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Who Are YOU to Critique Art?

by Carolyn Henderson on 12/30/2013 7:19:31 AM

This article is by Carolyn Henderson, the managing half of Steve Henderson Fine Art. A regular contributing writer for FineArtViews, Carolyn’s alter ego, This Woman Writes, publishes lifestyle articles in online and in print newspapers and on her blog site. The co-owner of Steve Henderson Fine Art with her painter husband Steve, Carolyn is the author of Grammar Despair: Quick simple solutions to problems like, “Do I say him and me or he and I?” and the money saving book, Live Happily on Less.



Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. I mean, the thing is big, it blunders about, and no matter how graciously you sit in your chair and sip your tea, you can’t avoid noticing the, um, smell, not to mention the sound of tinkling glass and breaking crockery:


1) Art is subjective, and yes, its beauty is in the eye of the beholder.


2) Just because art is subjective, does not mean that it does not have objective qualities that enable us to pass judgment upon it.


3) Because of these objective qualities, it is possible to call some art “good,” and some art “bad.” In other words, not all art is good.


I’d like to take that last sentence and embroider it, in five-inch high letters, and present a plaque of this to every person on the planet so that


1) We can break the stranglehold of the nebulous Art Establishment in dictating to the rest of the world what constitutes good art




2) We can encourage people to look at art in as much of an objective manner as a subjective, and if the painting’s central figure, a princess, has a face that looks like King Kong’s, we can say, “That artist needs to work a bit on his treatment of the human face,” as opposed to,

“That artist’s style incorporates a highly developed sensitivity to Simian features.”


Who am I to say what is good art or not?

I’ve heard that one before, more than once, and people say it about more than art:


Who am I to have any opinion about the Theory of Evolution?

Who am I to say anything about politics or economics?

Who am I to comment on theological issues? (You can read my take on that at Who are YOU, to speak for the LORD? a question I get asked on an itinerant basis; fair warning: the article has to do with Christianity)


So the first thing about getting the elephant out of the kitchen involves asking the right questions, or, in this case, not asking the wrong question -- which is, Who are YOU to have a thought or opinion about anything at all?


As far as art goes, and whether or not the piece you’re looking at is good, bad, ugly, or in between, the answer is this:


You are an artist.


You may not be a famous artist; you may not be an advanced artist; you may not be the artist you hope to become someday; you may or may not have a university degree telling you that you are an artist; you may not be able to draw a face that does not disturbingly look like King Kong. Whatever your medium, regardless of how long you’ve been doing it, irrespective of how much money you make at it,










So you have a right, as an artist, to look at a piece of art -- yours or somebody else’s, a master’s or an amateur’s, a dead person’s or a breathing one’s -- and pass objective judgment upon it based upon your knowledge, skill, background, analysis, and just plain like or dislike. As a mature person, you know this latter isn’t the reason why a piece is “good” or “bad,” because a skilled artist can look at various styles and interpretations and analyze them within the confines of their parameters.


This skilled artist can also be free to say things like, “I don’t like this style. I think that too many people do it poorly and pass it off as good art.”


or, “The perspective of this work is off. The artist can say that she intended to make it this way, but if so, it was poor judgment.”


When you feel tempted to stop yourself by saying, “Who am I to pass judgment on a work of art?” ask yourself, “Who are the people, after all, who pass all this judgment on art? Who are the critics? Who are the magazine editors? Who composes the jurying panel of the shows and art societies?”


Most of the time, you don’t know. And yet you accept that what they say is right, more right, say, than what you would think.


Why is this important? Join me next time for The Pride and Prejudice of the Arts



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Topics: art and culture | art and society | art collectors | art criticism | Carolyn Henderson | FineArtViews | inspiration 

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Charlotte Herczfeld
Love it, Carolyn!

Considering that artists who have been taught some skills, tricks, and rules, spend their days critiquing their own work (and are much harder on themselves than anyone else) -- these artists are certainly experts!

And, when we do speak clearly, we are not only honest and act with integrity; we also give confidence to people who do not paint but who like good representational art, so they can say with some authority to their friends: "the perspective is off in that painting".

Who are we to...? We're the experts!

