There is a danger in critiquing work-in-progress at classes and workshops—it can emphasize success over risk taking. This can push us to re-make the successful images we already know how to make in order to prove our worthiness, rather than pushing our boundaries. We may be more worried more about impressing others than about our own artistic growth. But risking failure is how we grow and evolve as artists.

Put yourself wholeheartedly into each exercise and assignment, even if you are not sure or even suspect as to what the benefit will be. Trust the process. Honor the time, money and energy you have invested in taking time off from your busy life to be there. We are all very lucky we have the privilege to do be able to this, including me. Honor that with full participation.

You have much more to gain by staying open to new possibilities than in succeeding with what you already know works for you. Try not to mimic the instructor’s style just so they notice you or like your work. It is ok to mimic the style of others to gain perspective or learn from them but examine your motives. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Take visual and emotional risks. This is your opportunity to expand and grow artistically and personally. Think beyond the actual critique!

During critiques be fully present when others present their work and respect them with your full attention. They deserve that and you can’t expect it back from others when it’s your turn if you don’t also give it. Speak up when you have something to say. Be present. Participate fully. Offer constructive criticism that is about the work not the person. Say what it is you do like or what is working for you. Learn from the comments and criticisms of others. 

When it’s your turn, do not make any excuses for why your work isn’t better, why you only have the pictures you have or why your best pictures are at home or on your other hard drive. Just deal with what you do have with you, not with what you don’t have. Our photos reflect where we’ve been not where we are, but are also markers for where we are going. The photos we make today are often ahead of our ability to understand them or put them in context. They have things to tell you that may not be apparent to others. Don’t take criticism personally. don’t be defensive. Listen and consider comments objectively before you respond from a wounded place. The fact that others don’t like them doesn’t make them bad and the fact that others love them doesn’t make them good. It’s all just opinion. With every critique it gets easier to relax, respond openly and grow from the experience.

It’s not how many great pictures you make during your class or workshop that’s important, but how the experience changes you and helps you grow. Move forward from the challenges, positive and negative. Remember why you signed up in the first place— not to impress others with the skill you already have but to continue to evolve forward.


This was originally written for the Santa Fe Photo Workshops blog site.

©Douglas Beasley 2014