Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Three On The Side, 2009, Oil on Birch Panel, 8x10

Last week, in response to my question asking what viewers here were seeing in a portrait that I painted (see the post here) I received this response from anonymous:

I see paintings lacking in subject matter. They are all about technique, and that is not interesting enough. They don't tell a story. I can't imagine a gallery being able to sell this work. Just being honest. Look at Eric Fischl. Look at what he is doing with tension, a stories being a told. These are just a painting of a photo of a grandma. If the viewer does not know this person, it boring. It's just lacking so much. Stick with it, but grow.

Normally, I don't pay much attention to anonymous comments; I tend to believe that if one can't stand up and put their name to their own words then they probably shouldn't be saying them. But obviously the internet just breeds anonymous comments and so I don't think my opinion on that matters much.

But, anonymous brought up some points that have been on my mind with this series of paintings so I have decided to address this comment.

I see paintings lacking in subject matter. Yes, that concerns me. That also has been an issue for me with my landscapes. I would like to have more content, be more narrative in my work, knock viewers over the head with my opinions about politics, religion, the environment, etc. But I am not that kind of an artist. I express my feelings about what I see. That's what I do. It might be successful, it might not be, but that is how and why I make art. Period.

Over the years though, I have noticed that plenty of people see a lot of stories in my landscapes and now in the People You Know series. My conclusion on that is that the viewer has some responsibility concerning what they bring to a piece of art. Some viewers will understand what I am trying to express, some will find their own meaning, and others, like anonymous, will see nothing. I am ok with that. In fact, knowing that my work can affect people in so many different ways is very gratifying to me.

I can't imagine a gallery being able to sell this work. My response to this one is very clear: I don't really care if a gallery can sell this work. Friends and even my own husband have been telling me all along that these won't sell. But that is totally not my intent here at all. Now that's not to say that I wouldn't like to sell these paintings at some point and yes, I do plan on submitting them to galleries and juried shows just to see what will happen. Either way though, I will keep going. As an artist, I need this challenge and I am incredibly drawn to telling the stories that I see in these old photographs. I am pursuing this series because I want to. Figurative work can be a tough sell, and I'd be crazy to be worrying about all that. Sheesh!

Stick with it, but grow. Well, duh. Isn't that always the hope and the inevitable result of continually creating art? My landscapes have changed a lot over the last five years. Sometimes after I have had some personal issues, a professional setback OR a success (actually, not so much after that, a success often messes me up:)). But mostly the growth has occurred gradually because I have kept painting, painting painting. I do not doubt that that will happen with the People You Know series as well. But if it doesn't, well so what? I really get to do what I want here.

I appreciate the fact that someone has a negative opinion about these portraits, like I said previously, that fact makes this all the more intriguing to me. And after receiving this comment I felt I needed to more completely formulate my thoughts and intent concerning this work, and that is always good.


Casey Klahn said...

Anonymous missed the forties, the fifties, the sixties, the seventies, the eighties...

In other words, the tenants of Modern Art (not saying you are doing Modern art, necessarily, Tracy) have taught us to value the painting, too. I see your emotion; I see your content - and it is as current and valuable as any narrative work (if not more so - which is my opinion).

Good on you for addressing these, but they are hardly issues anymore in art. Maybe they are for some, but let's allow artists to be up-to-date, huh?

Technique? Your art goes well beyond your technique.

I could go on and on...

Ruth Armitage said...

Here here, Casey. I definitely read emotion, content, even a mysterious type of narrative.... more a question or an untold story. Your color choices and the irresistable pull you have to do them shows through. I'm glad you're not worried about the art market, just making the art.

meno said...

I do wonder why the person felt the need to be anonymous. It's honest feedback. Weird.

Tracy said...

Thanks Casey, for your feedback.

I was curious about anon's background based on their comments, but in the end I simply felt it was a good opportunity to definitively explain what I am doing here. Well, as much as anyone can explain that:)

Thanks Ruth. I didn't think much about the art market when I began the landscapes either and in fact I was so naive about all that, that I didn't even realize that landscapes are pretty universal and sell pretty easily, at least outside of Chelsea:) I was just painting what I wanted, and so am continuing on with that here.

Meno, I suppose they might have worried about me taking it badly. And I can think of a bunch of other reasons for staying anonymous, mostly because even though I don't do it, I have been tempted to post the occasional anonymous comment as well:)

Gary Rith Pottery Blog said...

here's a sh!t sandwich for ANON and further, phhhlllbbbt!
I adore your work T----

Nikole said...