Michael Cardosa
Hi Carolyn,

"Who are you..."

Actually, I think you've hit the nail on the head perfectly. There is good art and bad art and some of it is even produced by famous artists as well as amateurs but hopefully not as often.

I agree, it's time for us to take art back from the people who tell us what "good art" is even if we're much too ignorant or we just lack the culture to appreciate "creative" thinking. (or creative deception)

We've all been to shows, whether local, regional or national and looked a painting that made it in and said "really??!!". If the art is bad or sub-par or (put your on adjective here) let's not recognize it as genius. Be polite but express your honest opinion and we'll all be better for it.

Carolyn, always a pleasure reading your posts. Have a Happy New Year!


Dianna Cates Dunn
Hi Carolyn,
Yes, I am an artist! And I do like that you empower me to use my training, experience and personal taste to choose what I believe to be good art. I would like to suggest that we take that same empowerment to the viewing public! Too often I hear from viewers of art (not just my own, as I co-directed a large gallery) the statement "Oh, I don't know enough about art to know if this piece is any good." I attribute their fear to the hoity-toity attitudes passed off by many in the art industry as supreme knowledge and taste.

FIDDLE STICKS! To that patron who says they know nothing of art, I try to empower them by, at first, validating their opinion as THE MOST IMPORTANT OPINION and then engaging them in a dialogue about what it is they like (or don't like) about the are they are looking at. Instantly they stand tall and feel more empowered when looking at ALL art!

Thanks Carolyn for all the time and good work you do when you share with all artists!!


Sandy Askey-Adams
Hello Carolyn..

Very good post...since I am one of those who has said or asked, "who am I to judge what others do in their art?"
Your post hit home and helped me to realize that I do have the right to value my opinion with good reasons.

Admittingly, I have seen works accepted into art shows and some even winning awards and wondered..."Huh, how on earth...etc...etc..." and will also hear others beside me saying aloud, "How did that get in the show or how did it win an award over some of this other work?" I will hear many say they don't like the piece.
Are the people who are looking at that art negatively correct? And there is a majority of people who agree with what I was wondering silently to myself.

It can make one think and wonder, , , What don't I know here?

You know what though...some people are turned toward liking an art piece just because it won an award, when only a few minuted ago they totally ignored the piece because they did not care for it. Now, since it won that award, they like it. Crazy fickle art world.

Sandy Askey-Adams
Sorry...just a P.S.

I meant to also say that when viewing works in some of these shows, I can't help but wonder why some of that work which I consider really good does not win an award. It can be confusing and misguided.

And, will an award go to an artist with a well-known name quicker than an artist not as known even though the unknown artists work looks (and is) better?
As if the known artist paid their dues, so they deserve the award no matter what, or to be accepted into the show no matter what. Surely not every well-known artist does that perfect piece to win awards all the time. Is the judging really fair or bias?

Don't get me wrong, I truly have great admiration for those well-known artists. They have worked hard to be where they are. They are indeed an inspiration.

Guess I am off subject a bit.

Martha Hayden
The artist/critic has an obligation, when exercising the privilege of judging, to be informed and aware of both the present and the past. They should try to understand the issues presented in the work. Too often, nothing is presented in the work other than a "picture" which can be well done or not, but which is not generaly enough to qualify the work as "Art"

claudia roulier
OMG what a breath of fresh air, I can't tell you how much I totally agree with your point of view. I have said to other artists that there is such a thing as bad art and just because someone made it doesn't automatically make it "good art". I do judge, my work and others.

Robert Sloan
Well said! Yes, the intent and context of the painting matter. It might actually be titled "Princess Kong" and it might be humorous or some comment on simians or that could be a verbal save by someone who can't draw. Usually, I can tell the difference. The more I learn about styles I don't like, the truer that comment "a lot of people do this poorly and pass it off as great art."

I recently did something like that in my latest painting. Working with a metallic medium to review it, I gave my subject a metallic background and deliberately flattened the perspective to make it obviously "a metallic background" instead of moving back with the tricks Charlotte taught me to create atmospheric perspective - which I could have done with line and hue without varying value, actually, if I still wanted to keep the background even in value and similar in texture. I just didn't, because I wanted it to come off like a flat backdrop and look like a Christmas card sort of thing with a flat shiny background.

