Tips: Form Your Own Painting Critique Group

One way to improve your art is to participate in a painting critique group with their insights and constructive suggestions.

Don't think that you can critique a painting?

Of course you can!

It is a learned skill, and anyone can learn it. In a painting critique group, everyone helps and is helped; it is a win-win situation.

Feel intimidated at the thought of being exposed and vulnerable with your art at the front of the room?

You are not alone. Naturally, we like to be told that we are making “Great Art” and we feel rejected when someone points “something wrong” with it.

However, if you really want authentic artistic growth in your painting and drawing skills—if you want to create an emotional response from the public through the connection you establish with your paintings—then it might be necessary to step out of your comfort zone and toughen your skin.

Constructive painting critique (not merely negative criticism) will help you detach from your work a bit, so you can see it more objectively, and as a result, you will become a better painter.

After all, we should never stop learning and, no, you really don't want to say to yourself “I already know everything I need to know.”

So, how do you get started? Go to a local art organization to check there is an existing painting critique group you can join.

If you happen to find such a group in your area, take advantage of it, but if you can't locate one, you might want to form your own.

Below are some things to consider as you form your critique group...

  • Will you keep the group private or open it up?

    Do you want the group to be open to anyone who is willing to participate? The advantage of keeping groups open is that it is more likely to expose you to new views as additional people join. Opinions are less likely to get stale.

    On the other hand, you may want to keep the group private and intimate. Invite a group of artists you already know personally. Sometimes this is the best way to start--especially if you have never been in a painting critique group before. Being with friends makes it easier to overcome the feelings of intimidation.

    I participated in such a group for a while and it was nice to be around a group of artists that you trust who will not only say nice things to you, but will give you an honest appraisal as best as they can.

  • Assign roles in the group

    In order to maximize the benefits when such a critique group gets together, it is important to delegate various jobs. You want to maintain a sense of direction.

    One of the most important roles is the moderator. The person assigned this particular role is in charge of maintaining the flow of the meeting...making sure it doesn't get bogged down.

  • Keep remarks positive and right on topic

    It is essential to explain the critique etiquette before the painting critique starts. Those offering critiques must be made aware that their comments should convey positive messages that will help the presenting artist improve his or her work. Also, remarks should stick to the point—you don't want to let the discussion get too far off-topic.

    If you are the presenting artist, then having a thick skin helps when the others are discussing your work.

    Every artist has a unique point of view, and many times, the critiquing artist is looking at your work from a very different background than yours. They may not understand your intentions in creating the work. This can result in criticism that sounds insensitive or harsh.

    Take heart, you are not alone! As the presenting artist, you have to grind your teeth and let the critiquing artist finish what their comments. It is not necessary to argue about an critique. If you find the comment offensive, then wait until the critiquing is done.

  • Minimize interruptions or distractions

    Ask everybody to turn off their cellular phone. If there is a phone in the room where the group is meeting, take it off the hook or simply don't answer it while the critique session is ongoing.

  • Prepare a checklist of elements that can be addressed for every artist

    Basically you are looking for two things in a painting: technical and emotional components:

    1. When you critique the technical part in an art work, look for drawing, perspective, value or tonal relationships, color harmony, color choices, composition, textures, brush strokes, etc.

    2. When you critique the emotional impact of the art work, you might want to let the artist state their original intention for the piece first, and then voice your comments.

      Sometimes the presenting artist might want to listen to your direct response first, and that is perfectly fine. It is up to the presenting artist to decide what the goal of the painting is, but you still can convey your emotional response to it, even if it's not what the presenting artist had in mind. Sometimes your response might be a pleasant surprise to the artist.

Painting critique groups are a great way to find encouragement for your art and valuable perspectives that will help you improve your work. When you are ready to move beyond the bland everyday “that's nice” and “I like it” type of comment (or even worse: “It looks like a photograph!”), then seek out a painting critique group.
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