Wisdom from the ancients

Here’s a quote from one of my favorite figure painters, Fritz Willis:

“Everybody’s a critic.  Some criticism is based on personal taste, some on knowledge, some on ignorance.  Some is constructive, some destructive.  Welcome it all, accept what you wish, reject what you wish.  After all, it’s your painting.  Never be disheartened by adverse criticism.  The worst thing you can say about an artist’s work is, ‘His paintings wouldn’t offend anyone.'”  -The Nude, pg. 30.

One thing, I feel, is often left out of these sorts of quotes on criticism:  know what the criticism means before you reject or accept it.  Criticism comes to you for a reason.  You might not know as much as you think you know, or you could be enlightened unexpectedly or even intentionally.  All too often, the new student is assaulted with this philosophy of ‘throw out what you don’t agree with’ making the student feel somehow superior to the long tradition of artists that came before.  This sort of artistic arrogance is damaging to artists.  How will you learn anything if you only accept the thing you “want” to accept?  Whatever happened to “needing” to accept things?  The point really, is to be intelligent about the criticism you receive.  Part of this knowledge means knowing what you were trying to communicate with the work in the first place.  If you fall into the asinine “the work means what you, the viewer, thinks it measn” mantra, you’ve lost the point of fine art entirely.

Of course, you do have the freedom, usually, to claim that the viewer – your critic – obviously missed the point entirely.  If this happens too frequently, however, be assured that there is something wrong with your work, not the public.  Well, there might be a ‘big-picture’ sort of problem with the public, but nothing that you will probably be able to repair.  But what exactly didn’t work? What did work? Listen to people, learn from people – we as artists are only as successful as the clarity of communication to the public as a whole.

I miss the critiques when we were required to make someone cry by the time the class ended.  Good times.


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