“How would your life be different if…You stopped allowing other people to dilute or poison your day with their words or opinions? Let today be the day…You stand strong in the Truth of your beauty and journey through your day without attachment to the validation of others”
~ Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free ~
Once upon a time, I was an arts educator. I was not only paid to impart my knowledge, but I was also asked to give people my opinion about their work. Then as now, I always tell people that I don’t have all the answers; I only have my own and that they are continuously expanding.
The responsibilities of art educators, jury members and mentors are enormous and shouldn’t be taken lightly by anyone. The wrong words can destroy someone’s creativity, desire to improve and may even cause them to quit making art completely. Many established artists seem to have an axe to grind and tend to grind it loudest, in their interactions, and in their judgements of other artists and their students. I have met my fair share over the years. Remaining neutral seems complicated for many people in a position of authority, and the appreciation of other forms of expression and creativity is non-existent in others. This lack of neutrality is not a new phenomenon. One only has to look at the 19th Century Paris Salon’s rejection of the Impressionists to realize that even the most successful Academics and educators sometimes cannot spot a winner if their very lives depend upon it!
Everyone wants their creativity to be validated. Perhaps this is why so many stick to photographic realism and to copying photographs and not venturing into something creative. If it looks like a photograph, then the artist has the skill, right? Then there are the people who just want to be validated, who skip learning how to draw or to compose a painting and who just create abstract works to look creative.
Art simply cannot be judged like this.
Several years ago, one of my students asked me about how I judged a work of art. The first thing I try to do is distance myself from my likes and dislikes and approach everyone’s work with objectivity. Here are a few things I consider when looking at someone’s creation:
1- Is the composition of the work of art appealing and successful?
2- Does the artist show some skill in the handling of their materials?
3- Does the artist have an understanding of light?
4- Does the artist have an understanding of colour and colour mixing?
5- Does the artist choose the correct framing and presentation for their work?
6- Does the artist show signs of self-development and growth?
7- Does the artist render the subject cohesively?
8- Does the artist create large bodies of work?
9- Does the artist understand the basic principals and elements of design?
10- Does the work of art contain any expression or feeling?
These are difficult things to access, and each painting or drawing must be intensely scrutinized. Every work of art needs to be judged on merit. Just because someone has more experience doesn’t mean that they will win the top ribbon at a group exhibition every time! Just because someone has mastered baking cherry pies doesn’t mean that they will win the ribbon year after year if I may use a cooking analogy. They may win the first year, but if they do not innovate or add a new ingredient or a twist, then they may not win anything ever again. Like painting, cooking is an art-form. Chefs are always looking to impress their clients. They know they need to impress the judges too! Unfortunately, many visual artists seem to think that sticking to the same old realist regimen will work. A simple change of subject matter doesn’t suffice either. Remember, one-hit wonders exist in every field.
We need constructive criticism to grow. Innovation and personal growth are vital in determining the success or failure of a work of art. The work itself may have failed, but what have you learned as an artist? There are indeed other ways to interpret our success. There is no such thing as a failure if we have learned something in the process of creation.
In the words of Steve Maraboli, this is where “You (have to) stand strong in the truth of your beauty and journey through your day without attachment to the validation of others”.
The first phase of most amateur artists’ lives seem to be all about this validation. The second phase and most crucial phase as artists is learning to let it go.
Creativity cannot be measured. Creativity does not emerge from academia or education. Academia and education only give us the tools to do the work.
Creativity is something different.
Creativity is within each and every one of us!
Just do your work!