Sunday, June 29, 2014

Curious Robot

Here's the Curious Robot
by: Anessa Ortner

He stood silently in the field as the children played; his only duty was to protect and to serve.  The children heard their mother's call and promptly left him alone.  He stared blankly at the apple tree they had been prodding at, trying to compute its purpose.  He plucked the apples they couldn't reach and suddenly felt curious.

How to Give a Critique

While it is important to understand how to receive a critique it is just as important to know how to give one.  Why?  Because it gives you an important perspective on how other people can and will talk about your own work.  Participating in critique sessions can be overwhelming, and in the beginning it may feel dumb or irrelevant, but you should know that while you will certainly benefit your fellow artist by talking about their art, it also benefits you by allowing you to open up about talking about art in general.  If you can become comfortable about talking about someone else's art then it's only a small step to becoming comfortable about talking about your own artwork, and while some may believe that their artwork speaks for itself, I'll be the first to say that assumption is dangerous and ignorant because it most certainly doesn't and in most cases shouldn't.

So open up, get comfortable, and start talking art so you and your fellow artists can get a lot of practice because if you want to keep food on your plates and a roof over your head you're going to have to do a lot of talking!

Step one:

LOOK at the artwork.  What do you see?  Take mental notes of specific technical choices because those choices need to be addressed.  
Examples:  color choice, theme if any, line quality if relevant, images used, placement, proximity, everything under the sun.  Composition is built by all of these technical terms and processes and by bringing them up you're bringing practicing an open dialogue with the artist that you should be having with yourself while doing your own work.  What will people ask? Can you back up the answers?

Step two:

LISTEN to the artist.  Did they address any of their technical choices?  If so, were their reasonings appropriate, or relevant?  This is the part that can become personal, even though it really shouldn't be, but it's all about the delivery of the communication that can help the person being critiqued not feel attacked.  Take note of key phrases they may have stated that worked proficiently or negatively toward what they were saying.  Give them the initial chance to answer all of your unspoken questions.

Step three:

TALK to the artist.  This takes careful planning and it starts with a combination of the first two steps.  To avoid confrontation be polite.  I've always found asking detailed questions before telling them what I thought allows the other person to hear themselves first and also allows them to start questioning their own decisions before shocking them with a positive or negative feedback.

Ask questions that weren't answered in the initial statement, starting with certain technical decisions they made.  After establishing that dialogue, start asking about the person's conceptual aspect.  Why did they chose their concept, or if it was an assignment ask them what kind of research they did to plan for their final piece.  Some people don't realize that artwork requires a considerable amount of research and understanding of what they're creating.  Understand what you're creating from all aspects, artists are scientists too!

Now it's time to break the news on your personal opinion.

In some cases your idea was sueded by a person's explanation, and that's great!  Let them know of that process, it can build confidence in their ability to sell their idea.  It also goes to show you personally that when words are delivered the correct way then your personal agenda within your artwork can become clear and successful, but the wrong wording can lose an audience completely.

I would also butter up the artist by stating all of the applicable techniques that you noticed, let them know precisely what you saw.  Show them that you noticed the tiny details that they put in or you could see that they spent a lot of care on a specific aspect and that it was working well.  This allows the artist to trust what you're saying and trust that you want their piece to work and you're trying to understand where they're coming front.

Once you've begun a comfortable dialogue and they're talking back in conversation, it's safe to start in with what you found to not be working so much.  Don't just say "this sucks," or "that's not good," either; you need to state clearly the specific choice they made, what it portrayed to you, and why you think it wasn't successful in a particular piece.

For example:  "I noticed you used the color red frequently in your piece.  I personally think that it was redundant in portraying the emotion you're trying to portray.  It would make the piece more interesting if you didn't spell out the metaphors so clearly.  Did you try using other colors in your sketches?"

In this example I made a personal statement about a decision an artist may have made.  I thought something wasn't working and I felt like the piece would have been stronger if it had been different, but I also opened up to the artist to allow them to explain themselves because the truth be told, that may have been a sore point in the piece.  They may have spent hours trying to make that particular decision and came to the conclusion that it needed that much red.  So now they can explain to me why they fought with that decision.  If they disagree, don't push it farther, you've said your peace, but if they agreed continue to discuss it with them but let them lead the discussion.  Let them ask the questions.  This allows for a non confrontational environment.

As a rule of thumb, I try to clump my disagreements together and get them out of the way and candy coat it at the end with a statement on how the piece as a whole may be working in some degree.

That's my personal way of doing things and it worked, nobody hated me, but you'll find your own way of communicating!

