Careful What You Ask For…

“If it’s free, it’s advice; if you pay for it, it’s counseling; if you can use either one, it’s a miracle.”

– Jack Adams

The act of seeking advice as an artist is a most delicate operation. Most of us want some feedback once in a while. But who to ask? Do you solicit it from another artist, the informed opinion? Or from some non-artist, looking for the fresh, everyman’s viewpoint? Should you ask someone close to you, a spouse or partner? Or is it better to get input from a more objective observer?

It’s all fraught with peril, to be honest. Our artistic egos are so fragile.

Sometimes asking for advice is a thinly veiled plea for praise or affirmation. And if we get advice instead of praise, it can be hard to swallow. Even if we know there is a problem with a piece and sincerely are looking for a new perspective on how to fix it, the feedback can be unexpected and unsettling.

My wonderful wife, Susan, is a professional artist and art teacher so you would think that we would be in the ideal situation where we could support each other by offering sage advice when needed. Well, that does happen sometimes and each of us always approaches all such opportunities with the sincerest desire to be nothing but supportive and helpful. But these interchanges can be a veritable minefield in spite of best intentions.We’ve both learned to be very selective about when to venture there.

We each have our own idiosynchracies when it comes to taking advice – my own particular variant is that I will often quickly reject advice, even bristling at it. But usually within a short time I do just what was suggested (assuming it is reasonable)! Just my foolish way of protecting my territory, I suppose…

9 responses to “Careful What You Ask For…

  1. Well sorry dear, no advice to offer here, just a compliment on this wonderful piece. Have I seen this before? I love the little details of something intriguing down in the left hand corner. What is that?

  2. To answer my wife’s question (we only speak to each other through our blogs now – that’s how bad this advice thing has become!), I’m not sure what is down there in the corner. Just the trees, I think.

    This picture was taken years ago when we live on top of a small hill across the bay from San Francisco. At the top of the hill, there was a wonderful grove of eucalyptus trees. It had a great smell! In the mornings the grove was always enshrouded in fog and I used to go up there and take pictures. You can’t go wrong with trees in fog…

  3. What a mysterious piece ! It makes me want to jump in it and walk to the light and see what’s out there !
    Have you ever seen the short movie (I believe from Kurosawa??) where the student in a museum actually jumps in Van Gogh’s painting, walks on the ridges of the oil paints, and eventually gets in the scenery and follows Van Gogh ??
    Sometimes I feel like doing just that, jump into a painting, or a photo and see its world.
    As far as advice, I found out that if you ask 10 different persons, you will get 10 different answers. Might get an idea out of it… but if nothing else, people feel good when one asks their advice 🙂

  4. Yes, bob, you are right. Our artistical egos are SO fragile (I would say our EGO, pure and simple, are fregile…)

    I like the photo and the transparent, delicate “tons de terre” – ocre, burnt sienna… It’s got a lot of atmosphere…

    The movie napabelle speaks of IS Dreams by Akira Kurosawa, yes, and the Van Gogh character is played, no less!, by Martin Scorsese!!!

    Who’s jack Adams? (smart guy!)

  5. Susan and Bob, your conversation here is very funny! Bob, you made us (Kevin and me) laugh a lot with the consequences of the advice thing!

    Our Danu is very incredible, he knows everything about films, and literature, he amazes me all the time!

    I deeply love this photo, is extremely artistic, and there is so much tenderness in it. Very delicate colours, as Danu says. And yes, mysterious too…

    I normally never ask for advice, except to Kevin. Because I know that Kevin knows and understands me very well, and quite exactly knows how I need to express things, what really corresponds to me. His advices are always great and useful, and I must say that I am very grateful and lucky yo have such an adviser.
    I am trying myself not to advice other painters, for the same reason. Sometimes it is not easy, because one thinks one knows better, one think a piece would be 100 times better with a little change of colour, composition, etc…

    Unfortunately advices are, in their psychological effect, quite close to negative critic… and whatever we all claim to look brave and humble, we are not so found of critics. Well, i am not, they rarely help, and their destructive, demotivating and destabilising effect can be lethal!

    In one thing you are 1000% right Bob:
    you have a wonderful wife!

  6. The quote is wonderful! – though I would evnture to say that your own “you can’t go wrong with trees in fog” should become a mantra for artistic photography! It’s a wonderful piece by the way, and draws you in. Danu does amaze with his cinematic knowledge, I was only aware of 2 movies where one jumps into the painting – “What dreams may come” and “Mary Poppins” – from the sublime to the ridiculous, one might say! I was humbled by Miki’s kind words about my advice. I never feel on particularly solid ground when I’m giving it, but it’s an instinctive thing, and on some deeper level, I seem to be attuned to what the piece/she needs, which is just as well, as I don’t look good wearing a canvas.

    I once made the mistake of asking Miki’s older brother what he thought of a new song I’d written when we all stayed together at an old Chateau in southern France. I’d felt inspired by the setting, and felt I’d come up with a great piece, but he proceeded to systematically dismantle it until I felt it was utterly worthless! It took some time before i could really listen to it again. So, as the saying goes, “beware of what you ask for… ”

    Your last paragraph is the most telling, Bob, I see myself so much in it, initially outraged at the temerity of the critic, but surreptitiously implementing their views over time! i think you’re spot on with your reasoning, it’s a territorial thing – tell me the truth in my domain at your own peril!

    Perhaps the healthiest attitude is that adopted by those musical masters Steely Dan: On their website, the music press critics section is prefaced by the phrase – “Those who can, do; those who can’t – review” sage words indeed!

  7. I am delighted when a photograph shows me more than the surface, and this photo does just that.

    Delight is almost always enough for me–if I am delighted by another’s work, if another is delighted by my work. I can be delighted by “this” and “that” and it doesn’t occur to me to find them “good” or one better than the other.

    I think perhaps that we all need to learn to ask better questions. An open-ended “what do you think” can lead to emotional disaster. What did we really mean? Were we asking “did I lose my way with this piece”? Do you know where you were going? Does the observer? Or maybe the real question was “Does this mean I shouldn’t have quit my day job?”

    We need also, to accept responses with an understanding that while our questions come from complicated places, so do responses. An evaluation of a response over time is reasonable, healthy, and productive. It’s more than protecting your territory, it’s about finding what is relevant in your territory.

  8. Thank you all for your comments! I’ve been busy getting ready for our show and haven’t been jumping in often enough here myself.

    There is something about fog, especially in photography, that does introduce a sense of mystery. It’s harder to portray fog in painting quite as effectively, I think. Harder maybe to show it’s transparency… I think I’ll continue to post photographs of trees for a bit – I’ve got quite a collection of these.

    Miki and Kev, I can tell that one of the strengths of your relationship is a deep and mutual respect for each other’s art. This is the basis for any caring advice and criticism (and even then it is so easy to use the wrong word, at the wrong time). And it helps that you each have such a robust sense of humor! Often an effective salve for a bit of advice not quite given with the delicate touch needed.

    Asking for advice is a tricky thing and C. Robin, you are so right, we must be conscious of what we ask. Often when we ask “what do you think?” it is just a silent plea for a compliment. I try to ask something very specific like “I feel this needs something in this spot to provide balance” or “I’m not sure that the colors are working here” and try to get some new ideas about those specific topics.

  9. In fact, Bob, this is exactly the way i ask Kevin too. When i have a problem with colours, or with a composition, or with a concrete spot on a painting, I just point at the specific problem, and normally his comment helps a lot! I try to be as specific as possible in my need for advice. But this gain means that we have to be aware where is exactly our problem… luckily I normally know it.

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