One of my lovely longtime dance sisters and students, Kathy, sent me this in an e-mail recently, rightfully guessing I would enjoy its contents. In the bellydance world, being still truly a non-mainstream art (BDSS does not automatically bring all the trappings of “the mainstream”), we have very few tangible benchmarks for a successful work. Meaning there aren’t publicly recognized trade schools, public ‘galleries’, or professional critics built around our creative methods. Aside from the opinions of friends and colleagues, who frankly will rarely tell you the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we have little in the way of true critical review. I think for us, it becomes increasingly important for us to develop a critical eye toward our own work, so we are able to more reliably assess our growth and evolution as we create, separate of the surrounding voices (which may not be giving us the best guidance). I hope you enjoy the article! And if you would like to learn more about the author, Robert Genn, visit his page at http://painterskeys.com
How to Critique Yourself
November 18, 2011
Yesterday, Michelle Lonsdale wrote, “I’m currently in my second year studying Fine Arts at a university. I’m working on a research assignment investigating artists’ self-critiquing methods. What thoughts, beliefs or rituals do you use while critiquing your work?”
Thanks, Michelle. Your question is such a valuable one. With all the current running off to get things juried and critiqued by others, self-critiquing might seem an unpopular sport. It isn’t. The acquired ability to critique oneself is the fuse of great art and the silver bullet of the pros. While all artists work differently, here are a few thoughts:
Quality develops when the artist and the critic are honed into a functioning co-op within the same skull. The “ritual” is to pry the artist away from the critic. The artist can be flamboyant, egocentric and prejudiced. The critic needs to be patient, humble and strict. A split personality may be the price you have to pay to see your work through fresh, unsullied eyes. The operation doesn’t hurt–much.
Divorcing yourself from the preciousness of your efforts and seeing your work as it really is takes time and mileage. This means “alone time” in your working area. I’m sorry, but my observation has been that no quality work or strong direction will arise in environments where consultants are readily available.
On the other hand, a valuable ploy is to constantly upgrade and rethink standards of excellence, most often done through books and other media. This doesn’t mean your style will be influenced by the exposure, but rather you may improve by association with those you admire. “You’re only as good as the company you keep,” goes the time-honoured expression. The mere act of holding onto great works or seeing them in museums magically transfers a sense of timelessness and creative soul. Fact is, you will not generally improve by misguided staring at your own efforts.
Not surprisingly, when you switch from creation mode to critique mode, you tend to lose the magic of inspiration and substitute a more pedestrian, mechanical approach. A checklist is valuable. In serious sobriety you need to write and follow your own list. I use a series of varying questions: Meaningful subject? Strong patterns? Middle tones? Interlocking gradations? General gradations? Echoing shapes? Flowing design? Alluring counterpoint? Lost and found? Focal point? Big and small? Overall simplicity? Complex shapes? Visual depth? Interesting surface? Arial perspective? Sophisticated colour? Natural believability? What could be?
PS: “Think of and look at your work as though it were done by your enemy. If you look at it to admire it, you are lost.” (Samuel Butler
Esoterica: Critical intuition can also be enhanced by minor substance abuse. Cigars and Scotch have been my traditional choices. Since giving up smoking, I’ve begun to note the critical value of alcohol. “In vino veritas” (In wine there is truth), said Plato. More recently, I’ve been stalking errors by merely putting on another hat. Right now I’m using an Australian Akubra that makes me feel like an antipodean crocodile wrestler. On and off it goes, sometimes several times an hour.