Ask the Art Prof: How Do You Know when Your Artwork is Good Enough to Show to the World?

Boston Printmakers at Brickbottom Gallery

“How does an visual artist know when their artwork is good enough to show to the world?”

On the Internet, you’ll find an overwhelming range of quality in art, everything from random pencil doodles scribbled on lined notebook paper to the most highly polished, professional artwork that exists. Since the range of quality is so massive, there really is no “standard” whatsoever for what should be shown publicly.

What it really boils down to is what your motivations are for showing your art. If you’re looking to work professionally, my answer would be to get over it and get your work out there immediately. If you’re making art for yourself, then go with your instinct and do what you’re most comfortable with.

Self-critique can also be a good process to go through when wondering whether to show your work. It’s a way to evaluate where your work stands in the context of what’s already out there, and provide some validation.  If you don’t have art teachers to ask, then the best way is to search for artists who are working in the same media, genre, and subject matter and compare your work to theirs.

If you feel their work is significantly better than yours, thoughtfully ask yourself what it is that they’re doing differently in their work. Analyze their methods and visual strategies and see if you can employ some of those initiatives in your own work. If you think your work holds a candle to what they’re doing, then empower yourself to take the plunge and get your work out there and seen.

Unseen & Unknown: Opening Reception

When you finally do make the decision to show your work to the world, you have to brace yourself for the wave of comments that occurs and be ready to handle it.  Showing your art can be both incredibly rewarding and difficult at the same time.

Every time you show your artwork publicly, it’s like walking the plank. Putting your work out there is a big risk every time. I’ve had people say lovely, moving things to me about my work.  I’ve also had people make brutal, insensitive, comments.

I had a professor in graduate school who came up to me in person, completely unsolicited, one day and said to me “I’m very disturbed by what you do,” and then went on to describe in great detail what a terrible artist I was. I was so completely startled by her comments that I was left speechless.

I once had an exhibition of my 50 self-portraits at a college gallery, (see below) and there were complaints from students and staff about how dark and upsetting the work was, so much so that the gallery director had to put a disclaimer by the exhibition.


Clara Lieu, 50 Self-Portrait drawings from Falling

I try to focus on the positive comments I receive, but you do have to be prepared for the occasional insult/annoying comment.  So how do you deal with it?  First of all, acknowledge that insensitive comments are always going to hurt.

Let the comment sting you momentarily, and then move on and try to concentrate on the people who are appreciating your work. And actually, the worst response is no response.  There’s a saying in the art world that “as long as they’re talking about you,” you’re doing fine. is a free website for learning visual arts which features video tutorials, art critiques, and more.

Related articles
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“When is it too early to start promoting your work on the Internet?”
“How do you retain the integrity of your artwork while promoting it?”
“How do you get to the top of the art world?”
“How can I get into art exhibitions?”
“Is the Internet necessary to being a successful artist?”


14 thoughts on “Ask the Art Prof: How Do You Know when Your Artwork is Good Enough to Show to the World?

  1. Clara– I love receiving your posts in my inbox. I find your insight and experience both enlightening and supportive as I am teetering over the edge in the decision to show professionally. Thanks for your honesty and for sharing.

  2. I think your drawings( from the college exhibition ) are amazingly done as far as I see. The emotion is incredible. Fantastic pieces of artwork. Great advice on this post : ).

  3. I love your work Clara. I see consistency in your portraits and know it’s YOU that does these.
    I had been painting for 4 years and only 2 months ago did i finally show mine in public at a local art league show. I didn’t get an award, not even an honorable mention. I put another one in for the next show thinking this time….nope. I am very honest about my own personal critic of my work and i thought I should have gotten at least that. Judges, like you mention and all people can vary widely.

    1. I find that when it comes to competitions and awards, they may as well pull the names out of a hat most of the time. It’s so arbitrary depending on who is judging and what their own personal tastes are. So don’t be at all discouraged that you didn’t get an award!

      1. If anyone else told me this i only would half-heartedly have the faith to believe this. Knowing you are in a highly respected position in the art field, thank you so much! I have a big ego, and i also am full of much self doubt, but the self doubt is what motivates me to try harder.

  4. I dont know where to start. I am a very creative person who one day decided to use/borrow my boyfriends acrylic paints and just started to blend and created something not that bad. Since them iv felt encouraged to try and keep trying it. My question is,how/where do i start? I know nothing about art and i dont wanna come off as a “poser” :/

  5. I loved how much in depth information you give in all your answer for all the broad range of questions posted. You seems to know your subject well! I am the formal art teacher and looking for a job now. It’s quite challenging because of the few factors: gap that I have in my teaching experience and of course deteriorated job market in that field. Do you have any suggestions?

  6. Hi! I love art and have been taking it all the way until high school. In high school I tried different types of art and ultimately have decided to finish high school doing ceramics. I still draw in my free time and I have gotten much better from how I used to just from observing different artists’ work and watching videos of them draw online. Sketching is my burning passion and I was considering going to college for art. Could one go to school for art without having taken art, specifically design or drawing, in high school or does it not matter? Also, does one have to make a portfolio for applying to an art school and if so, how does one do so?

    1. The portfolio is the most important part of the art school application. Art classes in high school are not a requirement for art school, but they help tremendously and I don’t recommend trying to put a portfolio together on your own without the help of an art class and art teacher. I wrote this article on how to prepare a portfolio for art school that you might like: This article also talks about the advantages of taking an art class, as opposed to trying to learn on your own online:

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