Thursday, 10 November 2011

Defending Ourselves against Art Critics – Inner and Outer

My view of Art Critics

A few months ago, Greeting Card Universe announced a ‘raising of the bar’ that would entail the reviewers trawling through all the 500,000 cards on the website, weeding out those that were considered to fall short of their ‘marketability’ standards.

Hard as this was for some of us to swallow, they were well within their rights to do this.

The administration expressed their awareness that this would cause upset among the artists and sure enough, a great wailing and gnashing of teeth soon followed.

But quite quickly this was followed by other artists’ voices, attempting to pacify those who were panicking, assuring them that this new move was in fact for our benefit, that it would help us to ‘improve’ and that the new, higher standard expected of us would bring us more sales. So the protests subsided – for a while!

Once the ‘cull’ got underway, however, more angry and upset artists posted their woes on the forum. Again, others tried to assuage their anger with the same old story – it’s good for us, it’s the only way we will learn to create good designs, we should all be approaching this new move positively – ‘take your medicine and be grateful’.

But what these oh so positive people failed to understand is that we are not all alike, as people or as artists. What may encourage some, will discourage others, possibly terminally!

For instance, I’ve just been asked to remove the ‘trash can’ from this photo -

Spot the Trash Can!

The truth is that I tend to be a ‘broad brush’, ‘general effect’ type of person in many aspects of life. I don’t pay a lot of attention to detail and I was probably so enthralled by the overall impression of the snow in our local park that I didn’t even notice the litter bin. So, on this occasion, far from being upset, I was actually quite glad of this ‘critique’.

But there are others, some of them still ‘embryonic’ artists, certainly younger and less confident than I am, artists who are constantly plagued by the voice of their Inner Critic, probably already burdened by perfectionism. And for them , the  prospect of an Outer as well as an Inner Critic is disastrous. Some of the outpourings on the forum and closure of ‘stores’ demonstrate that for some it’s intolerable.

“Perfectionism cuts the nerve of effort” Amy Harris.

And it can be the enemy of creativity too, according to this well researched article from the ‘Artists Who Thrive’ website.

Clearly we don’t all learn from the criticism of others and being asked to raise one’s standards to a rather loosely defined standard of ‘professionalism’ and ‘marketability’, definitely is not helpful to all.

On the other hand we do want to sell our art.

So maybe the solution for anyone in this situation is to keep reminding themselves that while one person may reject your work, there is likely to be someone else who will absolutely love it! 'One man's meat is another man's poison.' Maybe the market you are in is not the right one for you? Perhaps spending time finding other outlets for your work will be better use of your time and effort than trying to produce work that will please the wrong market?

But whatever you do, don’t stop creating!

Doodle, explore a different medium, try any - or all - of these 6 Tips for getting past ‘Creative Block’
Create without judgement, simply for the joy of creating, treat your creating time as play time, with the curiosity of a child and no particular goal in mind.

And here’s a special tip for any greeting card designer who is ‘stuck’. When you’ve used the 6 Tips above to turn down the volume of that destructive Inner Critic, create cards for your friends and relative, those you can be sure will appreciate your work.

By the time you’ve done all that, you’ll probably be ready to face those Outer Critics with a far more relaxed attitude and pick and choose whether their criticism is helpful or not!

Do you respond best to 'carrot' or 'stick'?


art2cee2 said...

Very interesting post! If your photos shows a trash can...I don't see it. So big deal if they ask you to remove it. It doesn't hurt the final photo. And you are so right, sometime we develop a love affair with our art. I was in an art show where one woman was purchasing a lot of art for her new home. Some artists actually wanted to go to her home to see that the art was properly displayed, when they found out next year that she still hadn't hung anything they were very upset! Also, Some of what I consider my best work is not as well received as some of what I consider my worst work. Go figure, like you said one man's meat... In a way the card company you create for is accepting your work on commission and you have to please who you are creating for or why do it at all. You are free to not participate. Once a long time ago someone brought me a photo of their long passed on father and wanted a portrait. Their request was to take out the wrinkles...I did. Now I don't do people portraits anymore because requests can be a bit hard to accomodate. Yes, I also had a woman who wanted me to straighten her son's teeeth, another remove the glasses...and the list goes on. Animals on the other hand are easy!

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Crystal - thank you very much for your thoughtful - and at times, hilarious - comments!

So you need to be a plastic surgeon, an optician and an orthodontist to take commissions!!!

But seriously, what's upsetting some of the artists is that cards that have sold well are being rejected, which could be said to make a nonsense of the 'marketability' standard! In the end, it's the customers who decide what is 'marketable' and what isn't, I'd have thought?

