Art appreciation for friends, family and other disinterested parties…

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Art criticism and critique is an acquired skill. It’s not always easy to be diplomatic, constructive and encouraging in the face of appalling and discomforting odds. An eccentric relative with an earwax obsession, an enthusiastic but slightly psychotic friend with an airbrush, or worse still, your partner’s mother taking on the annual macramé bikini challenge. Now, I’m not suggesting their work is necessarily bad, but sometimes, it might not be quite to your taste. As they say in the old adage – art is in the eye of the beholder. And there’s a good chance you might find yourself in that awkward position where you’re one such beholder and it just isn’t clicking. Being a fanatical, obsessive ‘hobby’ artist for many years, I am guilty of frequently inflicting my friends and visitors with such torture. It’s hard to hold back – as my son put it the other day – we’re all peacocks, and we love to shake our tail feather when given half a chance. The slightest twitch of interest from someone, and we’re off and running on our triple speed rant about our latest projects. Anyone who has visited my house knows the drill…

So – here are some do’s and don’ts for the uninitiated…

The gentle art of diversion

If you sense an indecent art exposure looming, try for a quick segue into something totally unrelated and a little off-putting such as: When an obviously hand painted mug is being thrust towards you – say it reminds you of the time you couldn’t get to a toilet in time and ended up urinating in a coffee cup. Guaranteed conversation diverter.

Or: When your friend’s eyes show a steely glint and they start pointing you towards an oddly composed collection of what appear to be either soap scrapings or toenail clippings in the form of a distressed dolphin – discuss foot hygiene and how upsetting it was the last time your dog choked on a stray toenail.

Or: Your mother-in-law thrusts her gorgeous hand knitted Starship Enterprise pizza cutter towards you for comment. Explain it’s a sensitive topic as your bowels are still recovering from last night’s food poisoning.

When all else fails

artAppreciation5Ok, so you’ve tried the segue technique, but your artist is determined not to be distracted and has boomeranged back to their artwork. What to do now? Try to avoid a look of panic, apathy or distaste. Appear interested – stroke or fondle when invited. Be gentle however – a good whack on a bench or wall is not recommended. Avoid rubbing against paintings or pastels – the artist may exhibit signs of distress, such as snatching sharp implements from cutlery drawers and developing oddly protruding eyeballs. Don’t refer to pets or small children for comment or advice and definitely don’t attempt to lick, nibble or bite for quality control. I know this works for gold bullion – but not nearly as useful (or tasty) in the case of ear or candle wax. If you feel obliged to ask if it will rub off, be assured – it will, and the situation will rapidly escalate into a crisis.

Well meaning but inappropriate responses (some artistic embellishment has been used but many of these are authentic quotes)

  1.  The Kath and Kim approach – interesting, unusual, different. (Incredibly popular choice for close and rather bored friends)
  2.  It’s very ‘you’. (Often used as a last resort by relatives and confused friends who thought they knew who your were)
  3. Can I wear it? (Simple misunderstanding – completely forgivable)
  4.  What kind of drugs do you take – where can I get some? (Generally from distant friends of friends who don’t realise how dangerously low your meds are running)
  5. Wow! I’m speechless – I really can’t find the right words. (Moderately acceptable – but option 6 is preferable)
  6. Ummm… anmumnum, guh, mmmm. (A safe, non-committal response)
  7. Is that a print/photograph? Why not just photograph it? (Incredibly dangerous – use this response at great personal risk – if it looks like a photograph it means there’s hours of skill and effort lurking behind it and the reaction will be volatile)
  8. I love the car body wrap – is it hard to stick on? (Dual function – simultaneously insulting and flattering – reaction depends on the mood of the artist)
  9. . Did you plan it that way? (Always problematic – this could take you down a dangerous path)
  10. Fantastic! By the way – which way up does it go? (Best not mentioned – akin to asking a non pregnant women when her baby is due)
  11. Keep on taking those pills – they’re obviously working! (Reserved for incredibly family and friends)
  12. Wow! I love it! What is it? (Definitely a gamble – carefully gauge the mood of artist before trying this one)
  13.  My grandma does something just like that with sultana’s and minty wrappers, but yours is much better. (Definitely a huge no – never, ever compare the work of one artist with another – no matter how talented your grandmother is)
  14.  Wow – did your daughter do that? She’s talented for her age. (Simple and almost endearing faux pas – but will leave you back-pedalling for a considerable time afterwards)
  15.  It reminds me of something I once saw in a urinal. (Reserved for mind altering moments between extremely close friends snorting the same chemicals)
  16. Is that drip deliberate? (Best circumvented – I can guarantee that it wasn’t)
  17. I like it, but why did you smudge it down in the bottom corner? (Refer to 16 – best to opt for response 6 instead)
  18. That would look awesome in a proctologist’s waiting room. (Be prepared to elaborate that you actually meant – professional medical suite, and wear excellent running shoes)
  19. Look, here is a lovely painting. You don’t get a painting without a painter. Therefore God exists. (Enthusiastic exponents of the divine creator – possibly subsequently getting their knickers in a knot when they discover the piece is the product of a group workshop… Hang on – that must mean there is more than one creator. Oops – just discovered Pantheism.)
  20. I’m so glad you have a nice hobby. (People with little respect for their personal safety – check for sharp implements before opening mouth)

artAppreciation4Not quite so well meaning and equally perilous responses (also genuine quotes)

  1. We all know you don’t care for the real world much. (Generally from a close relative who thinks they understand the inner workings of the artist’s mind and still can’t cope)
  2. And when exactly were you planning on growing up? (Medical professionals, work mates and frustrated family)
  3. Do you always suffer from visual disturbances? (Confused spectators watching the art being created)
  4. How can anyone justify charging $800 for a piece of paper? (The visually challenged and those who own shares in Officeworks)
  5. Why/how could you call that art? (Other artists)
  6. It looks like guts hanging out. (Close friends who opt for honesty over diplomacy)
  7. Because I’m a nice person I might buy it from you. (Well meaning friends who haven’t really thought this sentence through properly)
  8. It’s exactly like the Mona Lisa, but completely different. (Confused up and coming art critics stuck for encouraging ideas)
  9. I hope your portrait doesn’t destroy your friendship with your model. (Friends who live in the safety of a different continent)
  10. .Why do you feel the need to paint at all? (Art tutors from the safety of another city over the internet)
  11. Look, I think it’s great and it looks just like her – but her hair shouldn’t be purple should it? (Extremely close family with absolutely no interest in art)

The only correct response (apart from the obvious platitudes)

I must buy it now – name your price. (Total strangers)

Everyone loves a happy ending, and a lot of artists enjoy giving away work – it means they go to a happy home (or so they like to think). It’s not intended as some form of protracted punishment, although it may seem that way at the time. In light of this, there is an etiquette to handling your recent acquisition:

Do not:

  • attempt to conceal it from the neighbours under your shirt as you leave
  • triumphantly lob it into the back of the car through a gap in the window
  • use it to gain traction when backing the car out of a boggy driveway
  • use it to protect yourself from the rain as you leave
  • wear it as an unusual and rather humorous headpiece
  • place it on the ground and dance triumphantly around it anti-clockwise while making wailing noises and gnashing your teeth


  • gently position it on the front seat and make your travelling companion return home either strapped to the roof or jogging alongside the vehicle
  • make soothing noises to it as you lovingly pull the seat belt around it and tuck it in
  • smile with gratitude and wave enthusiastically until out of sight and earshot – after that, it’s a free for all…

Ok – you have been told… the rest is up to you!