A friend of mine asked me the other day about how to talk about art with more than just sayings like, “awesome”, “lovely”, “that’s so cool”. I thought, “Hmmm, I guess it’s something I’ve had to learn.”

Some of you are new here, so let me give you my qualifications to answer this question with some authority. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a Ceramics Emphasis from Arizona State University, which in and of itself doesn’t necessarily prepare one to talk about art. Part of each art class was critiquing each others pieces, so that was learned there. Also, I was a Docent at the Phoenix Art Museum (PAM) from 2009 to 2014. PAM has one of the absolute best, most acclaimed Docent programs in the World currently. There is a two year training program with amazing mentors and guidelines on how to speak about art. This is honestly where I learned to talk about art as a whole, and as individual pieces.

So, back to the question of how to talk about art or give an artist pleasant (good or bad) feedback.

If I like a piece, I will flat out say I like it. I will then pick something specific that I like about that piece. (Ex: I really like how the greens and blues in your piece make it look iridescent.”) Expanding upon a though is as easy as pie when you ask yourself “What do I really like about this piece? Why do I like it so much?” It really enables you to tell the artist , your friends, and yourself why something hits your hot button.

If I don’t like a piece, I will try to find something in it I admire. “I really like your use of scale and proportion in this piece. It makes the setting almost believable.” Finding something you can connect with in some pieces of art is very difficult., but you really can usually find one element that you can say something constructive about.

If the artist presses you about that piece (which has happened to me before), and wants to know what else you like about that piece, be kind when you answer. Remember this person has poured their heart into this one ugly piece of work. Also remember, someone else will think it’s the best thing they have ever seen. In answering, it’s okay to take a long second look. It’s also okay to be perfectly, clearly honest, yet remain kind. “I’m sorry, but I’m struggling with this piece. I really do like the part I mentioned, but the rest is just a mystery to me. Can you explain it?” You may get a description of the piece, or the process, or both. Don’t ask the artist, “What does this piece mean to you?” You may get a bunch of hooey for an answer. If you get the artist talking about their work, you may learn what the piece is about to the artist. I find it helpful to learn about the piece because it can give me an appreciation for the art or artist. Having an appreciation for the piece or the artist does not always translate into liking the piece, but it does give you a different perspective, and you get to learn a little, which is alwasy a bonus.

Remember, no matter what you say to an artist, keep it positive. Positive, constructive feedback is always welcomed. Suggestions on how an artist can “do it better” when you are not directly asked that question are not appreciated. Find something you can connect to, or even enjoy about that piece (even if it is just one color off in a corner). Believe me, the artist will usually understand your intent and meaning. Last, but not least, ask the artist about the piece. Artists will tell you about their work, as long as you’re polite and open to a conversation. Don’t feel pressured to talk to an artist about a piece, though. If you really don’t want to spend another minute looking at it, just tell the artist to have a great day and move on.

Remember, art is subjective, but there’s always something in any piece you will find interesting.