Judging Artwork- Criticism or Critique

June 2021

Press Release by Norm Freyer

When I was in high school, I would work sporadically at a filling station run by my uncle and my father. One of the regular customers was a local artist of some later fame. I’ll not disclose his name as I know if some supporters of his work should happen to read this column, they would certainly respond unfavorably! So, we will call him Mr. Artsy. When Mr. Artsy came to get gas at the filling station, he would stop short of the pumps and then his wife would get out of the car and direct him to the pumps. Once in place, he would always get 5 gallons. After filling the 5 gallons, I would have to wash the windshield, check the oil, and the water in the radiator and check the tires.

Upon reflection today, I chuckle on what was expected of you while working at a filling station in the 1950’s. Anyway, I was somewhat familiar with his artwork. I thought that it was primitive and showed a lack of talent. In short, I thought that it was rubbish! Now that is what I call criticism! But – wait a minute! I saw a review of Mr. Artsy’s work by a well-known art critic. He stated that Mr. Artsy’s work was primitive, possessing great charm, always colorful, decorative and festive in mood, a celebration of life. The difference in opinion regarding this artist’s work shows you that criticism differs from person to person. And it will be difficult to resolve the differences between the two. Some of the best artists have suffered from undue criticism, sometimes causing emotional distress, or worse, to the artist on the receiving end. 

Recently, I painted a watercolor of the coasting schooner Australia. The rotted hull of this vessel, which is all that is left of the schooner, resides at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. The painting was being exhibited as part of a Citrus Watercolor Society (CWS) show and sale at the Homosassa Wildlife Park. The judge at this exhibit, who is a member of the Ocala Art Group, offered to critique any of the paintings on exhibit. I accepted to see how this painting would fair in a good critique. In summary, he advised me that basically this was a great painting. The ship was well painted, the sky was perfect, but – I had over worked the wave action in the painting. So – what to do? I had put too much emphasis on white caps on the waves. I had over worked this portion of the painting. Upon reflection I had to say, why did I do this? I had sailed my own boat for over 30 years. I should have known better. But the judge offered, “Listen, paint over most of the whitecaps and make it realistic.” He was right. I sat down and removed 75% of the whitecaps and ended up with a better painting. Thank you judge – not for criticism, but for giving this painting a good critique leading to a better painting. Fellow artists of the CWS, if your painting is giving you fits get another artist to give a critique on how to improve it.

Criticism, n.* – The act of making judgments; analysis of qualities and evaluation of comparative worth esp., the critical consideration and judgment of literary and artistic work.
Critique, n.* – 1 A critical analysis or evaluation of a subject, situation, literary work, etc. 2 The art of criticizing; criticism.
*Websters New World Dictionary