Saturday, February 18, 2006

Literary and artistic criticism:

Was reading the January 18th journal entry of fabulous author, Holly Black where she was describing an interaction she'd had with an artist friend regarding two pieces of artwork - one of which was good, and the other of which was *wow* (Click the above link to read her entire entry in context). I thought her comment below, while directed at writing, to be very applicable to critique-groups and art work as well:

"It got me thinking about how we, as critiquers, we often look for what is wrong with a piece of fiction. Now, that's certainly useful. It's important to know when something's confusing or dull or structurally unsound. But what I find that I need more and more--and need to learn how to do--is a critique that pushes fiction to that next level, that wow level. Like Cecil's admonishment to "look for your inner rage and inner perv," critiquing a competant story is all about seeing its cracktastic potential and about having standards that are higher than good. And it's about finding the great parts of a story and pushing the rest of the it toward those parts. It is a whole mental shift for me in terms of thinking about fiction and it is hard."

So how do we help push ourselves and others over that next level from good to *wow*? Maybe part of it is being more 'thoroughly' honest about all the details...? I know we sometimes err on the side of being PC and trying not to give any offense - but undeviating rounds of "Fabulous!" "Wonderful!" and "Terrific" do not help one push beyond where one is at, and don't even specifically address the things that *are* good about the piece. Sometimes we limit ourselves to only addressing the glaring errors of anatomy or composition - but 'let go' the more subtle issues that aren't 'bad' - but keep the piece from being great. Hmmmm.... Going to have to think about this some more.

Any thoughts?


Rebecca Bush said...

Hi Tara,
Just gave it a brief review... I think I agree although I'm not really sure exactly what she meant ;) !
I do think that we don't' really need to get into the picky details like composition or anantomy so much as we do-- that is tedious and sometimes too subjective.
Is the idea to look for the little clue in a piece that points to how it should ALL be, the part that REALLY works, to search for that inkling and say YES! this is the direction! I don't know what it is, necessarily, but do more like this!
Anybody else?

Kathleen said...

Hi Tara, I agree with Rebecca, sometimes we are not going for a "correct" image, but we do want it to work, not look as if we don't know how to do the correct perspective or anatomy. It is good to find and encourage the quirks and individualalities that make our work different and pleasing. Kathleen

Anonymous said...

Something that comes to me is that it may not always be possible or appropriate to transform one individual piece from good to wow. This happens over time. It has to be unfolded or discovered, not just told. But it could improve the usefulness of our critiquing if included what we saw as developing Wowness. The sensitivity of each artist has their own special beauty, or drama and we should be recognizing the development of what is special as well as helping by critiquing the details. I see easily the unique specialness of everyone in our group. Maybe we can give our thoughts about how to best bring that out, but I wouldn't want to influence too strongly with an opinion that may fall short of their vision.
Maybe we could all express our own views about what we think we are aiming for/ our developing vision. Keep a diary about it and share. Then get feedback/critique on Wowness factor and hitting/missing the mark. ---Isobel

John Nez said...

Hmm.... going from 'good to wow'. I'd guess that'd have to be something that only an artist might discover on their own.

But there are glaring mistakes that can be pointed out... to maybe clean up a few glaring bad habits in an artist's work. But even once all the obvious things that stick out like sore thumbs are fixed... that's still not a guarantee that anything would be up the 'wow' stage.

If I knew how to make that transition, I'd probalby have my phone ringing off the hook.

I think each artist has to uncover the 'wow' within. It's a lifelong task I imagine...


tlc illustration said...

Hmmm. I'm going to keep thinking about this. While I agree, we may not be able to be led to 'wow' from without, we maybe can push a bit further from good to 'way better' than we do..? Also, maybe pulling back and looking again at the whole thing a bit more conceptually in addition to all the little picky details?

Still thinking...

lorna said...

very interesting post TLC. I must admit, the person who pushes me most critically is my husband. He can look at a painting that i think is ok and make suggestions of improvement- often leading me to do it again. But then I do the same for his photography so we are even.

I do agree that it is great to push yourself with every piece, but it is also good to accept that not everything you do will be amazing and unique and Wow. Many an un-wow painting will plant an idea or a layout for a future Wow one and so often you just have to keep on going forwards instead of being caught up on each individual image.