Donna L "Sunshine" said...

exactly my point, Judy! What the heck does anyone know what will sell if it isn't put out there for the general public to see and decide on themselves? I think "marketability" is the wrong word to now use - design "guidelines" is much more appropriate. I'm sorry I've been a rebel rouser on "the POD" in question but being a struggling artist, I'm totally sick over this whole deal when I thought I could handle this. Sure, many of my concerns are stemming from rejections of cards done by other artists, but I learn by example. If SELLING cards are rejected, then what chance have I got in surviving for the long haul? I am really starting to feel that cookie cutter cards are what's going to only be acceptable. It's obviously my stupidity in what people actually want and obviously I am unable to supply. Am I in the wrong market? My other question now - why aren't customers able to leave reviews/comments for cards they purchase as a means of feedback to the designing artists? People keep telling me I'm so good - then why are my cards selling next to nothing? Is it all my fault? I'm obviously too stupid to understand this business. I keep trying but obviously my best just isn't good enough so yes, I've moved on to other creative ventures taking a break from cards because I feel NO inspiration to create nor any feeling that I'll succeed here. Sorry to vent but obviously I'm just the kind of artist you are singling out - maybe I'm really not cut out for this market after all - not because I can't take a critique but because I don't understand WHY in some cases (whether they be my cards or not and especially in the case of cards that artists say are selling well - makes NO SENSE to me).

Donna L "Sunshine" said...

oh, I had another thought - since reviewers are fellow artists, who's to say that they aren't deliberately eliminating competition? I just learned that only fellow artists can make comments on our cards at that particular site - again, I can't help but wonder if they won't make sure friends get all the accolades and forget the rest of us artists. I personally think this is a major conflict of interest - it should be the BUYERS who decide what sells well and should be ranked high - NOT fellow artists who can certainly manipulate things to suit their own fancy. Call me wrong but it doesn't seem right to me and easy enough to work the system in favor of only a select bunch of artists.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Donna - thank you for your comments.

I think you will have discovered by now that 'learning by example' doesn't really work in this situation because there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it.

I've just heard that a new professional photographer, who has had his work published in leading photographic magazines, had one of his stunning cards rejected because the reviewers simply didn't understand what the card was all about!

This is where it's so important to keep on creating, following your own lights, but not to put all your eggs in one basket, especially if that basket appears to be full of holes!

Donna L "Sunshine" said...

wish it were that easy to do. Coming into this as a total amateur and newbie, I'm feeling REALLY put off by the holes in the basket as you say. I'm amazed that fellow artists are the ones making the comments when it would be so easy to do just that because it IS direct competition. I've seen this garbage in my other hobby - friends ONLY helping friends and the rest fall by the wayside. Easy enough to feel ostracized in this world. I have a question - do you design unique designs for each store you hold or does each store get the same images? I'm really thinking of taking all my current submissions and loading them elsewhere and just letting that one particular store sit and do whatever it may - for the small change I make there, it's taking way too much effort on my part - time is money to me and this is definitely a one-sided deal and it's not to my benefit at the moment. And thank you for commenting on a couple of my Z designs - I just became a fan of your store!

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Donna - in answer to your question: no, I don't create unique designs for each store, though some of them do require different sized images, which is a lot of extra work.

I think you've got the right idea about uploading your designs to other sites where there is no review process and where sales are mainly dependent on customers' choices. I say 'mainly' because promoting your offerings also makes a difference.

I hope you can also get some enjoyment out of the creative part of the process itself as it's all too easy for that to fall by the wayside when we are focused on 'sales'. Ironically, as the article I linked to suggests, you may well produce your best work when you are not trying to meet someone else's standards of perfection!

Carol said...

Great post, Judy. I'm definitely a "carrot" person! If this had been done to me even two years ago, I'd have been a gonner.

As for the trash can, I couldn't see it even straining. Some people are just too picky, picky, picky!

Judy Adamson said...

Thank you, Carol - I thought that was quite funny about the 'trash can' as I think that's somehow part and parcel of a park :)

I agree entirely that if it had happened to me a couple of years ago, it would have been devastating. But I think it comes down to what stage we're at as far as our confidence is concerned and nowadays a little bit of politely worded 'stick' is probably good for me - sometimes!

LJR said...

The "trash can" criticism is pure nit-picking, focusing on extraneous minutiae rather than relevant elements of composition, leaving an impression that the critical process is merely a top-down arbitrary winnowing for the sake of winnowing.

Does the removal of the trash can improve the image? I don't think so. In fact, I would argue that its presence gives a subtle sense of authenticity to the image.

I hope all turns out well once this review runs its course. :)

Judy Adamson said...

Thank you, LJ :)

Actually what you wrote about 'authenticity' was exactly what I thought when I took the photo. I wouldn't have wanted a trash can right in the foreground, but I thought that one in the distance was an integral part of the park.

But that decision by the reviewers was very minor compared to some of the reasons they've given for declining cards. Their decision is final, no appeals, so all we can do is accept it and seek other outlets for our work.

Country Mouse Studio said...

Thanks for the encouraging post, I couldn't find the trashcan at all but I love the composition of your photo.

Judy Adamson said...

Thanks, Carole - maybe it would be fun to do a series of cards where the recipient had to find something that's hiding (such as a trashcan) rather like those 'Where's Wally?' books?