I recently had the opportunity to participate in a blind critique session. If you haven’t ever done one before you basically submit your work and a person or group of people provide feedback about the work. The interesting aspect of the process is that the feedback is done in isolation without any dialog between the critic and the artist. This was my first time to do any sort of blind critique so it was a learning experience for me. I have been in a lot of critiques and think it is a great way to move your work forward so I was looking forward to the experience. Let me say upfront that I think the experience was a good one since it really got me thinking about the work–which is the purpose of the process. If a critique doesn’t move your work forward that’s when you need to start to find new people to critique your work.
The image you see attached to this post is one of the images that was submitted. Now I had a few reasons for submitting it: 1) it is one of the images that I have printed more for family and friends than others (doesn’t mean by any stretch that this is a sign of a quality image, but I found it interesting none the less as a criteria for a critique) 2) it is part of a larger body of work (an issue I believe that the root of my lesson learned on this type of work) 3) I had committed to trying something new with my work this year and felt this was a good place to start.
The image was shown and the gist of the critique was…This is just a photograph of someone else’s art and so there isn’t anything to say. It is just a snapshot of someone else work..moving on. While there are artist that do present work as new and novel via the direct copy of another (see the works of Sherrie Levine), my work with this image is completely different.
The image that you see is part of a larger body of work that is at its heart a collection of crowd-sourced street art. Did I photograph someone else’s art? ABSOLUTELY and SORT OF. I actually photographed a whole group of artist. The photograph isn’t an image of someones work directly. It is an image of the amazing collection of flyers that are stapled to a telephone pole in my home town of Seattle. The flyers and posters get layered one on top of another creating the most awesome melting pot of color, texture and shape. Then as people walk by they rip, peel, tear, cover-up and replace things over any over again. Mother Nature takes a turn with a little rain, wind and sun.What you are left with is a street photographers dream. An infinite collection of ever changing crowd sourced art. My little part is the photograph (and in the case of this image some composite work to get the layers the way I wanted them in the image which is made up of approximately 6-8 flyers from 2 images). This image is just one from the collections of images that I am pulling together for a fine-art body of work on crowd sourced art. We walk by countless walls, telephone poles and bulletin boards with some amazing art and we never stop to notice. It is a great way for me to connect with the unintentional artist in all of us.
Now there are a lot of reactions one can have to a critique (from I suck to they suck to we all suck), and the reaction I got to this image is not the worst things I have heard about my work and won’t break into the top 10. So that being said, why take the time to explain all of this. I honestly believe that every critique can add value (some way more than others). And that we should share what we learn so others can see how we as artist take that information and try to close the loop.
So as I walked away, I spent some time figuring out what to take away that can help me in the future with my work that is more conceptual in nature. In this case, I think I should have submitted more images of the same material rather than just the one. What was missing was the context of other images to help tell the story. Standing on its own, you might pass over the image as just that a snapshot of another’s art. But with three, four or five, you might start to see context. I might have been able to get to a critique of the concept (which is what I really wanted and didn’t know at submission) along with the image (which I still think in the context of the body of work is interesting for a variety of reasons). When we often times give or receive a critique, we get the benefit of a dialog about the work. When we aren’t there, the work has to stand on its own. It has to tell its own story without us around to provide the artist statement. When the work is more conceptual in nature it often times will space and relationships to other images help to get the person to see the full story. Every image might tell a story, but sometimes they need each other to complete the book.