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.

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

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ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

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