If you get known for your artistic output, sooner or later, somebody is going to show you something artistic they made and ask you for your honest evaluation and opinion. This is your big chance to add to the stock of beauty in the world, but so many artists completely blow their chance. All too often, they leave the person asking their opinion feeling deflated, humiliated, hurt and small. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Praise is the nearest thing to sunshine, in that it helps us all to grow. Nobody is perfect, but everybody is amazing. That’s what’s so great about life. Nobody deserves to be treated like a nobody. A few well chosen words of sincere encouragement will do wonders for your budding artist friend.
It isn’t about you. This isn’t your chance to score points, or to show how great your art is by belittling the art of the person asking. The artist that takes this opportunity to crow about their own prowess, at the expense of another, is lacking in self assuredness (see my earlier blog on this subject). It certainly is not the time to be dismissive, rude, disinterested, disengaged, or cruel. You should neither damn with faint praise, nor sycophantically slather on the effusive and false compliments. Never, ever patronise.
People may ask for your honest opinion, but if you are tempted to give an honest and objective assessment, do it with empathy and do it gently. After all, you don’t know what somebody else has been through and what they have had to overcome to create the art they are now presenting for your consideration. They are not fools. They put their best efforts, their heart, their soul and lots of love into creating their work. It may have special and deep personal significance to them. It might represent something very dear to them. This might be the very first time they have conquered their fear, put in the time and the effort to produce something that they are beginning to feel confident about. Their nascent confidence may be a fragile bud that has only just emerged. What they want is some affirmation for all that effort, mingled with a few tips and secrets to carry them forward on their artistic journey of discovery.
If you can’t find something to love about every piece of art presented to you, you aren’t looking hard enough. Everything has some intrinsic merit and value. Focus on what is good about the art and tell your interlocutor. Be sincere. Tell them about the things you like about their work. If you are going to offer a suggestion for improvement, make that suggestion after you have praised the things you find great about the work. Do not be brutal. The only thing the person will hear is what you think is wrong with their work. That is why it is vitally important, having given them the benefit of your honesty and truth, to finish your assessment with more points about what you think is really good and positive about their art.
Some of the worst things you can say are: “is it finished?” or “is that the result you were going for?” If you think those things, don’t say them. Tell them about how you view the work, as presented. Of course it is finished. Of course it is the result they were going for. It isn’t any of your business if they missed by a mile. What counts is that they went for it and had a go. Better if you try to understand intuitively what they might have been trying to achieve and showing them how perceptive you are in liking what they did, without trying to articulate the aim or second guessing their aesthetic sense.
Nobody wants hyperbolic insincerity, but they don’t want a demolition job either. This isn’t about their character, their failings, their limitations or their inability to make something that conforms to your idea of what should be. It isn’t an invitation to mess with their work, in a misguided attempt to “improve” it. It’s their work. Leave it alone. Don’t touch!
Some people think they should not give others a big head, so rather than being generous in their praise, they find fault with the work, no matter how outstanding it is. They believe that an inability to find fault may expose them as less than expert. They think it’s their duty to keep the artist grounded and to find something to criticize, so that the artist will improve. No it isn’t. What makes you the arbiter of taste anyway? Deliberately minimizing another person’s amazing achievements is as dishonest as lying about their work using excessive superlatives and oozing oleaginous platitudes.
So what if the work doesn’t meet your exacting standards? So what if you think your artistic talent far exceeds theirs? Who cares if you think their work isn’t “good enough”? This isn’t about you.
Being asked for an assessment of somebody’s precious artistic creation is your opportunity to encourage somebody to carry on in their artistic struggle and to take heart and face the next challenge and the next. It is through your empathy and careful nurturing that they just might continue to conquer their fear, put in the hours and expend the effort to some day become a truly great artist. It’s your endorsement that will help them improve, not your criticisms. What you are doing is not teaching them anything; you are helping to bring another creator of beauty into the world, adding to the worldwide stock of beautiful things.
Learning to encourage well may be the greatest creative act you will ever make.