Art Critique Pep Talk #1

The Critique Mindset

Listen to Pep Talk #2 ("Can I submit works in progress?") Here


This pep talk is designed for those who are getting ready to do a critique with me and/or with my mother, Linda Kemp, but really I think this will be useful for any artist who is going to go through the critique process. So feel free to share this with any fellow artists who you think could benefit.

I know that some of you have a lot of feelings about the critique process. It can be scary! So I hope that this little message will help get you in the right headspace to make the most of the experience.

The topic for this pep talk is what I call “The Critique Mindset:” By “mindset” I mean the attitude or beliefs you’re going to go into the critique with. 

This mindset going to shape the experience of your critique. It can make the difference between having a great time and learning a lot and having a terrible time and learning only that you’re a terrible artist and should never make anything again.

So, I believe that the best mindset for going into a critique is to KNOW, without a shadow of a doubt, that you are the ultimate authority on your art. I’ll say that again in another way, YOU are the expert on your own art. Nobody else.

You’re the expert whether you’re an established, professional artist or whether you are a total beginner. 

You’re the expert whether the person giving the critique is a famous artist, or has a PhD, or has won all of the awards.

This is not the same as saying that everything you make is excellent or that good art is just a matter of taste. I’m not being a relativist here. What I’m saying is that you are the authority and it’s your job to make decisions based on what you hear during the critique. 

One of the great things about being an artist is that you get to do pretty much whatever you want! You can learn all of the formal rules about design, you can learn all kinds of fancy techniques, but in the end, YOU get to decide whether you use them or not. Or adapt them. Or ignore them! You get to decide. Even more than that, you MUST decide. That’s a big part of what being an artist is; Having a vision, and making decisions. Nothing about a critique changes that.

I know a lot about art, I’ve done a lot of critiques, and yet I still might give you some really rubbish feedback. I’m going to do my best to help you during the critique, but sometimes I’m going to fail. Why? Because I’m not the expert on your art. 

Your job as the expert in the room is to listen, ask clarifying questions within the time allotted to you, process and then decide if my feedback is relevant to what YOU want to do. You will decide what I say aligns with your vision.

The worst mindset for going into an art critique is what I call “validation seeking mode.”

Don’t come to a critique saying to yourself, “tonight, I’m going to find out if this painting is any good” or even “tonight, I’m going to find out if Jamie Kemp thinks this painting is good.”

If you do that, you will lose no matter what I happen to say to you. If you are in validation seeking mode and I say “great job, I love this!” your brain is going to start having a party, you’re going to stop listening, and you’re not going to learn a thing. And if I don’t say “great job, I love this” you’re going to feel terrible, your brain is going to have a funeral, you’re going to stop listening, and not learn anything. If you’re seeking validation and I don’t give it to you in the way you want it, you’re not going to be able to function EVEN IF, deep inside myself, I think your work is excellent.

Validation mode blocks your ability to learn and gives away the responsibility you have over your own art. It is your job to be the expert.

What we want to do when we’re hosting a critique is give you feedback that you can use to decide what what you want to do next in your practice!

So that’s my pep talk: the critique mindset is that YOU are the ultimate authority on your art. You’re showing up to get feedback so that you can decide for yourself what you want to do next.  

I hope this has been helpful! Feel free to share with anyone you think could use a pep talk and I’ll see you at the crit.

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