I mentioned that when I posted it because I knew people might comment and teach me perspective - and so that I could get across to the many beginners on the site "this is not how to create depth." So there's a level where skill as an artist turns into sharing art lessons whenever you talk about it, which is why I love that community.

You can tell the difference. Even people who don't know the tricks for creating perspective can see the difference. It was decorative, looks decorative, reads true as decorative and resembles a lot of familiar Christmas card backgrounds.

If Princess Kong also has long arms and hairy hands, maybe thumbs sticking out of her stylized pink high heels and a very low waistline, then she reads as an ape in a dress and doesn't need the title. People can tell.

Generations of artists have insulted their wealthy patrons in high priced paintings, mocked their taste and then the joke got imitated long past its context, taken seriously. Imitations fall flat because the imitator didn't get the joke and wasn't as skilled as the original painter. But this is true of cute kittens carefully rendered from photos as much as abstracts and shock art.

The best shock art I ever saw was an anti-war piece in ceramics that used no natural noxious substances at all but successfully captured the colors, textures and contours of rot, burned flesh, pain and cruelty. It was the immensely powerful Nuclear War Head in Chicago's Art Institute, a skull way out of scale and covered in no more than carefully applied glazes. I would not want that in my living room if I even had a living room, living with a scream of rage against war and torture wouldn't be fun. It deserves to be exactly where it is, where it can move visitors in a public space.

Art always has a purpose too. I couldn't afford to turn my metallic painting into a printed card, but that's only because I can't afford that type of printing. If I did handmade cards it'd work fine. Great art sometimes goes beyond its purpose and rings true long past its context. Cave paintings come to mind, and so do the bad cave paintings by artists who didn't quite get it yet.

Which isn't a bad thing at all. It's something learned, what's to be ashamed of in that?

Your essay rocked, so naturally I replied with one too. Happy Holidays. I get it and love this.

Robert Sloan
Sandy, I had the honor of judging an art contest a couple of years ago, some years ago. It opened my eyes to why my favorites didn't win. Even when they did, ow, there were so many beautiful pieces I had to set aside for the ones that did win. I had to get nit picky on technique to an extreme level and then beyond that just go from my gut to personal favorites. The judges aren't me. That's what it boils down to with me and contests - the judges aren't me, and yeah, their personal taste is different.

Thus a dog or a horse might win an animals competition on purely technical grounds and leave me disappointed that heart wrenching cat didn't make the cut or only got an honorable mention. I'm more familiar with cats and can see how the cat painting captured a completely nonhuman, powerful expression and personality, how everything in it supported that mood and personality, how the light was perfect on fur and glistening eye - and the judge was probably that good at horses and picked what looked to me to be a pretty ordinary horse.

Maybe the horse I passed by was special for reasons I didn't get yet. But it happens. Judges have to toss a lot of extremely good art and the last round has to be subjective. I even judged cats - they were all cats - so it wasn't easy at all for me to choose one over another!

Everything in my life and experience goes into judging art. Theirs is different. They might have seen some super difficult technique used masterfully that I take for granted because that's not my medium and it's easy in my medium. Or something about it reminded them of someone they love. It often comes down to that.

Whether some judges are more affected by famous names or not is debatable. I think one thing that lends itself to that is the way the famous names have got a lot of skill backing it up. It can seem that way when it's not or it can be that way if a group's ideas crystallized around those artists' personal style. Very messy subject and it may not even be the only influence when it does happen. Natural paranoid thought but the truth is probably somewhere around chartreuse rather than shades of grey - it happens but is as likely to happen the other way around. Judges want to give someone else the prize so it's not always going to the same few people and may pass over a better painting by a famous name to choose something from someone new.

Betty Pieper
I feel that something should break into the strangle hold of the gate keepers on what is now
art, but I feel most competent judging my own art. I also like the idea of getting people to THINK about art so right now I have a series of questions that will be posted next to my works
in an upcoming exhibit...only two or three questions per get people to pause
and examine what they think or feel. I want better critics at large for the future!

