendy's self-critique ideas,
1) I'm not quite sure I understand the concept of this one. But, I'm always saying "what if?" and then trying it. Is that anywhere close?
2) You cannot go into any room in my house without bumping into my work. I'm always moving the pieces around so they stay fresh. I look at every piece over time and evaluate what I did based on where I am now.
3) I see my work in small thumbnail size as soon as I scan it. I've noticed - as a few have mentioned here - that seeing the small icons of my work on the internet give me a different perspective.
4) I pre-create in another medium - Photoshop. And, I sometimes recreate there as well.

CONGRATS on the grant! It is so well-deserved.


Unknown said...

Hi Don - I hope you'll be posting your observations about your previous work - that would be very interesting, indeed! Thanks for your responses to Wendy's ideas. I like your ideas, too.

Deborah C. Stearns said...

Congratulations on your grant! That is terrific news.

I haven't had much to contribute to the discussion for the past couple of posts. I have read the posts and comments with interest, but I just don't have anything to add.

It seems to me that Richmond's suggestions in this section are trying to get the artist to see the work in a different light, from a different perspective. I like the idea of shaking up established viewpoints, particularly if one has gotten into a rut. By changing the way you look at your own work, you might be able to see your work as someone else would (e.g., objectively). It sounds like people have found these helpful in providing new perspectives on their work -- do you think they help you engage in a more *objective* self-critique?

Angela said...

I don't know if I still entirely understand the first one, about extremes, and I hadn't thought of the magazine one (but I also think it would be like seeing your work in someone else's blog roll - which I always find so helpful)...but for the most part, these seem pretty general and simple to me. They mostly seem designed to just answer the question, "Is it good enough?" instead of the more important, more specific questions of "What do I really like about this? What could be better? Why? How can I keep what's great while improving what's not?"

Maybe I misunderstood the point, but I think a more specific checklist would be more interesting.

Unknown said...

Hi Deborah - yes, I do think they help me become more objective in a self-critique, but (at least for me) there's no way to become completely objective. Typically, we artists are emotionally bound to our work and that clouds our judgement. Thanks for reading, and commenting!

Hi Angela - I think that Richmond is getting at the bigger picture, which is to look at our own work in the context of how it compares to the rest of the contemporary art world. How is it relevant? How does it compare in content and execution? I don't know that this is important to every artist or even that it should be. But, for me, it is important since my art is also a significant source of my income and the source of future opportunities. But, that's just me. Thanks for commenting!

Janet Belich said...

NICE! Congratulaions on the grant !!!

Unknown said...

Thanks so much, Janet!