Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Six ways to get a more objective perspective - on artwork and beetroots

The Beet Parade
10" x 10", coloured pencils on Arches HP

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Why do I need to get more objective about beetroots?

First, because "The Beet Parade" is another one for the kitchen garden series I'm developing about vegetables. I think this one is finished but if anybody wants to suggest tweaks please pipe up - I've definitely got to that stage where I need a bit of objectivity. Such as in relation to whether or not a row of beetroots makes a good picture?

I've also been umming and erring on the ground/background for ages. I started off knowing what I was going to do, changed my mind half way through, then had another think and went back to the first plan - but with more trepidation - and some tweaks. Art can't always be a completely planned process - you have to be able to respond to a piece as it unfolds - sometimes it tells you what to do to finish it off properly.

(While I'm on the topic of drawing veggies - do take a look at a recent post in Richard Bell's Wild West Yorkshire Nature Diary - on the topic of a small single Veg. Bed - complete with drawings of his raised bed, carrots and spinach!)

Second, this post is about looking at some of the ways in which we can get a more objective perspective on our work.

People who just say nice things all the time (sometimes known as "kudos comments") might make us feel good but they don't always validate work or help the developmental process. A traditional way of getting an objective perspective has been to be a member of a small peer group of artists (traditionally operating offline) who would meet to discuss art matters and each other's work. Larger societies of artists can also be very helpful although some who have belonged to art societies dominated by one or two individuals may disagree! One problem is that lots of people are disinclined to say exactly what they think about a person's art in any form of public forum (online or off) or on blogs.

In my opinion, the development of our critical faculties and elimination of kudos comments is a very necessary part of anybody's artistic development. For that we need to have processes in place which help to provide objective input in a constructive and ideally well-informed way.

Six ways to get a more objective perspective about art

Here are six ways that I use to get more objective about artwork generally and my art in particular:
  • put a piece of art on my blog or a forum. It's always really interesting to hear people's perspectives on a piece - especially when you know something about an individual's own art. However, as highlighted above, due to comments being public there is always the concern that people try to find the positive but omit the negative; and/or
  • put artwork across the room within my eyesight but not necessarily in my eyeline. The general objective here is catch it unawares! As if I was seeing it for the first time in a gallery! Of course, this strategy is spoilt completely by the way I lean my head round the door in the morning, (having just woken up ie. post bathroom/pre dishing up cat breakfast stage) just to see if it really looks exactly the same as the night before or whether it has somehow metamorphosed into something so much better. Or to see if it has woken up too and is now speaking to me and telling me what to do. Always spoilt by my cats pointing out that I'm looking in the wrong direction and their cat bowls are behind me - and they're empty!!! A variation on this is to put something in a frame and hang it on the wall - it's amazing how different some pieces look when matted and framed; and/or
  • put artwork away or turn it to the wall. I do believe that whatever abilities we have in evaluating and assessing our own work sometimes desert us if we've been looking at one piece for too long. I find the acid test is to put the artwork away and then not look at it again for some weeks or months. I can then instantly see whether it is any good or not the next time I look at it - or how to fix the problem I couldn't even see. OK - so you win some and you lose some - but such is life! and/or
  • read and study objective assessments of the work of other artists that I'm familiar with or can see. It's one of the reasons why I find it very helpful to go to lectures, read books and visit websites and posts about other artists. Listening to or reading the views of a variety of people mean that I get to hear lots of different views - which can be both stimulating and, at times, confusing. However I do like knowing more about different perspectives and it does help me to develop my own critical faculties.
  • take workshops run by professional artists. I found this to be very helpful to start with and continue to value this very much when the workshop is delivered by somebody with good knowledge and judgement who can articulate what they see (which is not necessarily the same as liking my work!). However I do sometimes wish there were also more opportunities for groups of artists to get together for painting without tutors/with peer review; and/or
  • show my artwork to my Fine Line Artists cyberchums - On the whole, people are generally much happier to comment in private - especially when they know the person and their work and have seen its development over time. I know I value my (private) online art group very much. My chums are a fine bunch who come to the role of art critic with different backgrounds and from different perspectives. However they are not averse to saying (out of the public eye) exactly when, in their opinion, I've 'laid an egg'. Which means that I value when they say something is particularly good that much more! I know that both listening to more detailed views and needing to explain my views in more detail has helped me with assessing work. It's also made it easier to say "I like it but I don't know why!". I do recommend a private group of constructive chums who don't pull their punches in the art crit stakes as a very helpful adjunct to any process of development.
Do you seek an objective assessment of your work and, if so, how do go about getting the objectivity you seek? Do you do something I don't do that you'd like to share?

What do you think are the pros and cons of different approaches to getting a more objective perspective?