Dave Casey
We've been into this discussion over at Lucy Chen's blog for the past month now and I think, at first we started a stampede of elephants and then we finally killed off the herd.

My take on the whole modern vs. classic art is that, not only is beauty in the eye of the beholder, but art is also in the eye of the beholder. I'm the one that gets to decide what art is to me and not some frivolously educated art critic.

We have heard it said many times that art is whatever the artist says it is. That couldn't be further from the truth. As I've said before, if I'm standing in front a pile of trash found on the beach and piled up on the gallery floor as an exhibit, "art" will not be the word I use to describe it. And no fancy, high-brow, made-up explanation about how it's a commentary on the plight of man is going to change my view that it's a pile of trash and should be scooped up and thrown in the dumpster out back. If I take a rotten banana and place it on a pedestal in the MOMA it does not magically become art. It is still garbage that needs to be thrown in the composter.

Jyoti Schon
I think the other side of the coin is that a lot of people who feel insecure about their own opinion like to be told what (good/bad) art is. That is just the way it works.

Sandy Askey-Adams
Hello Robert...and Carolyn..

Robert, I agree that the famous artists have tons of skill backing up their known name or they would not be where they are.

But, do those judging a show feel also obligated to give them an award or accept them into an art competition even if their work is just not up to par as compared to their other works that the judges have seen?

I recall when there was a known and well-respected artist, an outstanding artist who does great work and the piece she entered in the show was excellent; but because the judges knew her and her work, the judges felt that her piece was not as good as her usual skills.

They were not judging her work in accordance with other work that was entered in the art competition, but instead, were judging it against HER own work they had seen in the past. Hmmmmm. Yikes!! And it is true that it was not as good as her past works, but those not knowing her, would not have realized that either, I think.
OF course, anyone seeing the exhibition and seeing that she did not win an award despite her piece being excellent, would wonder why she had not won an award. I think that circumstance may be unusual.

Sometimes it seems judges must walk on eggs so as not to crack them. Maybe at times they bend too far over backwards to do what is right.
And other judges are so arrogant that they don't give a dang.
They might even do a pay back, such as ... since that artist gave me an award last time, I owe him one now. Although I would think that doesn't happen so much.

Sandy Askey-Adams
Hello Dave..
Loved your comment. It had me laughing, although serious at the same time.

Susan Holland
Carolyn, thank you for this. What happened to an artist's sense of freedom to create from her/his core? Is my everyday life a performance for others?

I like the idea of undressing "the critics" of their badges. If they wish to give awards, great, but that doesn't mean that art without a ribbon on it is bad. Or that art that has a ribbon on it is fabulous.

Let's paint with all our skill and heart and say "there! it's done." And release it.

Robert Sloan
Sandy, that's an interesting anecdote and another example of the disadvantage in a famous name. The judges knew her, if a piece that wasn't her usual quality still outdid everything in the competition their not giving her the prize meant their knowing her work was a problem for her.

It can go many different ways. Even removing signatures doesn't help because once you know a skilled artist, you don't need the signature to see whose work it is. Personal style becomes very easy for everyone to see.

My own feeling is it may vary with the contests. Some have rules to mitigate it, others don't, and sometimes it does mean that if there are only a few serious artists among the members, they'll keep sweeping the awards every time unless something's done to break it up. Often that's a rule that you can't give a prize to someone who won last time sort of thing.

Carolyn Henderson
Charlotte -- YES! As artists, who, as you say, spend a lot of time self-critiquing, gain confidence in what they know and teach to others, then more than one central way of looking at things will be circulating out there.

Michael: You are right, good and bad art is produced by famous and non-famous artists. All one has to do is objectively watch movies by various "stars" -- some are really dang good, regardless of how they shoot their mouth off in public over matters none of us are interested in, like their political views. But others, despite their big name, really aren't that good.

It's becoming a bit more possible for small studios to produce movie fare, and viewers are exposed to "non-names," some of whom are brilliant actors. They just have the wrong face. Or the wrong last name. Or the wrong connections.

If we can get to the point of brutally admitting that there are brilliant actors and half-rate ones, we can extrapolate this to the visual art world as well.

