Art critique: emotional or rational?

Sherry Bezanson of the Ladysmith Arts Council discusses art critiquing in her Community Art Showcase column.

Have you ever stood in front of a painting or sculpture and been awestruck? Or been dismayed that your eyes are having to view such a disaster?

Both of these responses fall under the “emotional” reaction.

What most amateur critics experience is an immediate state of liking or not liking any particular piece of art. All artwork is interpretive, whether your eye is professional or amateur. Professional art critics, those who evaluate and analyze others’ artwork, are educated to use a rational approach. They pursue a rational basis for art appreciation and focus on form, aesthetics and organization of the work.

However, the first response to art is usually emotional, particularly for the amateur art critic. It is about the gut reaction, the sensory experience that viewing the art elicits.

Similar to one stepping away from an argument and taking time to breath deeply, the seasoned art critic engages a balance of emotional and rational perspectives. Professional critics can help the viewer appreciate the complexities and subtleties of works of art rather than simply the gut reaction.

An art critic also has his or her personal theory of beauty, and beauty, as we’ve often heard, is in the eye of the beholder. Consequently, is it possible for even the most “professional” of critics to separate their own sense of beauty from the integrity of the form, style and artistic construction?

In addition, putting “art” into words can be somewhat untranslatable in quality; like putting cats on leashes. How do we express the complexities of an art piece from the non-linear into the linear form of words? It can be difficult.

No matter the content, positive or negative, critics can be deadly to the creative spirit.

Whether we are our own worst critics or our own best critics, keeping the ego in check is imperative.

Even when a critique is positive, it appeals to the ego, and an artist could be swayed to continue in this particular direction, despite a soulful attraction to another direction. One can love one’s own work, and that is wonderful, and yet, it may not translate into commercial success. In a world that often mistakenly relies on the outside world to dictate our sense of achievement, commercial success can be used to signify whether an artist is a true Artist. But just doing the art might be enough for the budding artist, or even the mature artist.

Next time you are in the gallery, notice your gut reaction and then pause and consider form, aesthetics and the organization of the piece. Play with the words to express your pleasure or displeasure in a balanced, rational manner that also incorporates your own version of beauty.

This process just might build a deeper appreciation for the work and the skill that has gone into the art you are viewing.