When I critique my student's artwork I try to be straightforward and not mince my words. I also compliment them frequently in a positive way because I wish to affirm their suspicion that their creative efforts are worthwhile. By complimenting them I am not flattering or pandering, I am validating and supporting their discovery and excitement about making art. So compliments are very useful in that way.
However, even some accomplished artists, who no longer need validation, like to be complimented too, just for having talent, which is a different thing. Compliments make him feel good, even important. It feeds the ego.
The true artist—the artist who is interested in deeper things, will appreciate and enjoy another artist's artwork, but is never impressed because another artist is talented. Neither is he impressed with his own talent, nor depressed by the lack of it. Because he is not interested in personal comparisons. He is only interested in the dynamic creative flow that he is involved in. And he enjoys seeing how that same amazing movement expresses through other artists. His attention is so fully absorbed in that, there is no room for petty comparisons or boasting.
Now, the worst thing a person could say about your artwork is not that it is bad, ugly or amateurish. Surprisingly, comments like that are often very useful, especially if they are thoughtful and informed. And if the work inspires an engaging conversation then that would be an indirect compliment . However, one of the worst thing a person could say to an artists while looking at their art is “Gee, you are so talented! What does it feel like to be so talented? I have no talent whatsoever. I could never do what you do . . . “ In other words, whatever beauty or interest the viewer initially saw in the artwork is instantly obliterated by their ego talking about itself in comparison to another person, the artist. They have completely missed the gift the artist has offered them. On the other hand, one of the best compliments comes without words. It is to observe a viewer's quiet absorption and curiosity as they look at your artwork. In that moment you are watching them experience what you experience as the artist. You want them to experience that same timeless curiosity about the world, without any thought of themselves or another.
Someone asked: You say the creative process is always egoless. Please explain.
Me: Remember, the creative process relates to how things are made. Let us not confuse how things are made with why they are made.
Things can be made for egoic reasons but things cannot be made by the ego, at least not very well. In the creative process you cannot simultaneously create and hate, or disregard, what you create. If you try, you will find that it is terribly uncomfortable. You cannot build a house and simultaneously tear it down. If you do manage to get the house done, post a picture of it because it will surely go viral.
Or to put it this way: the ego becomes very uncomfortable, even fearful when faced with the prospect of letting go to the natural creative flow of life.
Or, let's put it yet another way: when a so-called bad guy throws a pot on the potter’s wheel it is the same creative process that a so-called good guy must use to throw a pot. However, regardless of their good or bad intended use of their pots, if either of them fight the clay and potters wheel, and resists the process of making it, then it will be the other guy who gets his pot made for however he intends to use it.
The ego is never kind. Be kind to the creative process otherwise you will make it unkind to you.
“The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.”
(1865-1929) Artist and author of The Art Spirit.
I think Robert Henri is saying the same thing as Morris Graves when he said "My first interest is in being, along the way I am an artist." They are both pointing to a dimension that is deeper within the artist.
Patrick Howe, Artist, Author, Educator, Electronic Music Composer