In a previous article, we started our look at the creative mind. We discovered that artists tend to see the world differently than the rest of us. They’re dreamers. They tend to be more emotional. And they have a deeply personal connection to their work. They see little to no distinction between who they are and their artistic endeavors—which is why they often take criticism of their work so personally.

Now let’s take our discussion to a more practical realm and look at some constructive ways to live with your artist.

There are three ways we can react to the truth that there is a highly personal connection between an artist and his work. First, I’ve given you a powerful and dangerous weapon with which you can literally—unintentionally or deliberately—destroy your artistic child’s self-esteem. I sure hope this secret is never wielded in that fashion. Second, you can have the “Aha!” moment that helps you realize why your child, or husband, or friend, or next-door neighbor, responds like he does when you discuss his Art. In his mind, you are not discussing his Art. You are discussing him!

A highly acclaimed author friend of ours once said, “Writing is easy. I simply sit down, roll up my sleeve, and cut an artery. The blood that comes out is the story.” While your budding artist may not have the language ability to verbalize in that way, that’s how every gifted creator I’ve met sees the creation process. 

Again, and I can’t stress this enough, while these comments are likely applicable for all creative people, they are specially being offered in the context of the truly gifted artist, not merely someone who enjoys the pursuit of Art as a hobby. I don’t mean to put artists on a pedestal by any means, but it behooves those of us who live with them to understand that they truly are hardwired in a different way than we are. You can no more stop them from being artists than you can stop a fish from swimming.

With that said, it’s possible to critique an artist’s work in a way that’s geared for receptivity without seeming like you are attacking the artist. In truth, this works well about 90 percent of the time!

Before you can critique the work of an artist, you need to show the artist that you are knowledgeable about his or her medium. “Well, I don’t know why, I just don’t like it” is a guaranteed fail. If you can’t adequately discuss the painting or song or play or design in the context of the Art world, then you probably need to keep your criticism to yourself. 

And that’s one of the reasons I (and all professionals in the Art world) push so strongly the concept that artistic talent needs to be honed under the guidance of already established masters. I’ve eaten at top flight restaurants, and while the meal had some areas that were not perfectly suited to me, my response to the chef was always, “Well done” in the overall context of the meal. I’ll let someone far more knowledgeable about the culinary Arts place his or her finger on what could be improved.

That’s not to say that no parent can ever offer suggestions, but when dealing with a truly talented budding artist, you need to get a professional involved in guiding early on. One more tip in this area is to sit in on the lessons if at all possible. Not to hamper the process, but so that you learn the vocabulary and concepts. Nothing is better than being able to use words like “following the form” or “I like the way it reads” or “seems like the weighting is off” when discussing your child’s work.

Using professional industry-standard language means that you will be communicating with your child in the specific Art language he or she is being taught to understand. It’s much easier for a musician to hear words like “tempo” and “pitch,” as opposed to “you’re playing too fast” and “it sounds too much like a frog.”

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!

Above all else, before you lash out in frustration, remember that you love your little budding artists as the gifts from God that Scripture tells us they are. I find that if I take a second and remember Who gave me this child (or parent!), my initial frustrated response is often tempered by my love. That’s a good thing. And understanding how artists are wired is a big part of understanding (and loving) who they are.

’Til next time...God bless!   

This article was originally published in the Jul/Aug 2012 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Learn more at www.HomeSchoolEnrichment.com 

Grant DiCianni is the son of Ron DiCianni, one of the world’s top Christian artists, and is president of Tapestry Productions, the nation’s only dedicated Christian Fine Art publisher. The mission of Tapestry Productions is to excellently and powerfully proclaim the gospel of Christ through visual means. With his unbelievably wonderful wife, Amanda, Grant has three children—Nicolas, Catelyn, and Claire. He can be reached at gdicianni@tapprod.com. Also, to find out more, visit www.TapestryProductions.com. Be sure to check out Grant’s weekly blog devotional!

Publication date: December 12, 2012