Dianna: Steve and I firmly believe that art belongs in the lives and homes of everyone, and the attitude you discuss is the way to get it there! One by one, as artists and people in general speak up and engage in dialogue, then everyone benefits (with the exception, that is, of the people who want to limit discussion and thought so that they can dominate the rules of the game. This is an issue in every aspect of our lives, not just art, and breaking dominion starts, significantly, with asking questions).

Sandy: Many competitions, to some extent, are silly, because they ultimately depend upon the subjective thoughts of the judge. While it's clear, in a swimming competition, who won the race because of what the stopwatch says (assuming that there is no human error in using it), it's not so clear in a gymnastics competition, where a score of 8.8, 9.2, 9.7, or 10.0 depends upon the final feelings of the judge. Art competitions fall a bit more into the gymnastics category than swimming. We certainly wouldn't want the former -- a totalitarian adherence to a slavish set of rules -- but we need to be aware of the latter.

Martha: yes, indeed, the responsibilities on a judge -- whether of art or of people's lives -- are great, and should be taken seriously. Unfortunately, humans being humans, we too often enjoy the perks and privilege of the position without realizing 1) how our judgments affect others and 2) how serious those responsibilities are.

Claudia: "Thou shalt not judge" -- we're told that pretty much all the time, any time we express an opinion on anything. As you observe, however, you judge your own art all the time, and it won't get any better if you don't. If you are qualified to judge yourself (and you'll be harsher on yourself than on others), you definitely have the knowledge to express an opinion on other people's work.

Robert -- your essay rocks, too! Thank you for your kind words.

Steve was discussing just what you were talking about the other day -- artists deliberately manipulating factors in their work to achieve an effect, as you did with your metallic background and the deliberate flattening of perspective. As you say, an artist who knows what he is doing (e.g., has a grasp and skill with technique), can break the rules as he chooses -- but he knows the rules. And then imitators come along, who do not have the grasp of technique, and copy.

In a populace educated in the world of art, this can be most amusing, illustrative, and intellectually challenging -- but only when people are free to dialogue, ask questions, and make comments (as people do, all the time and most wonderfully, at this newsletter site). As people question, they learn, but when they are discouraged from questioning -- as has been the case in the art establishment for far too long -- they don't, and very few voices dominate.

I like that you explain what you are doing with your work, encouraging people to look twice and get involved in the process.

Betty: the first step in any endeavor is that the person involved in it, in this case the artist, feels competent to comment on his own work. In our society, we are repeatedly told that we can't pass judgment on ANYTHING, presumably because we are not educated enough (and why not? one wonders; it's not as if we don't spend lots of money on education), and as long as we accept this dictum, we stay silent. I'd be interested to know the reaction to your latest show and the questions you pose -- what a great idea to aggressively involve yourself, your art, and your viewers in silent dialogue together!

Dave: In my other writings and alter-egos, I consistently encourage people to use the intelligence and background they have been given and think for themselves. This is so crucial, especially in today's somnambulent society that is content to play with their phones and passively accept whatever they are told on the nightly news. Your attitude of, "By God, I've got an opinion, and I'm going to have it!" is the one that 350 million people in the U.S. need to start emulating.

Jyoti: You are very right. And these people will remain insecure, dependent upon other people's opinion, until they get tired of being told what to think. They may never get tired of being told what to think -- many people make it to their graves without an original thought stemming from deep inside, because they're always afraid of being "wrong." For the survival and thriving of art, it is my hope that more people will confidently start expressing what they feel, ask questions, and be willing to learn and discern. But then again, art will survive, because there are always people, even if a tiny minority, who are willing to seek, question, read, look, appreciate, and rely upon the validity of their beliefs.

While we can't do much about someone who won't come out of their insecurity, we can do much about how we approach our own insecurities.

