Self-critiquing -- head or gut?



  • I'm wondering if this is an amateur problem but I struggle with doubt about my ability to judge the quality of my own paintings and worry that if I can't self-critique effectively, I won't know how to improve them. I'm not talking about regular doubt ("Man, I suck as an artist" kind of thing) but doubt over whether I even have the ability to know whether something I've done is good or bad. I struggle with these doubts because of the contrast I feel in my other creative pursuits. I also do a lot of writing professionally and have been a life long amateur musician and in both writing and music, I am able to self-critique. I know when I have done a piece successfully and when I haven't and can usually pinpoint exactly what went wrong so I know where to work for improvement, but with art I feel more blind (or tone deaf to mix metaphors). I've played music and done writing since I was a child so those self-critiquing skills feel innate to me but maybe they are just the result of a life time of doing it, while I didn't really start doing art until I was an adult.

    I'm wondering whether you think the ability to self-critique your art with an "artistic eye" is somewhat innate or did you develop it after many years of looking at paintings and learning about painting? If you think it is learned, are there methods that you have developed to help you judge the quality of your own work and pinpointing weaknesses?

    I know I should just relax and do art for the enjoyment of it, but I don't want to foist bad art on the world thinking that it's good! There's enough ugliness out there without me adding to it 🙂



  • @demotlj Even very experienced professionals suffer from these issues. One thing I do is keep a file of my art by year and this way I can look back and see my work improving



  • It's excessively difficult to pinpoint our own mistakes in drawing. Often, we'll do these mistakes because we don't understand the principle of art that we're getting wrong in the first place. Whether it's perspective, anatomy, lighting, etc, if we don't understand it perfectly we will make mistakes, and it will also be difficult for us to know what we've done wrong. But all is not lost! I'm a firm believer that this is all down to knowledge, not innate ability! When you look at art you've done years ago, at the time you thought it was amazing and now you look at it and see all the mistakes. I think it's proof that know you've learned more and you're able to see those mistakes. And this learning isn't solely through practice, a lot of it is through theory or even more important, observation. I remember there was a period of time right before college where I didn't draw for about 6 months, yet when I picked up my pencil again I had actually improved, and I think this is due to learning by observation during that 6 months..



  • @rcartwright @NessIllustration As I mentioned, a lot of my uncertainty comes from the confidence I feel in being able to critique my writing and music but as I read your responses, I thought back on some of the writing and music I did when I was in college and realized that it wasn’t as good as what I can do now even though at the time I thought I was pretty good. Maybe I didn’t have more of an innate sense about those areas but was just cocky!



  • @demotlj It's likely that you're going through the same process with drawing as you once had with writing and music - it's simply that you've had more years with those other two so you're at a much higher level at those! Maybe having already mastered other disciplines, you're more conscious of the fact that your drawing skills aren't as advanced as your other skills yet? But it took time to develop writing and music, and it will take time for drawing as well... You certainly seem like someone of many talents, and no doubt you'll soon master drawing as well!



  • @nessillustration I think you are right about this. After all, I started playing guitar at age 11 and writing (bad) short stories at 13. Unfortunately, given that I am the ripe old age of 60, I'll have to live to be 109 to have as many years in art under my belt as music! Seriously, I think the things we learn when we are young may just feel more "innate" than the things we learn when we are older just because they get ingrained at a more subconscious level. My music/writing probably isn't as innate as it feels.



  • I know what you’re feeling. That is why i’m very thankful for the Forum because it provides extra sets of eyes to critique my pieces. I am noticing that the more critiques i get for my pieces, the more keen my eye gets on noticing the same mistakes in new illustrations.



  • I think it can definitely be developed- participating in critique, just doing artwork, and seeking to improve will give you better tools to be self critical. That being said, while you can get better at self assessment, I think it is still very common to not be able to judge the quality of your own work to the degree that you can for others. I think this was touched upon in the 3 point perspective podcast about critiques? Jake Parker mentioned how he fairly recently made what he thought was a better cover of his Skyhart comic, and from the feedback he received, he realized his first one was better. He's been working professionally as an artist for a long time, so it goes to show that it can continue to be a problem for artists who have been working at a high level for years.

    And if it makes you feel any better, the skill level displayed in your work seems to indicate that to some extent, you do ok with self assessment. How else would you have progressed this far with your art without a good measure of self critique?



  • @tessaw Your comment about participating in critique may be one of the important factors in learning to self-critique. For those of us who are amateurs, there really wasn't much chance for participating in critiques before the internet which is why forums like this are so good for amateurs as well as professionals. By the way, thank you for your compliment on my artwork. The one downside of this forum is that people are so incredibly skilled that it can make us amateurs feel like we are trespassing where we don't belong 🙂 The people don't do that -- everyone is so supportive -- but the amazing quality of other people's work can be both inspiring and humbling.



  • I think sometimes it's harder for us to critique our own work because we're so close to it. If you have the luxury of no deadlines or distant deadlines, put the image you're working on away. Don't think about it, don't look at it. Then, after several days, get it out and look at it with fresh eyes. You might see things that need resolved that didn't stand out before. This also helps if, like me, you sometimes over-analyze things and think everything about the image is going wrong. Although sometimes I find that things ARE all wrong, ha ha.

    Other things that help are: turning your image upside down, and/or backing away from it. A simple change of perspective sometimes brings new issues to light, particularly when it comes to tonal variation and focal points.