What Do They Know?

westside road 36, photograph

“I cannot convince myself that a painting is good unless it is popular. If the public dislikes one of my Post covers, I can’t help disliking it myself.”

Norman Rockwell

How immune are you from the opinions of your audience? Do you find yourself being influenced by their favorites? Can you feel completely comfortable with something no one else likes?

I must admit that I experience a certain deflation about a piece that I think is a winner that meets with no interest at all from others. At best it makes me questions my judgement, at worst it makes me relegate it to the reject pile. A rare few I keep in my favorites folder, but I’ve stopped sharing them – they’re just for me.

I don’t think one should blithely say that the opinions of others should be ignored – it’s the rare artist who makes their art only for themselves. On the other hand, too much importance attached to these opinions can result in rudderless artmaking.

For me the secret is to pay attention to the opinion of those whose opinion I respect or whose criticism comes with more to ponder than just a thumbs up or down. Something that starts out as a personal favorite, when examined from this perspective, can turn out to be a stepping stone to something better. Some pieces are keepers, some are there to point the way…

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6 responses to “What Do They Know?

  1. Great thoughts, I look at criticism as a learning oppurtunity and welcome it but I try to always look at the creation of my art as a storytelling oppurtunity that I hope others will understand or relate to in some way.

    If they don’t relate I too feel a little let down at my abilities to convey a visual message that touches one’s heart.

    I love the orange and blue contrast that you have created in your image.

  2. Bob, I couldn’t agree more. It is a bit of a conundrum. We need to listen to our audience and we don’t. And what do we make of the images that are wildly popular, but initially we thought very little of?

  3. I’m relatively comfortable when other people don’t like my personal favourites (although I prefer it when they do!) – I think it’s because I generally know up front it isn’t their ‘style’, and that’s OK. But I always love to hear their interpretation or opinions, because sometimes it can make me see things in my pictures a different way, or alternatively, make me realise what I see in something may not be clearly communicated to someone else.

    And I’ve given up trying to predict which pictures are going to be popular – I’d say generally more traditional pictures, but every now and then something a little different will really provoke a response.

  4. I’ve always thought that I was a bit different because even as a child I didn’t really care all that much about other people’s opinions. I went through high school wearing jeans and cowboy boots even though being ‘country’ wasn’t cool. (There’s a song about that – I thought it was written just for me! haha)

    I’ve learned to be a little less rebellious over the years, but not much. Yes, I’m disappointed when people don’t like my favorites, but I don’t take it to heart or let it sway my own opinions. Like Tim mentioned, what concerns me more is when people really like images I’ve dismissed as rubbish which happens more often than I’d like.

  5. It is a difficult thing to grasp because the “audience” can be so variable. Is it an audience of art critics, the general public, other photographers, or your mom? Each one will have distinctly different impressions of your work as well as feedback. I used to regularly attend a camera club where each image was assigned a score. It is human nature to always want to get a good score, but it does have consequences on exploring our artistic freedoms if the feedback always steers us in a predetermined direction.

  6. I often find myself in the same place, and at both ends of the spectrum. I put up a simple picture and it gets raves. (Maybe I should do more simple pictures?). I put up one that I think tells an interesting story, no response.

    Given the incredible range of people that might stumble upon your blog, it’s hard to draw many conclusions, although I suppose no response at all means it didn’t appeal to anyone. We can learn that… we have a lot more to learn.

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