Another good suggestion on picking out parts of work that are successful is to see a large piece in parts.  What is working?  If you cropped the image to find the most successful aspect, where would you crop it and why?  Show this to them.  I had a teacher who would take a few pieces of paper and square off places in our drawings that were working as a full composition within the whole.  I personally loved it and it allowed me to see my own artwork in that manner.  

The best way to talk about your own artwork is to talk about someone else's over and over.  As artists we are inspired by a specific sense whether that's audio, visual, or tactile and we work hard to make effective forms of communication within those senses.  We must strive to look at everyone's artwork critically and our own artwork doubly so.  Why?  Because it allows us to dissect decisions and understand methodology so we can learn those decisions and incorporate them into our own work, to propel ourselves forward so we can create interesting pieces for ourselves and others.

original blog post can be found at my website:

How to Emotionally Handle a Critique

This is a tricky topic.  Anyone who has gone through some form of schooling or put themselves through gallery showings or has been subjected to a panel for approval for whatever art you're creating has been through a critique.  But it goes farther than that.  Anyone who has allowed another human being to see their work has been through a critique.  That being said… I'm going to add another element here… Anyone who has looked at their own art has been through a critique.

So what is a critique, and why is it so important that I know how to handle it emotionally?  A critique is the overall evaluation of…. anything really.  It applies specifically to art because artists as human beings tend to be creators and what we create tends to be for either ourselves or other humans to consume, so therefore where there is art there is critique.  And that's so simple.  It starts with the understanding that your creation is going to be seen by a human and a human is going to have a mental response because we're human and that's what we do.  It's natural, so don't get bent out of shape if that response is not what you wanted!  It's not the end of the world.

The way a person reacts is solely dependent on who that person is, the experiences they've had in their life, their level of knowledge worldly and locally, as well as their overall culture.  The only way someone is going to be 100% on par with another human being when viewing that art is if they share all these things in common.  That being said, the more open minded and understanding a person is the more likely they are going to be free to "understand" a certain stylistic choice of the artist and possibly react in a positive direction toward the goal of the artist.  It is also up to the artist to understand that there are other ways certain colors, images, and words can affect certain cultures other than their own so they're either prepared to explain otherwise or even change what they need to in order to be more effective in the message of the art…. if there is a message.  

There is a universal element as well to creating and viewing art.  It's the design of it.  We all have this engrained sense of visual or audio or other sensory type of balance.  Even taste.  A good meal isn't good unless all the right tastes are even.  Not too salty, not too spicy, not too anything…. These qualities typically lean toward the aesthetic side of our works and they have perimeters to follow or specifically be broken (yes, I said broken, because art shouldn't always be about following the rules but you can't break the rules until you've learned to follow them).

All of this can be summed up to this statement:  You can't please everyone.

So if I haven't lost you yet in my ramblings of what a critique essentially is, now I'm going to explain how to simply handle one.

Be humble.  You're not all knowing.  Especially as a student or early on, you better learn that quick.  If you're a student you chose to learn from your professors.  Don't complain about them trying to make you draw a cardboard box because that's not what you want to draw… what do you know what you want to do?  You're how old?  Probably 19… how many experiences have you had?  You graduated high school, broke your heart or someone else's…. maybe it was rough for you… you had to work, lost a parent, lost a close friend… someone you knew did drugs…. or you're bullied or maybe you are a bully.  Who cares?  You've done nothing, you are nothing, you don't know what you want to say and you don't know how to say it.  Get over yourself and draw the damn box.  You came to someone to learn something.  These people have been teaching probably longer than you've been alive so they know their stupid boxes and they could probably tell you what kind of artist you'll be by how you draw that box.  

Next is, be smart and understanding of the first thing I told you about other people's cultures disallowing them to understand what you're trying to say.  I had a teacher that was from South Korea.  She was a wonderful teacher but there were a few things (like conceptual words or even concepts themselves) that had no translation in her language, much less a level of understanding.  There were massive hurdles for her to jump in order to effectively handle teaching in the United States, and I appreciated that of her, I loved it!  And effectively became one of her best students for it.  But when she didn't understand something she would say "I'm not seeing what you're saying" but what she wanted was "please explain better what you're trying to do."  Instead of getting mad and quitting the conversation I'd stop and think harder, how would I explain the stylistic choice I made to someone not of my culture?  Once I had effectively explained my choices and she understood she would always be more positive toward what I had made.  Sometimes it's a lack of understanding that makes your work not as effective as you think it is.

