Saturday, November 19, 2011

What do I think about this?

The question du jour on one of my email lists has to do with self-critique, and what questions you should ask yourself as you work on, and then after you finish, a new piece.  This is a subject guaranteed to get me to the keyboard, because I've long felt that a formal process of evaluation is necessary to a serious artist. 

I'm sure some of my former students and readers will be rolling their eyeballs if they read this -- oh no, here we go again!  But yes.  I don't see how intelligent people can conduct any part of their lives without self-evaluation.  Does this pair of jeans make me look fat?  Why do I always end up going out with losers? Can we afford to remodel the kitchen?  Should I rat out my co-worker who's sneaking money out of petty cash?  If I make this recipe again should I use less rutabaga?  How should I invest my 401(k)?  Is this art any good?

for instance, is this any good?  (detail below)

My hobby-horse is that the more serious the issue, the more it deserves a formal process rather than just some fleeting thoughts in passing.  So when it's your financial affairs or how to treat a blockbuster disease, do research, write stuff down, discuss it, get second opinions, revisit your decisions periodically. When it's your jeans, don't spend too much time on it.

But if you're serious about your art, or wonder whether you should get more serious about it, then it may deserve a more formal process.  Here's mine.  I suggest you review a just-completed work on four counts:

-- What you liked or thought was successful
-- What you disliked or thought was unsuccessful
-- What technical issues or problems you had
-- Decision points where you had to choose between equally appealing alternatives, and what alternatives you rejected

Then you use these answers to plan your next work:

-- Do more of what was successful
-- Don't do what was unsuccessful
-- Try to solve or minimize the technical problems
-- Try one or more of the alternatives you haven't used yet (you may go back to earlier pieces to find rejected alternatives to try this time)

Before you start a new work, define conceptually what you are planning to accomplish.  Think about how it fits into your body of work, whether it extends a current series and if so how, or whether there is a reason to do something outside a current series.  (Just playing is a valid reason, as long as you don't do it all the time.)  If you can't describe this clearly, maybe you shouldn't start.

1 comment:

  1. I've heard Jason Pollen comment that if a detail shot of is more exciting than an image of your whole piece, then something is wrong. I think that's a great self-critique tool, too.