Critiquing Your Own Artwork

I have a couple of projects in the works but nothing yet ready to share, so I decided to post about a relevant topic.

My art teacher was not particularly impressed by the drawing pictured here. I remember that one problem he found was that the skeleton is distorted, which was something I hadn’t noticed but don’t disagree with. It turned out that I was supposed to do a larger drawing (I think 24×32), which might have made the final piece seem less crowded. But when I look at this drawing today, I feel very proud of what I was able to accomplish. I did this drawing within 6 months of learning to use charcoal. The sheet, the ceramic jar at the bottom center of the drawing, and the hat and broomstick all look very realistic to me. However, there are also mistakes in the drawing that my eyes immediately go to, such as the leaning jar on the bottom right and the curved spokes of the umbrella. I don’t know if I noticed these things at the time, and I was under time pressure. But I’ve learned that sometimes it takes quite a while to be able to step back from a project and critique it fairly. This may be because of the high that one sometimes feels when finishing a piece of artwork (an overly kind critique), or the endless barrage of could-have-done-betters that afflict a perfectionist (overly harsh). I’ve been guilty of both. Lately I’ve been in a negative mood when it comes to critiquing my own work, so I’m trying to remind myself to be fair, and to appreciate the work regardless of the criticisms I may have.

Being able to critique your own artwork is a useful skill. It is still important to get feedback from others, but if you have the ability to critique yourself, you won’t be entirely reliant on other people to tell you what you could be doing better (or what you are already doing well). While it would be ideal for every piece of art to turn out “perfectly,” in the end each oversight or mistake is an opportunity to create something better the next time. Because of this, it is important to be able to step back from your work and give it as objective a critique as possible. Just as you would if you were critiquing someone else’s work, it can be useful to first and lastly notice the positive attributes of the work while sandwiching constructive criticism in between. I think of constructive criticism as an acknowledgement of a flaw in the piece that allows for the artist to adjust the flaw (if still working on the piece) or to carry new, useful knowledge into the next piece. Instead of just noting that a part of the piece looks “wrong” or “bad,” try to figure out what it is specifically about that area that isn’t working. That way, you can fix your mistake or apply what you learned to your next work. And don’t forget to take pleasure in the process of creating artwork in the first place!

 

Smith Final ProjectFinal project for Drawing I at Smith College, charcoal, 2007 (18×24)

7 Comments

    1. Of course–despite some critics’ general consensus about what makes certain art “good” or “great,” there is no such thing as universal agreement on the subject. What one person sees as a flaw in a work may be the exact thing that attracts a different viewer to the piece (regardless of the artist’s initial intentions). Thanks for your comment!

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      1. Though the concept of good or great is nonsensical as creating a hierarchy requires a system of measurement with a unit of measure. So we are left with what we or a society likes and what we or a society accepts. There’s no good or bad, just different.

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    2. I like what Graham said here. Even if something isn’t necessarily photo-realistic, that doesn’t weigh in at all as to whether lots of folks might really get something out of it.

      For example, I really like this piece for its textures. I definitely understand being critical of your own works though; I am too. It’s interesting how other people respond to it though, and in the case of this one, it’s art that works for this reader/viewer.

      Of course, there is also poorly done art out there. But this definitely isn’t, in my opinion.

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      1. I didn’t mean to suggest that realism is the only option—it just happens to be what I aim for myself most of the time. So for me critiquing my own work, a ”flaw” might mean incorrect proportions, shading, etc. I guess I didn’t really take other styles of art into account when writing this! I appreciate the feedback.

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      2. Sure thing! My comment was mostly reaction to your teacher. Since art is so subjective, I feel like art teachers should be more encouraging rather than critical. But then again, I’m no professional artist, so I probably don’t actually know what I’m talking about

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