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Effective Techniques for Providing Feedback to an Artist during a Commission

Giving feedback can be a tricky task in many scenarios, especially when it comes to artists, whose creations are often layered with unique personal emotions. If you have already commissioned an artist, or are thinking of commissioning an artist, this guide is for you. You may be concerned about saying the wrong thing or unintentionally strolling down the lane of disrespect. Whatever it is, this guide aims to equip you with the right tools to convey your sentiments with empathy and care. 


"Creativity takes courage, and critique requires empathy."

Artist Carolyn Wonders is speaking with collector in her gallery.
Artist speaking with collector in her gallery

Start with Positive Feedback: Let's kick off your critique by celebrating the strengths of the artwork - what do you like about the work? Acknowledge what resonates with you - whether it's the vibrant color choices, the captivating composition, or the emotions it evokes. Commencing with positive comments sets a supportive tone, encouraging the artist to feel valued and motivated. Don't skip this step as it sets the tone for the entire conversation.


  • “Your use of color in this piece truly captures the spirit of the subject, it's vibrant and lively.”

  • “The composition of this work is dynamic, it immediately draws the viewer's eye to the focal point.”

  • “The mood you've created in this picture is exceptionally evocative - it stirred up some strong emotions in me.”

  • “The texture you've utilized in this painting adds a tangible depth, it's incredibly compelling.”

  • “The creativity and originality in this artwork shines through, you've presented a truly fresh perspective.”


Artists are not Contractors: When you hire a contractor to update your kitchen, you are hoping they will make your vision come to life. When you hire an artist, you are providing them with an idea, or a reference photo, and asking them to apply their vision to your idea. 

Ask the artist:

Don't ask the artist:

What comes to mind as I share my thoughts/memories/ideas?

Can you to draw a frisbee/golf ball/tree, etc. in the background?

Tell me about the direction you are thinking for color.

I want natural, realistic color.

What is your artistic vision for this project?

Can you make it look exactly like the photo, other artist's work, etc?


Respect the Artist's Style: Preferably, you have chosen this artist because you love their work. If you do not like their other work, you will not like your commission. Don't ask an artist to depart from their natural style. 


Ask Questions:  Dive into the artist's vision, style, and the message they aim to convey. Understanding their artistic intentions empowers you to provide feedback that aligns with their creative goals. If you're unsure, don't hesitate to ask. Similarly, inquire about the kind of feedback they're seeking. Do they have specific questions or areas they're seeking guidance on?


Avoid Prescribing Solutions: To make your feedback actionable and meaningful, offer suggestions that empower the artist to explore possibilities. Instead of vague statements like "Can you remove the orange?" you might say, "I admire the use of vibrant colors in the background, but something about it doesn't resonate with me."  Pinpoint areas you're grappling with: "I'm concerned that the piece feels chaotic rather than contained." 


Offer Your Perspective, Not Absolutes: Remember, art is subjective. Frame your feedback as personal perspectives rather than absolute truths. Use phrases like "I think" or "I feel" to convey your opinions. Provide context to help the artist understand your viewpoint. For instance, "As someone who appreciates subtle contrasts, I find the color combination effective."


Be Respectful and Sensitive: Recognize the vulnerability inherent in sharing artwork. Approach feedback with empathy and consideration. Foster a collaborative atmosphere where dialogue flows freely. Respect the artist's choices and be receptive to their responses. Remember, feedback is a conversation, not a directive or an order. 


Essentially, delivering feedback to an artist you've commissioned can seem an intimidating task. However, it's entirely about nurturing a relationship with the artist to ensure your final satisfaction. Be sure to be considerate and empathetic, careful in your word choice, patient with your expectations, and authentic in your demeanor. If delivered with respect and appreciation, your feedback can become an invaluable tool for the artist's journey toward artistic innovation.




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Carolyn Wonders

ARTIST | WRITER

Modern life with its social, political, and cultural debates leaves us all raw, triggered, and anxious. We are bombarded by rhetoric that is carefully chosen to obscure truth and advance agendas. I see art as a universal language that can transcend that which twists us into parrots of this rhetoric. Living with art you love and seeing through an artist’s eyes can help us see these superficial debates for what they are and get us in touch with what really matters.

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