Art Criticism: when to be constructive, and when to leave well alone

There is a man who lives in my area who, at every opportunity, forces on me his educated opinion of the deficit my photography shows with regards to technical skill. On the first occasion I met him, he sauntered up to me and made a comment about the seriousness – or lack thereof – of my equipment, sneering down on my diminutive Olympus XZ-1. I will be the first person to admit that I have little technical ability, having never learned how to shoot manually with any skill, but I do enjoy the images I create despite their lack of technical finesse.

I’m not someone who won’t take constructive criticism, when given with respect, but I will assert my right to choose how I take it. This man recently mentioned having seen some of my work where it hangs in a friend’s studio (where he paints fantastic larger-than-life portraits – find out more here), and momentarily after he had vaguely complimented it, he followed up with the swift and tactless pronouncement that I hadn’t shot the sky correctly, and proceeded to explain – as usual, without invitation – how it should be done (he has a degree, you see).

The image I believe he was referring to was the feature of this post in January, where the sky is quite white; had he seen some of the other photos I took at the same time and shared in this earlier post, where the sky has lovely clouds and isn’t so blown out, but which I felt were not as dynamic, he may have felt less inclined to bludgeon me, metaphorically speaking, with his boorish need to feel superior. As it was the only photo on exhibit with landscape including sky, I suspect he latched onto that flaw with delight and determined immediately to enlighten me the next chance he got.

I appreciate the effort many photographers have gone to in learning their craft, and sometimes feel a little disappointed I have not done that – though, of course, it’s not too late; however, photography is my hobby, not my profession, and while it doesn’t hurt to be always learning, improving my technical ability for the sake of the good opinion of one rude member of the community isn’t necessarily going to reap rewards for me.

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8 thoughts on “Art Criticism: when to be constructive, and when to leave well alone

  1. be like Dieter (Mike Myers character on SNL) and say, ‘your story has grown tiresome, and you may not pet my monkey.’

      • critics are long forgotten but art can live on for a long time. Create what you can, turn off the voices of others, and get into the zone where nothing matters but you are doing. Avoid negative people who just want to criticize your work – believe in yourself! You’re welcome!

  2. wow, or should I say wowser….. a literary expert will say that is not the correct wording I’m sure. Firstly, as your man should know, art, as with beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Second, you can have the best , most expensive camera equipment and/or the most highly developed (no pun) knowledge of optics, light, etc and still take crap photos (in the eye of this beholder). The most important piece of ‘equipment” is having a good eye for composition, intuition, and desire. The best advice I have seen for any budding photographer is to buy the camera you can afford and then just take photos. A $200 point and shoot in the hands of someone with passion, a good eye and intuition will take wonderful and memorable photos. I can buy excellent paints and brushes but I couldn’t paint a picture for nuts. Re the eye of the beholder – I cant see any value in a Jackson Pollack painting (look it up) but they fetch millions – give me a realistic painting any day, but you see that’s just me….. you know the first and most important person you have to please with your photography is you. And as with anything – if a person doesn’t like it they can look at, or buy, something else.

    • Thanks Martin – you know I know that I agree with all you’ve written, and that this person’s opinion doesn’t matter, but it obviously still bothered me enough to rant about it here!!

  3. Mel, Just keep following your passion. Not everything works out. I know from my paintings. The aim is to practise and enjoy, I’d say.
    Sometimes your compositions are so exciting I feel like painting them. I have always thought you have a very good idea for things that many of us pass over. I think that is a great skill.

  4. I think you’ll find that Davo has a Diploma. I usually take “Degree” to mean a Bachelor, at least. But if you insist, then I suddenly find myself with a degree. Happy days.
    Whilst technique is objectively important in some cases (eg. to a tradesperson), art is subjective. You like it, or you don’t. Tell him to fuck off.

    • Dear Nancy Reagan, thanks for stopping by to comment! I suspect I must either know you (and you already knew my story), or you know the gentleman in question. Care to send me a private message and enlighten me as to which?

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