Feedback about Feedback

godbeams, photograph

“… feedback is hard to get – except, perhaps, in the form of rejection.”

Ted Orland

Orland is making this statement in the context of a discussion of art school, which he describes as the one time and place in the life of an artist where they can expect regular feedback on their work.

I personally like feedback and have found it frustrating at times to get any that is of use. People telling me they like or don’t like my work isn’t that helpful – I’d like to know what they like or don’t like and why. Who offers the feedback is a consideration as well – are they an artist or not, how similar is their vision to yours, are they someone you know or a stranger? I actually value feedback from all sources, but I have to filter it through where it’s coming from.

I also have to consider what my objective is in getting feedback – it’s different at different times. Sometimes, to be candid, I probably just want a pat on the back and some encouragement (in which case, I hope they like the work!) and at other times I’m not sure of my direction and need help sorting it out. Then criticism is just as important, if not more important, than positive remarks.

I know artists who don’t really like feedback and I respect that. It can come from a place of confidence in their work or the desire to avoid any outside influence. I suppose sometimes it also comes from a fear of what they might hear.

If you are a teacher yourself, or just have reached a certain “public” stature, it can get more difficult to get good feedback and it might seem to you that you should need it less. How have you dealt with this?

How do you feel about feedback? When do you want it? How do you go about getting it? Has it been helpful to you in the past?

I’m going to be applying to a couple of “portfolio reviews” in the upcoming weeks – if I am accepted, it will be the first time I’ve had any serious review of my work and I’m sure I’ll find it interesting, rewarding, humbling, confusing, etc. Of course, first I have to be accepted, so it’s possible the only feedback I’ll get is rejection!

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19 responses to “Feedback about Feedback

  1. Hmm… on Lazyfeed where I was transferred from, the picture was beach-1.jpg. I thought that since this is a blog about feedback, I was going to give you some.

    I don’t like beach-1.jpg because there is little contrast through the picture. There is no particular portion of the picture to focus on (area of emphasis).

    With both beach-1.jpg and godbeams-1.jpg, I don’t like the sepia effect. However, the second is a fairly good picture because the contrasting lightness. Also there is a group of trees in the mid-right of the picture that are more detailed and stand out against a light background.

    Beach-1.jpg could be an excellent choice for a background to a PowerPoint or something. However, as a stand-alone picture, I don’t like it.

    • Sam, you’re right about the image switch. I did change my initial posting of that image because I realized it is the one I used on my web link to the right and I try to post new images on the blog that you haven’t seen.

      If anyone would like to see that image, it is in the “landscapes” section of the website.

      Thanks for the feedback..

  2. Well there ya go! Sam B. has given some honest feedback!

    I am so lucky to have a friend whose work I admire and who happens to be a great critic. His feedback is always welcome and appreciated. I say lucky as I’m quite sure that not many have such a resource. I agree that someone who simply says I don’t’ like it or thats great is not helpful. Its nice but not helpful for growth. I want to know why someone does not like something or for that matter why they like it!

    I feel its important to add to this conversation that when someone gives a critique and you don’t agree, fight for your vision. The person giving the critique brings to the act of critique their own personal bias colored by the very things that color ours… Similar to those things that color our vision spoken of the other day on your blog… I guess I’m saying don’t let a negative critique get you down. If you have a strong feeling about a piece and can fight for your vision, do it! The bottom line is you need to like what you produce… it is YOUR vision. Not all will like it… and that is okay.


    • Indeed, be careful what you ask for (though I’m not sure I really asked for it!).

      You are lucky, John. It’s rare to have good access to someone whose opinion you respect and who is a friend at the same time. They have to have a feel for your work and your objectives and know how to communicate with you in a way that works.

      I have mixed feelings about your comment about “fighting for your vision”. I don’t think you can argue someone into liking art they don’t like. Such opinions are so personal that they defy such efforts. The only guarantee about any piece of art is that there will always be people out there who don’t like it!

      I think perhaps the best way to fight for your vision, which I agree one needs to do, is to be committed to it and continue to refine it.

      • Maybe I need to clarify “fight for your vision.” To me that simply means if I’m critiquing someones image and I’m not getting it (usually due to my paradigm and biased view) it does not mean I’m right. So as the one being critiqued, I’m simply saying let me know what it is that I’m missing if you feel strongly about it. Ultimately I may not be swayed… I still may not like it…. But you as the creator if passionate about it should press forward displaying it proudly… fighting for your vision. I agree one cannot argue me into liking something… that just does not work. I have had an experience where my comment was “This is just too busy for me!” the creator said.. “I love this because it speaks to me about the chaos in my life” Vision fought for… paradigm shifted…

        I hope that helps clarify my position….

  3. This is a tough and insightful post. I am in agreement with your thoughts while in conflict as well.

    On the one hand, you write that commenting about liking your work isn’t helpful, but you do enjoy a pat on the back from time to time. Yet, this is helpful–especially if the pat comes from someone whose work you respect. Not so much if it’s just thrown out there without careful consideration. But, that’s hard to tell from online.

    On the other hand, getting a lot of “I love this” responses, can feel good but not help you with critiques. It might even be annoying when you’re really struggling with that “Je ne sais quoi” moment with a piece.