And last.  Don't get emotional. When you're coexisting with other human beings it's a general rule of thumb to remember that the moment emotions enter a conversation, whoever had the emotion has already lost.  If someone tells you that your choice to draw/paint/write/photograph your kids or dead parents sucks…. IT'S NOT A PERSONAL ATTACK!  That thing you made is not your special whatever it is you are depicting, it's a work of art in representation of your personal life/memory and effectively only applies to you when you show it in a way that makes it personal.  So get over yourself and stop and look at what you've done from the perspective of another human being that may be looking at an over glorified walmart portrait of your kid or something to that nature.  So yes.  It sucks.  And probably wasn't an effective way to depict the assignment or goal of what you're trying to do…  I would fail you.  And if you're going through art school, I would stay away from the habit of depicting personal items unless you're very good at separating reality from your artwork.

Things you should do while in a crit.  

Never be a victim up front.  It's annoying.  Don't say "I know this sucks" or "I hate this piece," because you've shut out your viewer.  If you hated it, why did you make it?  If you were pressed for time or you woke up a different person than the person you were at 2am with a few beers, then you probably noticed some things that could have been improved and that's ok to say.  You CAN say "Now, looking at the way this is displayed I have spotted a few places I could improve such as…" But again, don't do it in the beginning.

First thing you do is explain your work.  Write it down if you have to, be prepared, it is a speech.  Answer these questions for yourself:
  • What's the assignment? Or personal goal?
  • What did you get out of this?
  • What do you want your viewer to get out of viewing it?
  • Is there a specific relevant concept?
  • What design choices did you make, and why?  For instance, line quality, shading techniques, lighting, textures… anything technical.  You made decisions every mark you made and you need to be aware of these choices because it will make you a better artist, but explaining why you did or didn't do something is highly effective for getting true crit ideas out of your viewers.

Once you've done your research speech now let everyone else speak.  If you're in a gallery setting your research speech is typically your artist statement or a statement you've provided for your piece of work so you're hoping that the viewer has taken the time to read these things, but if they haven't it's ok.  Be prepared to repeat yourself.

Let them ask questions, and answer them confidently.  You made these decisions with confidence, just because they're asking doesn't mean it was the wrong choice!

If someone says something negative.  Don't fret.  If you feel they're wrong, by all means reexplain what you're trying to accomplish and how what you did really was the only and/or best choice.  Like I mentioned before, my S. Korean teacher sometimes would say she didn't think a certain aspect was working but when I took the time to professionally explain why I thought it was working and how I put effort into deciding on that particular color/line or whatever, she would understand and suddenly love it.

If they're still not convinced please feel free to ask them questions "well, what do you suggest?" or "Can you explain why it's not effective?" and legitimately give them the opportunity to convince you otherwise.  This is a learning experience.  Other people may being thinking this but this person is the ONLY one to have the balls to actually say it.  If you still logically disagree it's ok, but be polite to them.  they put effort into thinking about your work and it just simply didn't happen in their mind.  That's not necessarily their fault.

But the most dangerous aspect of a crit…. no crit.  When you've superseded your audience and they have no advice for you…. it's time to get a new audience.  There should always be room for improvement.  I hated when people said that what I did was spot on or that they couldn't find somewhere to improve because I was my worst critique and I always saw where I needed to change.  But I wanted the best out of my crits because I wanted to learn more.  I thrived on negative crits.  I needed someone to say "this doesn't work," even if it was one wrong mark in a thousand.  Because I know I'm not perfect.  So I started asking the questions and making my viewers think.

For instance, ask these:

  • Does this image/design choice work best?  I was struggling with this choice over this and I couldn't decide 100%…
  • I wanted to do [insert something, color? line? word?] but I felt it did too much/not enough, what do you think?
  • Would you have done [insert a choice]?
  • Does this say [insert concept]

Of course trying to drive your audience to over think something can be difficult as well but it can be a fun and engaging scenario.  I always get nervous in a crit and I always hate talking to people about my artwork but you know what?  I have to, so I get over it.  I am not being killed or dying so it's irrational and if I want to improve as an artist then I have to keep asking and pushing my viewers as much as they push me.

Happy critiquing =)

-no I didn't discuss unruly crit creatures here.  If someone is rude, be super polite and professional and they will be seen as the idiot.  Don't get flustered and learn when to spot a troll.  But this article isn't about how to critique, it's about how to handle one!

original post can be found at my website:

What is Art?

What is art, to me?  What is art, to you?

These two questions can change the meaning of the answer drastically, but they both go off of the same premise:  what is art?  