Carolyn, this was a thoughtful piece, and I appreciate your encouragement to each of us to really "think for ourselves." Many of us have spent lifetimes being told was is truth, what is reality, what is right, and what is art. There is always someone in any field of choice who is willing to take the lead and decide what is best for everyone else to think... it is a great thing when people take liberty to exercise their own mind and senses to evaluate something for themselves and decide for themselves if it is good or bad art. I try to be appreciative of anyone's art, but let's face it, we each have personal preferences. One person's choice in music is another person's pain and torment to have to listen to, and same for art to have to look at it. I think taking the confidence to choose for yourself what you enjoy seeing rather than following the popular crowd is one of the great Bohemian traits of a true, confident artist. Thank you for encouraging all of us to do so!

Jeff Ott
There are many thoughtful comments already on your article so I will just say - "you made me feel better about things".

Thanks - I look forward to the follow-up article

Brian Sherwin
Obviously the intention of the artist should be considered before simply saying a variant of 'that face is off' based on the dictation of a specific style (classical dictations, traditional dictations, what have you). The artist may not be playing by that same set of rules, if you will. For example, judging an abstract painting based on the dictations of classical realism is... well.. futile.

Heck, if we judged art like that I guess pretty much all of Picasso's work would be deemed horrible (though I know some people would be content with that. Ha.). I suppose the Impressionists should be tossed out as well based on that mentality. That is absurd in my opinion!

My point: There is a place for intentionally breaking the traditional rules of art -- even after those 'new rules', if you will, become tradition and are broken as well.

Brian Sherwin
As for art gatekeepers... I don't think the solution is to replace one gatekeeper for another -- which appears to be what a lot of people want when these issues are debated.

Is it so hard to grasp the fact that there is enough room for every artist -- every style? Why does it all have to boil down to 'us vs. them'? Let art be art... and if you don't like it -- use that energy on your own work. I personally like a wide range of art... I like to think that most people do.

Furthermore, if you truly can't stand the type of art that ends up at public / gov funded art museums... write your representative. Something tells me that politicians rarely receive letters from angry tax payers about museum acquisitions involving tax dollars... perhaps they should? I DO think that museums should be doing more to document the art of today... most of them end up focusing on the NY art scene -- that is lazy in my opinion.

As for art galleries... private galleries will show what they want. Period. The same applies to art magazines. If you don't like specific high profile art mags -- start your own. Get YOUR message out. Combine resources with fellow artists and art lovers and BE the change you want to see, as the saying goes.

I'll add that the whole 'buyers have been duped!' and 'artists have been duped!' rhetoric that is spewed from some traditional circles is rather tiresome (said rhetoric pops up during debates like this). I've studied art history for over 15 years... I know what I like. Nothing is going to change that. I like a WIDE range of styles / forms -- and I'm content. :)

People spewing the 'you've all been duped' message should say what they really mean -- it almost always boils down to self-serving spill. insecurity, and arrogance. In my opinion, this is what they really mean:

1.) I'm frustrated that my view of art is not embraced by those specific collectors. I'm mad because they are not interested in buying my art.They are stupid because they are not buying MY art. They are wasting their money because they have not bought MY art.(Kinda goes back to Carolyn's article about arrogance, doesn't it?)

2.) I think the way I approach art is more difficult than the way THAT artist approaches art in his or her studio. I've never tried his or her way of approaching art... but hey, I know everything about art! MY art is ART. That isn't!(again, it goes back to Carolyn's article about arrogant artists).

It comes off petty... with a side of bitterness -- and it is not hard to translate what they are really saying.

In my opinion, there is enough room for everyone. Deal with it.

I LOVE the traditional sculptures created by artist Lori Shorin just as much as I love the edgy paintings by artist John Wentz. I LOVE the way he explores broken form. That said, I also LOVE the brand of realism upheld by artist Holly Bedrosian... and the rawness of sculptures created by artist Mitch Lewis. I would gladly own work by all of them if I could afford it. :)

Robert Sloan
All great points, Brian.

Not to mention, we're also looking at different cultures with their own sets of rules. It's much easier now to study and be influenced by different traditions from different parts of the world. Asian art taught me so much that improved my Western art, but I went back to the subjects and techniques I liked most.

It's easiest to tell what's good within styles I like and enjoy, I see more of them. I know what it's supposed to come out like.

Someone will argue that a kitten in a boot is too sentimental, call the whole genre worthless trash - and the example they hold up is a badly deformed animal in a stylized boot copied from a Disney film, as proof "that sort of thing" is trash.

