What’s Wrong With Art: Artist requests for feedback

Tabish Khan loves art and visits hundreds of exhibitions a year. But every now and then he comes across something in the art world that doesn’t meet his approval.

Occasionally an artist will write to me for feedback on their work, often it’s an artist I’ve never met or heard from before. This usually involves an artist sending links to their work and they’re very polite about it. It’s now become more prevalent in the age of Instagram and I assume curators, collectors, gallerists and other critics have experienced similar messages.

Artist feedback requests are happening very regularly for me and most often I just ignore it. So I thought it best to break down why that’s the case — hopefully it will be helpful for artists to see and at the very least an article to direct people to when I receive future requests for feedback.

First things first it takes a lot of bravery to put your work out there for feedback, so I have respect for artists who are willing to be brave enough to ask for feedback that potentially could be negative.

But, there are a whole host of reasons I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving feedback:

  • It’s very hard to assess an artist’s portfolio using an image file and not seeing it in person, let alone not knowing anything about the artist and the thought process behind their work.
  • Most people don’t take negative feedback very well, and negative feedback should always be face to face — a lot is lost in a short message that has the potential to offend the recipient.
  • I’m already stretched for time and responding to every request with a well thought through response is a luxury I can’t afford.

The most important reason is assessing an artist’s portfolio is a service that comes at a cost. If someone is going to sift through your portfolio and give thoughtful feedback then they deserve to be paid for the time and effort put into it.  For all the reasons I’ve set out here, trying to solicit free feedback is unlikely to be successful.

So what should artist’s do?

It’s all well and good me saying don’t send me messages asking for feedback, but what should artists do? The first question to ask yourself is why are you creating art?

  • If it’s for the sheer pleasure of creating art then keep going. What I, or anyone else thinks of your work, matters not.
  • If it’s about making a living from art then list your work on websites such as Artfinder and Saatchi Art to see if you can make that work.
  • If developing your artwork and seeing what direction to take it is the goal, then a portfolio review by a critic, an art consultant, gallerist or another artist may be the way to go — bearing in mind this is likely to cost you.

Given I only write about works that I’ve seen in person, messaging me only makes sense if you have an exhibition that I may be able to pop into. If that’s not the case then hopefully this article is a helpful starting point on what to do next.

If you’re reading this and happen to be on the receiving end of requests for feedback, feel free to point them at this article.

For more in this series, see my thoughts on the reaction to the shredded Banksy, #FriezeWeek, Blockchain hypeFinding artPrivate viewsArt itselfAppointment only exhibitionsArtificial Intelligence replacing artistsEveryone’s a CriticPhoto LondonThe Turner Prize, Art for art’s sakeConceptual art is complicatedCondoHow performance art is presented in museumsFrieze week floozies, too much respect for an artist’s legacyopinions not being welcomean exhibition across three countriestackling race and gender in artartist-curatorsart fair hypetop 5s and top 10sour political art is terriblegap left by Brian Sewellhow art never learned from the Simpsonswhy artspeak won’t dieso-called reviewsbad reviews are bad for business, the $179m dollar headlineart fairs appealing to the massesfalse opening hourssize matters and what’s wrong with video art.

About Tabish Khan

Art Critic for both FAD and Londonist. See as many exhibitions as possible and write reviews, opinion pieces and a weekly top 5 for FAD.