While I was going through art school I wasn't told once what art was, and I wasn't explained exactly what it is that artists are "supposed" to do.  I read a lot and studied a lot about what artist's did though.  If we knew what they did, why don't we know what they do?  Why does it seem that the smarter an artist is, the harder it is for them to just simply answer what art is?  A child can answer that question, and they can be so firm on their answer, yet the older we get the more we "think" about art, and what it is.  Is art anything in particular? Does it require a certain….. something?  Is there cohesiveness somewhere in the psyche of human beings that we are missing that would explain what's going on.  

I had an argument in one of my lecture halls about this particular question, what is art.  The whole class was instructed to argue with each other and the teacher played the ultimate devil's advocate over it all.  To this day I still don't know what his beliefs are!  It went something like this:  We have drawing, and painting, and sculpture, and all the lovely other aspects to art school and then we have the other, graphic design, furniture design, and photography.  What made these art versus the others… was there a common practice, thought pattern, or method?  Some of the students firmly believed that graphic design was NOT art, which pissed off the graphic design majors.  Some of the furniture design majors ragged on the drawing majors, because weren't we just doodling for fun anyway?  And then we had non objective painters versus the more objective/abstract painters cropping up.  We had them all in the class and everyone had a voice pro their choice in the art department and against others.  This bothered me.  How can we all be studying the same things with a difference only in medium, material, or tools, be so cruel to the other studies?  Did they not know that in some cases they were highly lacking in skill in the media that they chose to rag on, and that particular person they were stepping on may actually be a more successful artist in their study than them?  

Then I got bothered by that thought.  Why would success even enter the field of what art is?  Some people make art for themselves, and themselves alone, and only after death was it discovered that they were an "artist" and they were defined as very good at it!!  But there has to be a line, art can't be infinite in all directions… can it?  In all meanings of everything?  Why not, it would encompass everyone, wouldn't?  Isn't art something humans do?  Or did we change that as well… I've seen elephants make art…. and I would call it art, but that's questionable as well.  If they were trained to make specific marks in a specific way then they aren't exactly making art, they're practicing a learned skill right?  Wait a minute… isn't that what defined painters in the Renaissance?  A learned and academic skill unchanged and thorough and precise?  So what made art a specific art then?  Why is it not art now?  

Food for thought, all these questions.  It actually defined how I think about my work and how my work responds to me and what I'm thinking.  I don't like to define myself as an artist because I'm very shy to jump into that pigeonhole.  I do know things that I do.  I illustrate, I draw, I build, and I design whatever the hell I want.  I like to customize the things I do, everything.  I like to be in control of my entire visual space around me.  In order to be in control I have to work at all these skills, designing, craftsmanship, drawing, and planning, so that everything I make is exactly how I want it to be.  And quality.  So if other people want to label me as an artist, they can, and they can argue all day whether or not something I've made is more art than something else, but if I call myself an artist then I have lost the ability to argue other people's art because overall… aren't they just learning and executing a way of controlling their visual atmosphere as well?  

Let me just tie up a lose end here.  I do believe in teaching art and critiquing art, but as it is I simply spend more internal time thinking about what art is versus what art should be because I'm still learning.  I'm not saying there isn't a standard somewhere, just that as humans are, those standards have not yet been found, just as cultural ethics has shown that we will never understand someone from a different culture, especially if we continue to believe that our one way of life is the right way of life.  There is a standard of right and wrong somewhere in the philosophy of words, we may never get there, but that drive to understand what we are producing and doing is awesome.  We wouldn't be where we are today without that need to understand.  In science, in anthropology, in life, and in art.

It comes down to this.  If you want to draw an octopus, draw one.  If someone says that it's not photorealistic so it's not an octopus, explain why you chose not to make it so.  Even if skill level is a reason, explain what you chose to do instead.  If you only chose to draw a tentacle, explain why you chose to do that, what part of that octopus made that drawing about an octopus when you don't have the whole in there.  There was a reason behind that choice.  The goal in art crit is to discover the choice, vague and apparent, that the artist made.  Were those choices appropriate to the overall goal of the message?  Was there a communication going on between the artist, artwork, and viewer?  And then the artist must always be aware of those choices that they are making.  Even if it's a simple choice, be aware of it.  Those are the recipes for your technique and style.  The more choices you make the less likely it is that someone will tell you it's not art because it becomes less and less likely that someone could turn around and replicate what you're doing with ease.  It's the choices that give depth to everything we do.  Even if you have the most minimalist piece there were a multitude of choices that went into deciding on an outcome for the one mark you made.  

And that comes to my defining answer of what art is to me.  It's the internal choices we made exemplified in a manner that can appeal to the human senses.  That'll change when we discover that a dog can appreciate art…. which I'm pretty sure my dog can now that I think about it

original blogpost can be found on my website: