Technique is Anxiety.

Technique is Anxiety.

5 min read


We’re overwhelmed.

World news are not the most enticing thing we hear today and it seems like an infinite pit of darkness.

So we turn to drawing and painting to find peace. Sometimes successfully, often going back to a comparison loop, anxiety inducing as if we should always be good enough, reach a certain level to finally be content. Finally be whole with our art. Finally find that peace.

Breathe in...

Last month I was tasked to understand the use of members on an Art Feedback Discord channel. We wondered how to enhance members’ experience at giving feedback to artpieces, and for artists, at posting and receiving critiques.

I want to share with you a sample of my learnings. I believe it can help you reduce your emotional load while improving the way we do art by magnitude better. Yes, big claims!

As a disclaimer, I’m an artist, quite lost to be honest, but I love digging and asking questions around. For 2 weeks full time, I scratched that itch. I used 2,5 months of samples which is approximately 44 artworks which data I complemented with a few surveys. For privacy reasons, none of it will be shared publicly. But yeah, I’m no researcher, so methodology might be a bit wonky. Also, it might be specific to that discord server (with a focus on illustration) and not a generality among artists communities.

Part 1: Technique is Anxiety.

Many of you here, if not most, are artists in the entertainment industry. You’re certainly familiar with art communities. Like me, you probably asked for feedback, C&C on the LevelUp group years ago.

Remember when you asked it: what critiques were given to you?

Was it your anatomy that was not on point? The perspective, maybe broken or the composition didn’t led the eyes to focus? It sums up as fundamentals: perspective, anatomy, volumes, values... we’re deeply familiar to it.

We’re trained to think as if being ready for work is tied with being technically perfect.

“I’m not good enough” is way too much used in the art world.

That statement implies many consequences but today I want to focus on one:

Art is not a race to technical perfection.

Asking for critiques and showing a will to improve is great. But focusing the critique, both asked and given, on fundamentals and technique is flawed.

It is flawed as it limits the message being sent. I’m probably not teaching you shit here, but art is communication. For us it takes visual form. Focusing our critiques solely on the technique without taking into account the essence of the message, limits its effectiveness.

Let’s take a look at how:

Firstly, it doesn’t encourage artists to develop intention. Without intention, we are bound to be kept in the dark. To ask for feedback for trivial details. Without intention, we are bound to rules with no understanding on when or why to bend them. Intention works as a compass, while technique is our legs to go to the point we defined.

Secondly, it limits the efficacy and efficiency of the message. When I want to share the melancholy I feel gazing at falling snow, knowing as a fact that, 10 years from now, it will not exist anymore; neither the chipping of the birds in the fresh mornings nor the buzzing of bees during warm afternoons... Why should I care about my perspective being off? Technicality should be used to support the message. Not the way around. To communicate, there is not one answer but a myriad. I could cut down on opacity, shift composition, change color keys. Focusing on the message instead of the technique allows for mistakes, allows for bending rules, allows for empathy.

Most importantly, it allows the message to extend its reach.

Thirdly, focusing on technical aspect encourages artists at copying, cloning eachothers, becoming others to the point of losing themselves. Spending all of their time practicing drawing, never to sit back and reflect on their own psyche. As Art is a journey of self discovery, worrying on being right or wrong over our artwork prevents us from discovering our own flows.

Because it’s what technical aspect teaches artists: your artwork is whether right, or wrong. There is no inbetweens. Whether you’re like one of those stars on Social medias, working on AAA projects, whether you aren’t. Whether your perspective is perfect, whether it’s crooked.  Art becomes mathematically cold.

That coldness brings us hierarchy. We base our worth as artists on whether we’re technically good or not. Whether our fundamentals are on par with those celebrities or not. Yet, we are biased by our own reality perception: we rationalize flaws in our masters and in people we idolize.

So we practice, more. Until burning out, until anxiety and depression takes over. Until we give up and can’t look at art anymore.

Part 2: The 4 Ps of Art

Ok now, you may be thinking: this is good and all (or not haha), but if we don’t critique the technique, how do we improve?

From outlined data, I found that artists were mostly preoccupied by 4 points. Surprisingly enough, each point  interdependant. Those themes are Readability, Composition, Storytelling and Impression.

Focusing on giving feedback on those proposes new pathways for improvements over an image. To find ways to better express the artist’s idea, we can pick into the toolkits of the techniques.

In this scheme, Readability can be the first step. The basis of a “good enough” illustration. By good enough, I don’t mean it from our artist point of view. Rather, from the audience’s who is the one benefitting from the artwork (i.e. viewers of your gallery exhibition, your studio management at a game company...). Readability is how clear the artwork is. Can we understand each element properly?

Then comes Composition. Composition describes the fluidity with which we navigate the painting. Its flow if you prefer. Or how easy it is to read the sentences of a text if I am to use a writing analogy.

Storytelling, the third point is pretty self explanatory. How does one read the artwork. Is there a story associated to it to be discovered?

Finally, Impression is how one experiences an image. Does it resonate with their soul and heart? It answers to the feelings of the viewer.

On a progression line, this is to me the most difficult part to express. How can we communicate feelings visually in the most effective way?

As I mentionned earlier, those 4 Progressions or 4P’s of Art (yeah, if you have something more impactful, naming convention is open x)) are interdependant and not necesarily linear. They could s well work on their own.

The linear pattern is an idea of progression from beginner to advanced artist as one needs to make its art readable and grow until able to make people feel it in their bones.

We could also think of it as a workflow process to insure we don’t stray from the message: What feelings do we want to share with the audience, how can we “tell” such story, refine the flow of the picture and finally, improve its readability to make the point exceedingly clear for the viewer.

It seems to me that those 4 points have a multitude of associations and it would be exciting to discover how to build with them. (note: I somehow believe I’m crushing open doors and those concepts are already out there well researched and I’m reinventing the wheel, but..anyway x))

Last Words

To sum it all up, and as a TL;DR, after 2 weeks of study, I believe the way we critique our peers work is deeply flawed. We learned to focus on the superficiality of the technique. We learned to fix the tool work instead of improving the intention of the overall art piece. Switching from the fundamental critique to an holistic point of view will relieve artists from mental breakdown while helping them strive at discovering their voices.

If you've read it all, I am curious and interested to have your feedback over this information, does it resonate with you? Do you agree or disagree?

And if you would have comments to add or would like to discuss about those points, I’m all ears and excited to discuss it with you!


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