Last month I finally got up the nerve to submit my work to a professional art fair juror for a critique. If you've been to art school or a serious art class, you've been through a crit. (No, the local art club doesn't count. They're too nice.)
A crit can be exciting and nerve-wracking. You can walk out of there jubilant or crestfallen. If the crit is bad, you're probably crying -- even if you're a tatooed, 250 lb pipefitter who longs for a solo exhibit of his delicate oil pastels. You're certain you've wasted your life.
If it's good, your head will not fit in the door of the next gallery you present your portfolio to.
For most of us, it's in between. And that's fine -- when you're in school. After you've been doing this professionally for a while, you need the crit to fine tune your work or help you find a new direction -- but basically you want the art professional to tell you that you're wonderful and next month you'll be on the cover of the Times art section. You want reassurance.
Some friends wanted to know why I bothered: I'm getting into good shows, I've been honored with some nice awards -- what more could a crit tell me?
The problem with being an art fair artist is that we get a lot of compliments. "Wonderful work" is the currency most people use to get out of a booth without buying something. They are polite and an art fair booth is an intimate, small space. It would be rude not to say something!
Eventually, we start to believe it, regardless if the work is selling. We might even start to think we're the ONLY artist who hears these remarks.
The crit brings us back to reality.
The good thing about professional crit is that I get to chose my own judge! When else can you do that? I'm paying the judge for the crit (you didn't think it was free, did you?) so I get to choose. My decision was based on thorough research: I read the 200 word blurbs of the choices. Ultimately, I went with the one whose image and credentials were presented in a style that spoke to me. We go through the same process when buying art, so why not when choosing a judge?
Robert Watson is an art professor at Florida Atlantic University and offered me far more advice, feedback and inspiration that I could have imagined. First, he told me what I already knew but refused to accept: jurors hate florals. I have to stop doing them. I know. But they sell! He knows. I have enough of them. His favorite: Ferris Wheel. But he hates the title. In fact, he hates all my titles. I don't blame him.
What really surprised me is after the crit of the Polaroids was over, he went back and looked at all my work and pulled out images to praise that I can't get accepted into exhibits or shows anywhere. He selected images that I love too, but the general public or other art jurors don't.
It was a terrific experience. I learned a lot. I'm energized. I'm thinking and working.
Now, would anyone like to buy some lovely florals?