This is part 3 of a series of articles I did several years ago. This a reader inquired about this article so I decided to repost.
A nice surprise for the New Year, I just noticed that this is either my 400th or 401st post here at Studio 24-7! Wow. I had no idea when I began that I would get this far. I promise to stop when I don't feel I have anything interesting or meaningful to say or I just need to put my time into other things.
So Self Critique. I've spoken a great deal about looking and studying what you have done but what are you looking for? In my original questions to the artists involved I asked several questions relating to this.
1. What kinds of elements do you look for in a successful piece? Good composition? Good color? A sense of content or theme? How the work fits into your body of work? etc. ( I should have said great composition, great color, content and theme and a relationship to your current body of work or a new direction)
While each of these questions can be answered with a simple response, the deeper answers are not so simple. I think all of the mentioned elements are important and contribute to making a work of art complete and a work with quality. While each element will be dealt with differently by each individual artists, each element must be there (in my opinion). I have to say here that there is a world of work being made today that doesn't address any of these issues. You can see this work in many of the still published art magazines. Most of that work does not interest me and I cannot address its' making.
I am of the opinion that art always has content but that content may not make itself known until the artist is deep into the work. Content does not have to be a "story" or a recognizable series of objects. It doesn't have to be photographic or easily understood or recognized. It can be flexible, elusive, secret or very non-objective. It can express feelings, emotions, relationships, dreams etc. etc.
As to design, the elements in your work will always have a relationship to one another but the design can be off handed or considered, good or awful ... generally the good is more appealing and should support your ideas better.
Color is an element that expresses emotion like no other. It is also the element that most people use poorly. If you want to be a good colorist you may have to do a lot of study, experimentation, more looking and use a very critical eye when looking at your work and the work of those you admire. Are the colors quiet, loud, strange, ordinary, pale, bright, eye popping, subtle, and again etc. etc. There is more to it than giving the color wheel a spin but that is a place to start.
Working in a series is a very positive way to develop your work and add depth to your body of work. I'm not talking about a series which is made of 99 pieces so similar that one can't be identified from another but work that shows the development of an idea. I will also say that how big the leap is from one piece to another by any given artist is very individual (even if it's 99 pieces you can't tell apart from one another). Some people work in a very lateral way and others move forward quickly. Either is great but jumping from one style or technique to another in every piece will leave you drained and with no direction.
2. Is there a "something special" that completes a work that is more elusive than the identifiable elements of design?
This is a more difficult question. Several of the artists responded that the "something special" was simply that there wasn't anything else for them to do. This is where giving yourself time to view and absorb your work will come in handy. Several also mentioned looking and experiencing a feeling of satisfaction or excitement. I personally believe this "feeling" is some of the things that keeps us going. I played golf for a brief time. I recall one shot where I hit the ball in what is called the "sweet spot" and how amazing that specific shot felt. It is sometimes what keeps golfers playing as golf is a difficult game. So when you get it right in a work perhaps that is a type of sweet spot. I think you also know when a piece is done when it pushes you ahead to a new work. New York artist Pat Pauley responded , " Successful works are more than the sum of their elemental design parts. But I would not be able to describe that!" Rebecca Howdeshellsays she is always looking for a resolution where every mark or design choice contributes to the whole. She further states that if she feels the work has moved her forward in her search she is happy.
3. When do you know a work is resolved? What does resolved mean to you?
One good response to this was given by Rebecca, that you may feel a piece is resolved when it moves you ahead in your work. I often think of my life's work as a road or path. Sometimes the path peters out or you don't like where you end up or every piece leads to another and it is exciting and fulfilling. The important thing is that it doesn't become stale or ho-hum. There are artists whose work is so expected that I just can't look at it any more. My personal belief is they just don't have anything more to say but it has gotten very comfortable in one spot (especially if they have received recognition for a specific way of working.) If you complete a piece and you aren't sure if it is all you want it to be then likely it isn't all it should be OR you need to spend more time with the piece.....we are back to looking.