Recently, I completed a new piece which I immediately submitted to an invitational show.
Later, as I reflected on how I went about creating the piece, I noticed I’ve developed a self-critiquing process that I seem to use every time I create new work.
Many artists have a self-critiquing process of their own. I didn’t set out to develop a self-critiquing process for myself, but over time it just happened. The thing I realized as I pondered over it is, this process has contributed to my growth as an artist.
So in today’s post, I’ll like to share my self-critiquing process with you and reflect on how it’s contributed to my artistic development.
A while back I wrote an article about how art is not all about intuition but knowledge as well. I do believe that a good background of knowledge guides our intuition when we create art.
You cannot critique your own art if you don’t know what good art is. Knowing what good art is comes from knowledge.
And this knowledge is not only acquired by studying the elements and principles of art. It also comes from learning by experience i.e. by creating work yourself. And then you acquire this knowledge also by studying other people’s work and learning what makes their work successful.
Criteria for Self-Critiquing Process
This is the criteria I use for my self-critiquing process.
- Composition: When I’m self-critiquing my work in progress, I’m checking to see if I have created a good composition. Design and composition were one of the first things that intrigued me about art. I wasn’t so enamored with technique when I started in art. Design always comes first for me. And it features in the way I critique my work. For example, I look for focal points. I check to see if I have unity in my design. And I look for variety in my design.
- Technique: When it comes to techniques, I’m usually checking to see if I’m pushing the boundaries with the techniques I already know. Did I use them in novel ways or not?
- Values: Here I’m looking to see what the range of values I have in my work are. Do I have enough values depicted in my work? Are they too many or too few?
- Areas of Interest: Another thing I do when I’m critiquing my work is to look for an area in the work that interests me. I try to find something that is working well. A specific area that I think is successful and that I can recreate in subsequent new work.
- Disappointment: I like to call this criterion “disappointment” rather than failure. I look for things I wasn’t able to do as well as I’d envisioned. Then, I try to figure out why and what could be done to fix them.
- The Grand Scheme: I look at how the entire work is coming together not just the various sections or elements of the work. I ask myself if the work is coming together as a whole. Also, I look at how it fits into my current body of work.
How Practical is Self-Critiquing?
I know that when you look at the list above, you may be scratching your head and thinking it will be way too long to do this for each new piece of work. Or maybe, what a boring way to go about working.
But let me assure you the self-critiquing process is not that long or boring. And when you’ve done it for a while you really don’t notice its existence in your creative process. It’s something you do without paying attention.
It’s not like you have this checklist pinned up somewhere that you go through each time you create a piece of work. It’s a mental exercise that you develop as you grow artistically. Everyone may have a slightly different set of criteria they mentally use to do this.
The self-critiquing process is subtle. It’s something you do to help you decide what the next point of action in the creative process should be. It is an integral part of the creative process.
You do it subconsciously when you’re stuck. You do it when you’re enjoying the process.
Here are specific ways I incorporate self-critiquing in my creative process.
- Use Thumbnail Photos: While my work is in progress, I take photos of it with my cell phone. Then in my spare time, I browse through the photos. As I look at the photos, I’m subconsciously using the criteria above to self-critique what I see. The observations I make will certainly impact the next actions I take when I return to work on the piece.
- Stand Back Often: I would often pin up my work on to my design wall. Then I’ll stand back and take a look at it. To help me remember to do this often, I make it a point to not leave my work on a table when I’m leaving the studio. I pin it up before I leave. The next time I get back into the studio, seeing it on the wall gives me a fresh perspective. And allows me to critique it before I resume work on it.
- Try Different Orientations: With abstract work especially, I evaluate my work in different orientations. I turn it upside down and sideways. Sometimes you’ll find it works better in a different orientation than the original.
- Stare at The Work: I must admit. I probably spend more time looking at my work than I spend actually working on it. I’ll often pull up a chair, sit down and simply stare at the work on my design wall. Sometimes I’ll stand far off at a distance and just stare at it. I’ll move around the studio and stare at it from different angles.
If you’re asking why go through the trouble of the self-critiquing process, that’s a legitimate question to ask. In my experience, there are many advantages to self-critiquing your work. Below, I’ll outline a few that I’ve personally noticed.
Advantages of the Self-Critiquing Process
- Focuses You on Improvement not Comparison: It helps you to stop comparing your work with other people’s work. You learn to focus on your own improvement rather than comparison.
- Progress Becomes Obvious: You’re able to notice progress in your work and plan how to implement things that will result in more progress.
- The Abundance of Ideas: It becomes almost impossible for you not to have ideas to work on. You always have an abundance of things you want to try, things to improve or things to repeat in your next piece of work.
- Objectively Critique Other’s Work: Self-critiquing your own work helps you to objectively critique other people’s work based on a set of substantive criteria.
- Accept Critiques Easily: When you develop the art of self-critiquing your work, you learn that not everything you create is terrible and not everything is wonderful. It becomes easy to accept critiques from others and even accept the rejection of your work.
- Appreciate Your Skills: By self-critiquing your own work you learn to notice and appreciate your strengths. Because you’ll notice that some things you do consistently shine and outperform others.
- Learn to Let Go: Self-critiquing helps you to know when the work is complete and when it’s time to move on to creating another piece.
- Build a Body of Work: Finally, you will build a cohesive body of work by self-critiquing what you do. It helps you repeat the strengths you notice and eliminate the weaknesses, which results in a unified body of work.
So now here you have it. How and why self-critiquing your work will lead to growth in your artistic development.
Do you self-critique your work? Why or why not? Share your comments below.
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Claudia Ziersch says
I haven’t really actively self-critiques like you describe. But when I post items to my website, I can tell what I feel good about and what I don’t like. Also, when I rearrange my store, I see what fits with everything else and what doesn’t and that makes me think about what I should be creating.
But now that you mention it, I will try it more often – thanks for the tips!
Clara Nartey says
You’re welcome Claudia. Let me know how you make out with incorporating these tips in your work.
Jeanne Marklin says
Lots of good advice here. Your process is similar to mine. I find using photos on the phone very helpful and some times take them into Photoshop Elements to make changes or try out quilting ideas on them. Staring at them makes me feel more connected to the work.
Clara Nartey says
Jeanne, isn’t it amazing how we develop our own evaluation process as we create. And yes I agree! Staring at my work makes me feel more connected to them.
Jeanne Marklin says
Clara, I also think you have an excellent website and blog. The colors work well and it’s easy to navigate.
Clara Nartey says
Thanks Jeanne for the compliment. It means a lot to me. I spend a lot of my creative time writing or doing something on my website or blog.