I don't think it's fair to knock anon too harshly. We seldom hear an honest negative critique even if it's off the mark. It doesn't matter where art shmart standards happen to stand at the moment. We have to carry on in the directions we are drawn. Anonymous really needed to say that, otherwise they wouldn't have posted AT ALL. On the other hand, I try to disregard negative remarks (why are you doing THAT?) when I'm in the middle of my road. And after I've arrived somewhere nobody's remarks matter but my own. Nikole

Katherine Tyrrell said...

I've got a policy of not accepting anonymous comments on my blog - unless there's a jolly good reason. There's just too many nasty nitpicking troll types out there - plus it goes against the whole tenor of my whole policy about comments - which was very carefully worked out.

Frankly I don't think there is a good excuse to stay anonymous in relation to the comment left. It's not that difficult to find your email address if they wanted to offer you advice. So in my book, I'd classify the stance taken as a variation on attention seeking.

Good for you for the response you gave it.

Personally I thought the comment which was left really only served to demonstrate Anonymous's lack of imagination and perception.

Tracy said...

Thanks, Gary, my little watchdog:)

Nikole, one of the reasons I even bothered to respond at all to the anon. comment was because it was respectful. However, leaving an anon. comment does tend to open one up to some derision and that is something to think about when staying anonymous.

And I know what you mean, there are definitely some points in the road where criticism in not helpful at all. The trick is trying to figure out when that is:)

Katherine, I have toyed with not accepting anonymous comments, but mostly I don't have much of a problem with them. I can always change my mind though!

I suspect that this one could be from someone that I know, or who has commented here before and didn't want to openly offer me criticism. I get that, but I agree, an email might have been a good solution. On the other hand, this comment gave me a good opportunity to clarify my feeling and intent concerning this series.

Chris Rywalt said...

Nikole, I respectfully disagree. Uninformed criticism is worse then useless; it's damaging. Honesty is important but so is not being an idiot. Anonymous immediately reveals themselves to be an idiot when they say "I see paintings lacking in subject matter...They don't tell a story." You want a story, go read a book. Art isn't about stories.

Tracy, don't let the lack of subject matter -- what does that even mean? -- trouble you for an instant. No one should be more narrative in art. It's right there in the word, narrative. That's not visual art.

bridgette said...

hey tracy, it's always hard to hear something negative (i have yet to master that gracefully), but it sounds like it only fortified your stance and feelings on this series. so, that seems to be the most important thing to come out of anonymous' comment.

I've been meaning to send you a link to this pacific northwest artist She also works from old photos. Her paintings are huge. I remember reading good reviews on her exhibits back in WA.

As a big fan of your work, I love both the landscapes and the People You Know series. The People You Know series has such a different feel to them, they are so intimate. And yet have an isolated feel to them. I'm no art critic, just saying what I see and respond to. :)

GiselleG said...

Hi Tracy!
This was an interesting post to read. It sounds like you invited readers to give you feedback, and someone did... but without standing behind their comments. That's unfortunate, as it sounds like you're open to the dialogue. A more productive way to approach critical & honest feedback could have been to say "hey Tracy, have you thought about content? Or I'm missing the content/narrative." There are a couple of artists who's work that I enjoy, who use old photos as source material. They were drawn to these images, and found a way to use them. You've been very open in sharing your investigations. I hope that Anonymous doesn't change that. Keep the work coming and hopefully folks can stand up behind their comments. Clearly you're up for the conversation!

Nikole said...

Uninformed criticism is worse then useless; it's damaging. Honesty is important but so is not being an idiot

Hi Chris -- I didn't mean to imply that the comments were correct. But even an idiot may have a comment -- and of course if we we knew we were idiots we'd never say anything! there's a lot of uninformed criticism out there and unfortunately I've found I have to steel myself for it and hold on to my hat. Tracy is brave for putting herself right out there with her strengths and vulnerabilities that I sure empathize with.

Deborah Paris said...

Hmmm. Easy to be "honest" when you are anonymous. And, then giving a crit for not telling a story or producing work that will sell..OK, maybe I do understand why it was signed Anonymous.

Tina Mammoser said...

Enjoyed reading your response here, because I had a similar experience with gallery feedback recently. The feedback given to me was at least given in a positive, constructive way but was interesting because it was elements of my work I'd actually been pondering myself - like you with your narrative.

I found I was able to agree and counter the statements on the spot (which in the past I wasn't quite able to do) which made me realise I did have a fairly strong personal approach. But overall these things are good because they do make us consider how we would explain precisely what we do. As visual artists sometimes we're not pushed enough to verbalise our work, which can in turn help us hone our approach to the visual.

Like you some aspects of the 'advice' I agreed with (further abstracting, relying too strongly on the literalness of my subject) and some I strongly disagreed with (pursuing pure color fields). But it got me thinking, ideas which almost immediately translated into my current work.

So get painting! Something good will come out from this.

Deb said...

"respectful" was the key.

