We've all been there, we show someone our latest piece of abstract work and hear things like:
'Oh, that's nice;'
'I can see a dog on a motorbike in this one;'
'Did it take you long to do that?;'
'I like that last one you did better;'
'I'm not sure what I'm looking at;'
'I like the blue bit;'
or worse, that someone just nods, says, 'ummm...' and finds an excuse to be elsewhere!
Often the first people we ask an opinion of are our family and friends, as they're closest to us, easily accessible and more frequently around. We are also more likely to show them work in progress, hoping for an encouraging response and that they see the 'good' bits in our work, as we do. It can be disheartening when a nod or a grunt is all that comes your way and this can raise the anxiety we may feel about how a painting is going.
It can be hard to know what to do when these sought and valued opinions leave us feeling disappointed. This can affect our confidence in what we're doing which can compound any difficulties we feel we're having in the making of the work and make us feel shy about sharing and showing our work in the future.
Most creatives can probably relate to this in some way, because at some point on their creative journey, the fear of what other people might say about their work creeps into the mind like an rambling vine. Sometimes this anxiety doesn't gain purchase, but it can take root and be strengthened by lukewarm responses from family or friends, keen to engage and say something, anything, that comes to mind in an attempt to engage and appear supportive.
I know this feeling well as an abstract artist, particularly if anyone has seen my work at an early or experimental stage. I believe it's almost always because they don't have enough information about what I'm pursuing in the artwork to share a well informed opinion.
There's always a messy middle to my paintings where the story isn't well formed, the colours are not quite right or the composition needs adjustment. If I'm feeling fragile about where my painting is going I know that this is not the best time to show my work to others.
That said, it is precisely in these moments of sharing and seeking an opinion that you can start to build resilience and practice talking about your work; which can lead you to more clearly define your purpose and better articulate your aims or story.
With someone standing there with you, looking at your painting, the opportunity presents itself to really describe to your 'audience' what it is you're trying to do. You get to talk about your intentions and reflect on the journey so far; even if you feel that at that moment, you haven't yet achieved your goal. These conversations create a learning opportunity to find new ways to talk about what you're doing, how you're doing it and why you're doing it; they create a space for you to really put your aims into words and describe your line of inquiry and talk about what you thinking is working and what isn't and maybe what you plan to do next.
Now is the perfect time to practice talking about your work.
By engaging with our audience in this way we can view vague or non committal responses not as something to wound us and make us pack our art supplies away, but as a step on the ladder to achieving a greater joy and satisfaction in making our work, by leading us to travel the pathways of introspection, reflection and articulation. These conversations give us an opportunity to dig a bit deeper and find words to express our thinking, which don't always come easily to intuitive visual artists.
If we are able to tell them about our journey and the purpose or story behind a painting, or about how that's evolving or manifesting itself in the work, we may find that their opinions may begin to shift and become more positive and considered as they become better informed about what we're doing and why.
Practice makes perfect.
Finding the right words to help others better understand the purpose in your painting will increase your confidence in what you're making and help you stand tall next to it.
And if talking isn't your thing, then writing is the next best thing. Keep a journal or a diary or notes in your sketchbook and gradually the right words will emerge before you; And the best bit is, you get to edit, revise and reflect before you share it!