Note: This is another post in the Gardens in Art project and I'm listing other blog posts on 'Making A Mark' below.

Links to posts in the Making A Mark - Gardens in Art Project" (August 2007)


  1. How could I forget?!!!

    Here are some more thoughts expanding on the first point.

    Actually writing about a work on a blog or in a on-line forum means I have to organise what I think and want to say about a piece. I could count the number of times I've started to blog about a piece only to realise that I need to go away and do some more work.........

    And then there's the thumbnail - the devastating impact of producing an image as a digital thumbnail - has nailed more work to the "look at these when you want to appreciate how much you have developed" file than I can count!

  2. Ah yes, the old thumbnail litmus test :) That certainly does condense everything into perspective. The beauty of that is the way it works in a similar way to viewing the work from the other side of the room (as in a gallery) it condenses everything so that you can really see if it'll have impact. Sound like an authority there don't I? Wouldn't if YOU hadn't told me though Katherine hehe ;) That's why I too vouch for Cyberchums! :)

  3. I absolutely agree about the value of a network of friends to crit and comment honestly.

    I blogged about this a while ago (tag 'art groups' on my blog)

    too much shallow kudos can encourage you along paths that aren't really working.

    now re: the beetroots - yes definitely interesting as a painting.

    I'd bring out the reds in the purple veins and beetroots a little more to zing against the greens. I'd also define some parts of the edges of some leaves a little more clearly against the background - some lost some found. At the moment they merge tonally maybe a little too much?

  4. Thanks Wendy and Vivien

    Vivien - you get the brownie point for spotting exactly the thing I've been having problems with. I've been having to push values and work edges to get it to where it is - and I did wonder whether it was enough. I shall do some more!

  5. Katherine -- as far as "punching" the beets goes, it looks from here as though this was done on an overcast day? in terms of the contrast? We're so blasted by sun here that it was the first thing I noticed...

  6. Well spotted Pica! I've learned the hard way to value clouds and overcast days - one actually can see the true colour much more easily on such days. Very sunny days gives you 'white-out' with lots of the colours of natural forms suddenly looking very drained of colour.

    On the other hand - if your everyday is blasted by sun this would indeed look unusual! ;)

  7. I agree with Vivien's comment about how shallow kudos may lead you in a direction that may not be working.I would be interested in hearing how you established your Fine Line artists group? Oh, also holding an artwork up to a mirror is sometimes helpful for me.

  8. Thank you Ann for the reminder about how to use a mirror.

    We keep saying we should do blog posts or an article about why and how we set up. I'm not going to try and give you the shortcut version here as you can find that on the Fine Line Artists website (see right hand column for the link)

    Maybe we need to do the longer version too.........

  9. The image works for me, and interest pops everywhere.

    I missed the value things. The first glance doesn't notice any issues there.

    Maybe attend the lines in the lower right side to pull me into the painting, rather than the diagonals that cut across?

  10. Beets aren't a subject I would have thought to do. Not even in a vegetable series. Funny tho I really like this one. The leaves are so nice and delicate against the hardness of the beet bulb. I also like the crop that you did. Makes it more interesting to me.

    As a kid I had to help my mom "chop" beets (chop meaning the weeds). I didn't like doing it and chopped more beets than weeds. She finally sent me to the house. I knew at an early age I wasn't meant for manual labor. I also did most of the chopping while sitting on my rear.

    At my plein air outing today, the hostess had some blooming artichokes in a bowl on a table. I will email you a picture of them. Interesting.

  11. I love your stories Jeanne! I'm glad you've discovered blooming artichockes - however I've got so many pics of them you wouldn't believe!! I love them so much that I'm 'saving' them. I'm thinking maybe a series from the small bulb all the way through the blooming to afterwards. Cardoons are good too - and sea holly.

    Thanks for the comments Casey

  12. Here you go - I just think the beetroots need to be a bit darker. I grow beetroots on my allotment and they're heavy and dark, practically the colour of the soil. It would also make a nice contrast to the lightness of the top background (that I see as sky).

    In addition to Ann's mirror tip try a convex mirror. These give you instant distance, especially in a small studio, and really helps you see things differently. You can get them at retail shop supply places. :)

  13. Thanks Tina - I've not got a convex mirror (or have I?) - I'll look out for one of those.

    With the beets, I think the comparison to soil colour might depend where you are and soil type. Also I found if I merged them too much I lost the beets completely - which sort of then made a bit of a nonsence of the leaves and hence is why I started using marks to reveal them. This one has been a really tricky one to work out.

    The bit in the background is actually the undergrowth of more veggies as I've got a largely top down perspective.

  14. Thanks, that is very comprehensive and useful list. Basically, most of the things about critique I learned from other websites, and books. Reading opinions helped me to make my own.


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