Critics: Can’t Live Without Them. Can’t Shoot Them

Let’s be truthful here. I don’t take criticism well. If my wife says an image is good, that’s enough for me. Then if I post it to a critique site, I usually want kudos, not cropping or post processing advice. Sometimes I do want that and I’ll ask for it, but generally I want praise. Not necessarily praise for how good I am, but I won’t turn it down — I want praise for the photo. I want people to be moved by it. I want people to buy it and put it on their wall.

This brings me to juries and professional critics. If you want to do more than sell some photos at small local art fairs, you must submit to juries and get professional critiques. I’ve been doing this a lot lately and it amazes me the wide range of critiques I can get on images. In one portfolio review one image was barely looked at. The gallery manager only muttered Merced River before he went on. However that same image was chosen by a juror and given a Merit Award and a prestigious local gallery. It also got a viewer’s choice award from an exhibit at the Center for Fine Art Photography. That image is also one of my better sellers.

The other issue I have is that visual art critics seem to like images that are more intellectual than visual. It’s ok for a movie or a novel to contain a deep emotional story. However if you’re a visual artist, you work has to make people think, not feel. In my opinion we’re already thinking too much. If the current work I see makes me feel anything, it’s depression. I was recently juried into an exhibition in a neighboring state. I wasn’t going to be able to make the opening so I went on to the gallery’s web site to see the other photographers who I would be showing with. Man, it seems each artist’s view of life was of alienation and depression. If I were so alienated and depressed, I certainly wouldn’t want my images to make my viewers feel the same way. I want my images to uplift you.

I had no idea how I got juried into the exhibit and I wouldn’t have been surprised if my photo was sent back because it didn’t look like the jpeg. In the end, I was very gratified because although it didn’t get any awards from the jurors, the viewers of the exhibit rated it the best. I got the Viewers Choice award. That’s the award that I want.

So, what are critiques good for? From my point of view, they are mostly only good for promoting yourself if you get good ones. Occasionally a critic will point out a particular area where they might process something differently and I’ll not only see their point but also agree with them. But that’s only happened once.

I love reading movie critiques in the New Yorker. They are very well written and sometimes very funny. However, those guys rarely like anything and I would never see a film only based on their critique. I’ll generally make more use of the movie description and only if that sounds interesting, I’ll consider the critique.

I think one has to be somewhat pigheaded to be an artist. One has to be more inner directed with one’s vision than outer directed, and that means listening to yourself and maybe those whom you trust and letting all the other noise just pass you by.

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~ by danbaumbach on March 15, 2009.

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