I wish more folks would be constructively honest when they comment, in fact, I'm going to ask for it.

Regular readers follow blogs because they either like the work or they like the artist (most likely someone they have never met) and, like myself, are following Mum's good manners - "if you've nothing nice to say, clam up".

Melody said...

I beleive anything your not willing to put your name to doesn't deserve to be heard. Loved your work the minute I first saw it and continue to. The figurative work speaks volumes.

Tracy said...

Ohhh, the pain! I just wrote a big long response to all the newer comments, forgot to copy, hit publish and blogger promptly swallowed it!

And I must get to work, so I can't do it again.

I would like to say though, that I am not going to go so far as to say that anonymous is an idiot. The thing is though, because I don't know who it is, what kind of artist they are, etc. it's tough to know where they are coming from. Maybe anonymous only feels that portraits should be realistic, or should have many elements or should be commissioned portraits of a family member, etc. Knowing the background of the critic can really allow a much better dialog since the observations make more sense.

Chris Rywalt said...

You think you're in pain. I just realized I used "then" instead of "than". This is why I'm going for neurological testing next week.

All due respect, Tracy, but you're wrong. Knowing this anon's background would probably only make them look stupider. Saying that your art needs more of a story is just dumb, period.

Shanster said...

I think comments in writing are "harder" cuz you can assign a tone in your head that might not be there at all.

But with writing, you get a moment to think before responding...

I know sometimes when someone questions me verbally I don't respond with a very good answer most times but if I have a moment to sit and think.. I come up with a really good answer about why I did something the way I did and it makes sense to me.

I need to work on doing that more on the fly so I sound like I'm smart vs. stoopid. grin.

Anyway - interesting critique and a really great answer!

Ann K. said...

Tracy---I commend you for taking the criticism and using it to a good purpose---to ask yourself about your process, your aims, your art. In the end, in my view, that is what makes criticism useful. Of course, not all criticism is worth examining in the depth you have done in this case, but that's for you to discern and decide.

tlwest said...

I am going to ignore the controversy and say that I really like the painting "Three On The Side" :) And I like the poofy dress one :)

Deborah Ross said...

Tracy, good for you for responding to Anonymous. Obviously, he or she hasn't kept up with the art world, as Casey says. As for me, I love your figurative work, and I think it's fun to just imagine the lives of your subjects.

Tracy said...

Chris, I am just trying not to get to the point where I am calling someone an idiot. If I have to consider a few excuses for anonymous to avoid that, I will.

Shanster, I know, it's tough to say the right things at the right time. I have a tendency to think of the perfect response to some sort of criticism about 3 hours later. To be honest though most of the critiques that I get are not in person, so that makes life a bit easier for me:)

Thanks Ann, yes, well Doug encouraged me to consider the comment a bit more than I might have otherwise. Took me awhile to warm up to responding to it at all:)

Terri, smart! Thanks, glad you like the paintings.

Deborah, well it certainly turned out to be good for me to respond:) Glad you like the portraits, thanks.

sus said...

One of the reasons I am drawn to your work, Tracy, is that I find a lot to agree with in it. Also, it is refreshing to see an artist that is not shouting some opinion so loudly that it overwhelms any other consideration of the work.

It seems to me that figurative work lends itself to narrative; a viewer will tend to want to tell a story to themselves. Your paintings lend themselves to subtler narratives than a viewer would tell themselves when the work is more bluntly stated.

I am so glad that you decided to pursue color with the People You Know series. It was always a component of your landscape paintings that I found most intriguing.

Robin Roberts said...

Tracy - I'll be the thousandth person to say you're a champ for the way you responded to anon. You know very well the direction you want to go. It shows in your paintings that you have the courage to take the unsafe route. Many watercolor artists say they have about one in ten paintings turn out successful. I REEEEAaally would like for anon to 'fes up and send a photo of their struggles for the world to see like you have done. Keep truckin'.

Tracy said...

Sus, yet again you have very eloquently pointed out aspects of my work that I have missed. Thanks so much.

Thanks Robin, Well I admit to questioning whether or not I should be posting this work while it is so in-progress. I decided to because I put up the very first ones last winter, and it seemed natural to continue. Sometimes the negative stuff DOESN'T help. I am glad that I got a push from anonymous to clarify my thoughts on this series though, so it's all good. So far anyway!

Chris Rywalt said...

There's no shame in calling an idiot an idiot.

Laura said...

Well said Tracy. I'm just catching up on your blog and noticed this thread. What I love about the People You Know series is that they do invoke a curiosity of who these people are, who's grandmother, aunt, where they lived. So to me the story is up to me to create.

I guess we all have criticism, constructive and otherwise. But I appreciate that there are all kinds of artists, who paint for all kinds of reasons.