Give that same subject to a good painter and it'll become a lively, interesting painting with the play of firelight on different textures, the motion of a quick little animal and the tension of seeing household objects get destroyed. A good artist would put in a few scratch marks on the boot showing the kitten was there for a while and is a real young cat treating it as play-prey. Might show the kitten in a torsion pose gnawing on the laces or getting a claw stuck in the leather.

That'd get a real laugh and a cat lover would buy it, someone who has a few scarred shoes in his closet.

To me great art simply is great art, wherever I encounter it. I look at it in its own terms and see whether I like it or not.

Sandy Askey-Adams
Robert and Brian. . .
I just read a quote written by Ralph Waldo Emerson. "What your heart thinks great is great. The soul's response is always right."

Brian Sherwin
Robert -- Oddly enough, I may know that a work is great... but that does not necessarily mean that I want it in my collection. In other words, I don't write something off just because personally -- taste-wise -- it does nothing for me.

I imagine many FAV readers approach art the same way... but I also know that some people will flat out deny a work of art if it falls outside of their taste zone, if you will. 'It is not art because it offends morals' and all that jazz. Blah. :)

Susan Holland
Your conversation, Brian and Robert, is bringing back a pungent memory from my childhood. There was in our neighborhood a home I was asked to babysit at
when I was a young teen. The art in that house was really beauiful, original oil paintings of mostly wooded creeks in snow. But there were two very realistic Dutch style still lifes of dead birds...they were so elegantly and richly painted; but it was truly traumatic for me to think that people would want to have such gory paintings in their dining room, no less!

Later I came to understand...and it was fitting...they were huntspeople, and ran with the hounds. But I would never have wanted those paintings in my own living space. Just taste. The sentiment I had about animals was too much to overcome.

Just think of the beautiful art that has a dreadful subject. It's art! For those people it brought pleasure and a thrill... it was art for me, and art for them. But in different ways.

Brian Sherwin
Susan -- That is a great example. We all take in things differently I suppose.

Heck, an old college buddy of mine was labeled a 'pervert' by a woman I tried to set him up with.... why? Simple... she didn't like the fact that he had nude sculptures and oil paintings in his home. Ha, ha.

Apparently classical nudes are not art in her opinion -- she views them as smut. Ha, ha. If memory serves me correct, she said, "Work like that belongs in a museum... NOT a home!". Blah!

Note: I learned quickly that I'm not very good at the whole matchmaking thing. ;p

Robert Sloan
Oh, I wasn't saying you did. I got distracted by the other crowd of art-police who argued ferociously against Kincade as too sentimental. That type of argument has gone on forever just as you said, Brian.

I think there's still some prejudice by subject, but depending on the museum it's eroding. I take museums a lot more seriously than galleries on that, more so if they break out of the expected and do exhibitions of great illustrators.

Love that story about the woman offended by the nudes. It reminds me of growing up in a time and place so prudish that the only place I ever saw the human body was marble statues and centuries-old oil paintings at an art museum. My attempts to copy some pen and ink mythology drawings of sirens and harpies got the book confiscated and my drawings destroyed. Nudes are Great Art if you're dead long enough but don't think of trying to learn to create them.

But no, I didn't think you were supporting that argument and didn't see anyone doing so in this thread. There was a little of that in the discussions on Thomas Kinkade some time ago, but my answer to that is a kitten in a boot vigorously clawing the blazes out of it and half strangling itself on the laces, as real kittens do.

Cody DeLong
I couldn't agree more, there are both subjective and objective areas to judge in art. Way too many people , artists and the public alike refuse to accept any accountability for skill and quality in art. Here is a link to a post I wrote on the subject called "Guidelines for Jurors" written for a local art group who kept giving awards to undeserving artists while ignoring some talented ones.

Donald Fox
Learning about art and learning to make art are both long term processes. Mistakes of judgment are made along the way. Sometimes allegiance is given to those that may not deserve it - often those encountered early on - but with experience gained the process usually rights itself. Any artist that exhibits work puts it into the court of public opinion and that opinion may not go the way the artist likes. Then again, that artist is also a viewer of art and an expressor of opinions. Those opinions may change over time. In short, there are lots of opinions in the world of art, and we're not forced to accept any of them.

