There’s this moment in an artwork when you realize you need feedback and it’s not exactly a moment of feeling stuck. You know when you stare at a word so long it loses meaning? You can’t tell if it’s spelled right, or even a word anymore? Well when you get into flow and feel super focused on your art, you can sometimes get that fuzzy feeling, too.
Usually this is a sign to take a break. When I can’t tell which way is up or down anymore, I hide my work away. I read da Vinci did this a lot. Rather than look at his work constantly, he let it face the easel or wall when he wasn’t working on it. Sometimes this act is enough to get me back to the work with fresh eyes. Sometimes, I know external feedback will really help the work. Of course, then the question becomes, who do I ask for help?
Choose Your Person Carefully
I’ve written about this countless times before: the most well meaning people can be ever so destructive to an artist. So you must choose who you ask for feedback from carefully.
The first question to ask yourself is: do you want experiential input of a viewer or the formal feedback from a practicing artist? (Yes, an artist could provide both, but I believe they also always see things from a technical perspective, so yes, sometimes a non-artist is the person to turn to for advice. For the sake of today’s discussion let’s keep these two groups separate.)
Experiential feedback means someone gets to give you emotional input about their experience with your art. Do you want someone to share the story they read in your art? Or do you want to know how the work makes them feel? What do they see? These kinds of questions are experiential and are great questions to ask non-artists about your work.
Formal feedback refers to the choices being made in the artwork, which means how an artist uses the elements and principles of art to create their work. Do you want someone to help with compositional choices or technical decisions like application of value? Then you should seek another artist for their perspective.
Note: I recommend you seek both kinds of feedback. Generally speaking experiential feedback is most useful when a work is nearly finished. (It can be difficult for a non-artist to look at a work in progress and understand where you plan to go with it). Formal feedback can be useful at all stages of your artwork.
Be Clear About Your Needs
Once you know who you are looking for you must be clear about what you need from your helper. Do you feel especially vulnerable with this artwork? Tell them. The person offering feedback can’t possibly know they need to tread carefully with their comments unless you tell them.
Perhaps you need someone to point out what is going well in the artwork because your inner critic is especially noisy today. Or, you know something is wrong with your values and the lighting you created but you cannot seem to fix it. The quality of feedback will be better if you guide the person you ask for help.
Related to the last criteria I’ve created this one, in part, for emphasis. Ask directed questions. The more specific you can be about the kind of feedback you need the more likely your helper can help! When you can be more specific about the kind of feedback you need more people are also willing to help.
Example: This feels unfinished. Do you have ideas to resolve it?
Example: I feel vulnerable and am really hating on this piece right now. Can you tell me what’s working in it?
Sometimes you aren’t sure what feedback you need. That’s okay, too. You can share it and say you are open to any feedback. Realize this opens the door to all kinds of feedback, good and bad, so please emotionally prepare for the answers you will receive. When you are new to asking for feedback or feel vulnerable about a work, I highly encourage you to be specific about the feedback you seek.
Example: What emotions does this piece bring out in you?
Example: Do you have input on my color choices?
In fact, it’s okay to tell people you don’t want feedback on something.
Example: I know something is wrong with (insert your problem here), but I can’t take feedback on it right now, it feels too personal. Instead, can you tell me what works in the artwork?
These criteria for quality feedback apply to both ONline and OFFline sharing of your art. I’ve observed in both scenarios people can be generic in their responses when they (1) feel uncomfortable or (2) are unsure about what the artist wants from them. This is most likely when the art is shared without asking for specific feedback or response.
In our online community I see high quality feedback when fellow artists ask specifically FOR feedback and even better: ask specific questions about their art. (Good job artists! You know who you are, wink).
Sometimes we forget what it feels like to be on the other side of feedback, the people giving it: what if you know very little about the medium being used? What authority have you to share input? Or, are you concerned the way you say what you want to share could hurt someone’s feelings?
Remember the people offering you support want to “do it right” too. The more direction you offer, the more it is win, win for everyone.
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Be Artist Strong: What is one question you could ask someone about your art? I want to know. Tell me about it in the comments below.