    As a regular visitor, I am consistently impressed by your approach to photography and your measured thinking. However, I’m not a photographer. Sometimes I fall into that group of painters who disparage photography because it isn’t paint. Yet, when I come here, I see you doing things with the medium that I cannot do, that I wouldn’t even think of…and I know that that is A R T. I can’t remember a time when I might have written that I would like to see you push a particular element in a work. That also speaks to me that you know what you are doing.

    In my own work, I look for validation in several ways. Do I feel as though the work takes on its own identity, having visual impact that wows me? Do fellow artist bloggers comment with some thoughtful insight? When I get a ‘wow”, is it legit? In the real world, am I exhibiting, working to my own satisfaction, and getting viewers who get something out of the work even if they have trouble articulating what exactly that is? And, finally, when someone says that something bothers them (which is rarely because of the unspoken support rule of art bloggers), am I awakened to that fact, or are they merely filtering their critique through their own particular style? I’ve had people comment about an element that really does get me back into the studio to fix an area. That’s priceless, but it doesn’t happen often. Why? Because we usually know what needs fixing right after we post it online, right?

    Perhaps posting a piece and writing that you need support or critique, or are struggling with something, would invite a specific kind of feedback that will be helpful.

    Sorry that this is so long. I’ve been thinking of giving up blogging because it takes up so much time from doing the work.

    Best wishes with your portfolio review! Sometimes, “rejection is acceptance…” And, sometimes, acceptance is merely acceptance, for that venue.

    • Melinda

      A very thoughtful response – clearly you’ve thought about this!

      You do have to weigh how and where and from who the feedback comes, as you say. And online is particularly tricky since you don’t really know the person.

      As artists we often get a lot of positive feedback and one starts to get a little suspicious of it. Is it “legit”, in your words? That’s why we need to know more than do they like it or not, but why. And then we have to think about those reasons to see if there is truth in them for us.

      And thanks for your kind words about my work – it is especially valued coming from a painter since to think that my work speaks across mediums is very flattering.

  4. Hey, great shot, you must have a nice camera!


    I’m not surprised about your topic in this post. When you leave comments for other bloggers they are thoughtful and constructive. I know I value that kind much more than a pat on the back (however I very much appreciate all).

    Beyond someone validating why I created and posted an image, I particularly like it when an image:

    – causes someone to comment that has not done so before on my blog.

    – strikes a chord with them that they can relate to.

    – really feels strongly about an image, and makes me think they like it even better than I do.

    And I have to say I do really like this image, well crafted. It does make me think this is a “texture overlay” with the godbeams overlaying this gorgeous fog picture.

    • Thanks, Bob! I do have a nice camera…

      I understand what you say about posting images and sometimes being surprised by who comments or how much they like it (or, in my case, don’t like it!). One of the wonders of blogging is tossing it out there and seeing what happens.

      BTW this is actually a “straight” shot (I don’t do many of these anymore!). No toning, no textures – those godbeams and that color to the sunrise were pretty much there as you see them. One of those magical early mornings that I feel too old to seek out anymore…

  5. It appears I can’t reply to a reply to a reply in WordPress, so this comment is to John’s clarification above…

    Excellent point! I do see what you mean – sometimes explaining one’s vision, why they did what they did, can shift the thinking of the other person, make them consider it from a different angle. More explaining, than arguing.

    I guess in that light, my response to Sam B. about both images would be that what I like about these images is the color and quality of the light which can happen at sunrise/sunset and the shapes the light makes playing across the land and water. I am drawn to images that are a little enigmatic, that may not clearly align with the traditional rules of photography. There is always risk in that approach, but such images for me reveal more of the nuances of what I see around me.

    • YES!! I love your response to Sam B. See, in my mind Sam B. is totally entitled to not like them.. all good! What is critical to keep in mind however, is that he either likes them or not based on his paradigm and bias. Your well fought for clarification to his comments is exactly what I’m talking about.

      One step further…. His comment colored my vision of your image. My first reaction was WOW, I love this. I love the color the separation of the layers… the strong “god rays” etc, etc… But then Sam said “I don’t like the sepia effect” I quickly asked myself hummm how do I feel about that effect… Interesting huh? How easily we can be gently nudged from our OWN feelings about something… Now when you clarified (fought for your vision) I quickly went right back to my initial gut reaction which is I LOVE IT!

      I’m done! Sorry to hog the blog!

  6. I just returned from teaching a workshop in Florida and I assume that those who sign up for my workshop are looking for feedback, or comments or critiques– so I try to balance positive feedback with my critiques– looking at their body of work instead of individual paintings. As for feedback– I think it is important to get and exchange feedback with those you respect– or feel is your peer– sharing and exchanging ideas.

    • Donna

      Welcome back! I think you raise a couple of excellent points. First, one should really review a body of work – one image doesn’t reveal enough. And, secondly, it’s important to look for feedback from peers who you respect. Otherwise, the feedback isn’t that meaningful because there is no context in which to assess it.

  7. i think its funny because those prints are highly prized by some collectors. i dont think they should get free passes from being looked at honestly by individuals, however, just based on the name of the photographer.

    • Kalani

      No question – it’s impossible for any artist, no matter how good, to produce nothing but good work. I’m not sure I like all the pieces shown there, in fact! But it does show that everyone has an opinion…

  8. I have found with many pieces that I am viewing that I need to start with a question… “What were you trying to accomplish?” For some photographs, it may be obvious, others are quite elusive. Feedback can be directed in a way that is completely opposite of what the intent was.

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