Betty Pieper
Carolyn...Good of you to comment on everyone's
input...My Art from the Heart of Childhood exhibit
will not go up until Jan. 18 but I'd be happy to
tell you (and others) IF I get any response. Although I can't seem to "Market" in any form
I was asked to exhibit in a hall adjacent to a children's room in the library...I doubt there is
chance for sales...but I did think I'd try to hang the pieces lower and raise questions for people to think about as they view the work...if
indeed they do! We'll see. I have no trouble talking about my own work (can you shut me up!?)
so this approach is easy. I'll keep you posted.

Rizwana Mundewadi
Have a Great New Year 2014 to all at FASO! Thank You Very Much for this wonderful opportunity to artists and all that you share!This is a treasure chest of art!
Donald another correct fact, today art has become more of marketing and less of art,I really don't understand why but it is true.
But not telling the truth, or misleading facts will not take them far in this journey,maybe a little tweaking is all that marketing professionals do, but it must be harmless and not in any way affect the reputation of anyone else or themselves.
I personally lay a lot of importance 110 percent or even more on character and I feel be true to yourself and your art, work hard, sincere effort, the rest will follow! All the Best!

As an artist I don't assume that the world has bestowed to me the right to declare what is or is not art, good or bad. It is the job of gatekeepers and judges to do that, and at times I agree with their assessment and at others times I'm bewildered. If the latter, that doesn't mean I'm right and they are wrong, it only means that they see things differently than I do.

The history of art is filled with examples of artists and movements that were initially scorned and are now revered. While we have every right to our opinions, who are any of us to declare that we are the ultimate judge of what is good or bad?

It seems better to spend our time creating the art that comes out of us, accepting that others may or may not appreciate it, than spending time criticizing the critics, and especially declaring that we know better.

Brian Sherwin
Just a side note for the anti-art critic crowd...

Carolyn said, "So you have a right, as an artist, to look at a piece of art -- yours or somebody else's, a master's or an amateur's, a dead person's or a breathing one's -- and pass objective judgment upon it based upon your knowledge, skill, background, analysis, and just plain like or dislike."

Keep in mind that most of the art critics writing today -- and I imagine the same can be said of most from the past -- started out in the studio before jumping into art criticism professionally.

For example, Jerry Saltz used to exhibit in Chicago and NYC back in the day. I'm fairly certain that Paddy Johnson used to create (and may still) collage works. Sharon Butler is an exhibiting artist and critic. Mark Staff Brandl is an exhibiting artist and critic. Ken Johnson has taught drawing and painting... he is an artist.

You'll find that most art critics started out in the studio. Some are still active in their studio. Some still exhibit. They have chosen -- for whatever reason -- to place focus on the works of others.

Tammi Vaughan
Dear Carolyn:

BRAVO!!! Not only was this VERY well said, this needed to be said and I do not think anyone could have said it better!
I personally cannot fathom letting another person famous or not, determine for me what good art is or is not. I think one should seriously consider what the Hitler regime did in history when they deliberately placed hideous art everywhere and labeled it as beautiful to assist in reaching their agenda. I am not making a comparison at all but rather pointing out that there could very well be an alternative motivation behind what works are called good or bad that is ultimately not about the love of art at all.

Here Here! great article Carolyn do you mind if I link this to my blog?
thanks I look forward to the next one

Carolyn Henderson
Ashar -- you are most welcome to link this article to your blog.

If you want to republish a portion of it, these are the guidelines from FASO -- -- I'm thinking that if you want to place a link with a small description beforehand, there shouldn't be a problem. Clint? Can you elucidate for me to ensure that I'm not giving wrong information?

I love it when people link to my writings, so I extend an open invitation for readers to do so, using the guidelines set by FASO for the Newsletter articles. My articles at This Woman Writes and Commonsense Christianity at BeliefNet are also open for sharing and linking -- please just link back to the article, and don't republish the whole thing. You can always reach me for questions at

great, Thanks


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