Understanding the Creative Mind: Living with an Artist
- Wednesday, December 12, 2012
In addition to being knowledgeable, when you offer any feedback, you need to be specific. Artistically bent people try incredibly hard to please their audiences, because as my dad, internationally acclaimed artist Ron DiCianni, often says, “A great painting requires two people, the artist to paint it and the person who views it.” So, if you offer vague feedback, all you’ve done is make the artist shoot at an indistinct target and thus frustrate the process.
Most young artists love specific feedback. “Sally, it’s hard to tell that your character is angry when your poses and posture seem so relaxed. You know how Uncle Frank gets all tense when he yells at the dog to stop chewing the furniture? Try that.” Giving the creative person a specific suggestion from familiar material is often successful and perceived as help rather than negative critique.
The final lynchpin in offering effective criticism is what is called the “criticism sandwich.” I’m sure you already practice this in your homeschooling. You take a positive (it has to be specifically targeted to the work at hand), follow up with your criticism, and then end with another strong positive. For example: “What a great pumpkin, Johnny! It looks just like the one on the dinner table at that restaurant we ate at! Nice job. But hey, don’t pumpkins have a stem on the top? I think that would look more realistic. But what a nice job you did picking just that perfect shade of orange!”
I promise you, Johnny will immediately grab a crayon/pencil/paintbrush and go to work diligently adding the stem. No fit. No crumpled-up paper. No sullen look. You validated him, gave him specific feedback, and he’s off to the races.
Like I said: artists can take criticism if it’s offered right...about 90 percent of the time!
Above, I mentioned that there are three things you can do in response to the fact that artists see their Art as largely indistinguishable from themselves: (1) wield it as a weapon (I sure hope you never do!), (2), recognize it and make sure that you are aware of it when you offer feedback, and (3), the one I hear most often: you can declare, “Well, the artist needs to change!”
In truth, there is some validity in that. It is only someone who is sick who needs to be constantly catered to and babied. Artists need to understand that the world really works a bit differently than how they see it. And as such, they need to take pains to remember that a criticism of their work is not necessarily a criticism of themselves. They need to be able to differentiate a knowledgeable audience they should consider listening to from an uneducated one whose criticism might be vastly off the mark. There are two appropriate old sayings here: “Everybody has an opinion, even if it’s wrong,” and “If one person calls you a horse, ignore him. If one hundred people call you a horse, you might want to invest in a saddle.”
Part of the maturing process for an artist is to learn to accept criticism and to learn which critics to listen to and which to ignore. The way I see it, if right-brained people can take two steps toward their noncreative counterparts, and if their noncreative, left-brained counterparts can take two steps toward their creative counterparts, everybody meets in the middle.
Last but not least, there is a frustration that sometimes comes from sharing a house or a workplace or a bedroom with a truly gifted artist. One tip I keep in mind was learned from my days riding horses. While you definitely want a horse tame enough to ride, when it comes time to race them, you want them to have enough spirit to win. Crush the horse’s spirit, and it’s no longer a fit racehorse. Leave a horse completely to itself and you’ll never be able to ride it. In those moments of frustration or anger or confusion, be it with your five-year-old Michelangelo who turned the wall into a mural or your fifteen-year-old Sandi Patty who constantly wants everyone to listen to her sing, you want to nurture, not crush, your artist’s creativity and artistic passion, no matter how frustrating it might be!
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