As I mentioned in a previous post, the feedback on my work varied wildly at the residency in Vermont. Not only from the other residents, but also from the visiting artists. Studio visits by the visiting artists were optional, however I signed up to meet with all of them. Because I was working on developing new imagery I knew that getting so much feedback could be problematic. And it was. The first two visits really threw me off and after each meeting, it took awhile for me to get back to work, I was so confused and unsure of which direction to take. By the time the second two visiting artists came in, I had narrowed my focus a bit with the figures and their criticism didn't really affect me quite so much. Mostly because they both had completely different opinions about each of the pieces that I showed them. It was a wash.
Anyway, I thought I'd put up a few of the pieces that no one agreed on and describe what was said about them.
This piece: by far got the most comments, mostly positive actually. Which was frustrating, and then by the end of the month, comical to me because I was so disinterested in it that I couldn't bear to even try to continue working on it. However, two of the artists had completely different ideas about what direction to take it, despite the fact that I HAD NO INTEREST IN IT. Visiting Artist #1 said I should develop the background, and leave the face blank. #2 liked it too and said I should leave it, #3 said it was the most successful painting that I had done and went on to say that it was a clear statement on isolation in America. Ok. #4 didn't really have much to say about it, although she liked the way I painted the dress.
Most of the residents that saw it, liked it. Some thought I should finish it, some said no way and most said they liked the blank face.
#3 spent a lot of time telling me why this piece worked so well: which was actually very interesting and helpful. #4 liked it (and my landscapes in general) and #1 and #2 didn't really acknowledge any of my landscapes, except in passing. #2 did say that the landscapes in general were too polished and it bothered him that he could not see any "struggle" in them.
I had been doing some still life paintings just to keep working, while I was trying to figure out the figures and so each of the visiting artists saw them in varying stages.
(These last two are the ones on canvas that I worked on while stapled to the wall. The canvas, that is, not me:))
#1 and #2 completely dismissed them and one implied that still lifes probably wouldn't further one's career as far as reviews, museum shows, etc, but one could sell them and maybe meet expenses. #3 didn't really talk about them either, although she mentioned that if I were interested in portraying still life objects, I could work them into the figurative paintings. #4 liked the tulips but again, didn't really have anything specific to say about them. I can understand the response here to these, they were really just busy work, valuable for that.
The figurative work that I did in the drawing sessions also got very little discussion, with the exception of #3. Who felt I needed to work from the figure much more. She thought my lines were too hesitant and that I erased too much. She though I needed to develop the model's surroundings in the oil sketches more. I didn't agree much at all with her assessment of them, but didn't say anything, or explain that the erasing is part of the drawing. Maybe it isn't working if she sees it as erasing rather than part of the drawing? She is the only one who has ever said that to me so I don't know how seriously to take it.
I had just begun the small little paintings of the single figures:when #2 visited, and I can't recall if #1 saw them. #2 liked them, he mostly saw them in the drawing and underpainting stage and liked how they were so subtle, appearing and disappearing. #3 didn't like the color on them, but liked the underpainting stage, and in fact thought one of them was very successful: and I should leave it be. (after much debate with myself, I went on to paint color on it anyway) #4 felt the the whole direction was not very good. She said they would never be more than "vignettes," which sounded like a bad thing, the way she said it.
A few more observations. #1 and #2 did not even mention my use of color. #2 said "your process is killing you" meaning that he thought the way I paint was dragging me down and limiting my options. #3 asked me about my color and how I have come to it, but didn't really talk about it otherwise. #4 was the only one who discussed my color, and responded to it at all.
With #1 I spoke entirely too much about how I show and sell my landscapes. His visit was early on in the month and I was still a bit nervous in the whole environment. And when I am nervous I talk way too much, which is exactly what I did with him. I made an effort to keep my mouth shut as far as my exhibition activities go with the other artists. However, I definitely got the vibe from all of them that selling from a gallery was not a good idea and would badly affect the direction of one's work.
#3 didn't like this painting:She thought it was too sweet and sentimental, and that the tree should be more prominent. #4 loved it, thought it was strong and bold, but that it just needed a bit of form in the foreground in order to create more foreground. And I did more work on that area.
Now that a little time has passed, I have a different perspective on much of the feedback I received. The very specific comments concerning my process or what my intent was as far as respect vs sales, while perplexing at the time, have actually served to help me feel more confident about what I do. I LIKE my painting process and I enjoy it. I like that it is limiting and I like the challenge of having to work around those limits. I also know that when those thing really don't work for me anymore, I will change things up. And while I do make some decisions regarding exhibiting or gallery representation based on what I'd like to happen for me in the future, I don't think much about it when it comes to actually making art. If I were so concerned about showing in Chelsea, for example, I would NOT be painting a representational landscape or barns, god forbid. heh.
The visit from #1 and his comments helped me realize that I needed to simplify the figures, get rid of the backgrounds and work at a smaller scale in order to work out some of these issues. The encouragement from #2 and #3 concerning the small figure underpaintings was good, although I ultimately decided that I needed to add the color anyway. And I am glad I went in that direction. I can always do more that are monochromatic anyway. And #3 really gave me insight about why some of my pieces worked, as well as why some didn't. #4 encouraged my use of color, giving me some ideas about how to use the color to create and push the forms behind the figures. She was also really nice to just chat with and I appreciated that.
So overall, despite wanting to pull out all my hair and give up painting entirely after most of the critiques, there was some valuable information from each visit, that will ultimately help me. But the really amazing thing was how much the opinions varied.