Alaskan Artist - Elise Tomlinson
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12/02/2005: "OK I'll admit it...I'm not great at taking criticism!"

Yesterday I got an email from a woman who has purchased several of my paintings in the past (both figurative and alluvial landscapes). She wanted to know where I'd be showing for First Friday. I told her I was taking time off from exhibiting but that I had some examples of new works in progress up on my website. Her exact comment was:

"Very cool, Elise!

What prompted you to use flesh tones for your women, rather than the variety of colors? I'm curious about that. The women become "realistic" in flesh tones as opposed (in my mind) Everywoman in the fantasy colors. But that's just how I read your use of color -- most certainly not a criticism. I always love your work."

Now, I read that comment yesterday and I instantly interpreted it as criticism. I do figurative work and as you can see in some of my past shows, I used to have more abstracted figures and totally made up colors. One show was even called Flesh Tones and part of the thinking was to get away from the issue of race and individuality and instead try to represent women in more of an iconic, universal way.

I think whenever you change (in this case, I don't know why I started making more realistic colored wasn't a concious decision at all) the way you work, there are those who will like it more and those who will like it less.

After re-reading her comments though, I realize they weren't really even negative, just curious. I wonder why I feel guilty about changing the way I work and read everything as criticism?

To make matters worse, there has been a less than enthusiastic response to my "Art in Alaska" magazine proposal. I sent out a ton of emails to artists and gallery owners etc. all over the state and so far, only a handful of people who know me personally, have responded.

I'm not going to give up though, no one *has* to be involved in it, obviously. But, today I feel drained. I've been riding this way of creative energy and today....nothing. I'm hoping that by going out and seeing all the great work being done for Gallery Walk, I'll feel fact, an eggnog latte might help as well.

Replies: 14 Comments

on Friday, December 2nd, holly said

When hearing/reading feedback of my research or writing, I get very upset with the word "interesting." "Well, that's a very interesting conclusion." Because that's what you say to someone whose work sucks, but whose feelings you don't want to hurt, right? Heaven forbid a *real* scholar might find something of mine genuinely interesting. I find criticism in everything. My first thought upon seeing these last two paintings of yours was indeed, "Oh! They're flesh-toned!" But with no judgment attached. Just something different to notice.

As for your magazine, it looks and sounds wonderful, but I wonder if people are so bogged down with the month of holiday crapitude that seems to go quickly out of control right about now that they just put your email on the back burner?

on Friday, December 2nd, Elise said

Ah yes, the dreaded "interesting"...I think when people call art "interesting" it's even more damning than to call research "interesting" as in that case, they might actually find your approach to the material interesting in a good way.

And, I'm curious, did you only think "oh, they're flesh toned (caucasoid flesh anyway...which btw I read a facinating article in Harper's about racisim in the field of Archelogoy but I'll save that rant for another day) anyway, did you only think that about the two most recent pieces? I consider the 4 figurative paintings posted before the 2 landscapes as more realistic color-wise as well. no?

on Friday, December 2nd, Elise said

Oh, and I hope you're right about the new magazine!

Well, I'm off to chair Curriculum Committee, wish me luck!

on Saturday, December 3rd, holly said

I think these last two had more color or depth to the skin. The other 4 looked "white" to me-- not that there's anything wrong with that-- I tend to think of your figures as "a blue lady" or "a purple woman" etc. So I was seeing those 4 as white (I'm so tired and not articulate tonight. Sorry). I have to go back and look now to see if they really are. When I was little, I would leave the skin of coloring book characters white (like Snow White or Alice in Wonderland) or actually color them with white crayon because it made the hair and eyes stand out so much more. Plus, I could never get the skin-colored crayon to look right!

Oooooh! Curriculum Committee! Sounds...painful!

on Saturday, December 3rd, holly said

By golly, they're not white! There's a lavender lady, a pink lady, a nearly flesh-tone lady and the blond with the intense gaze is nearly white. What stuck in my memory with all of those figures was the hair-- good fun with the hair.

OK, I am completely incoherent. G'night!

on Sunday, December 4th, Elise said

LOL! Thanks Holy, it's fun to see how someone like remembered those earlier ones. I've tried to get away from the whole "skin color" debate but I doubt I ever will.

Let me explain a little why sometimes I paint nudes and sometimes clothed figures. The figures have to be nude if there is somthing interesting going on with the light and shadow on the skin. If there isn't anything particularly striking about it, It doesn't make any difference if you paint a smock on them or not.

But fabric on a cool figure with lots of shadows eliminates all the most interesting shapes. I hate painting drapery. I find it dull dull dull...

on Sunday, December 4th, holly said

Ho ho! You would hate my classes, then, because I am drapery queen! I hate nudes-- dull dull dull! Except for Donatello's David, because he has such a lovely hat (and that feather creeping up the inside of his thigh...). Fortunately for me, the medievals didn't like nudes either, so I can study drapery to my heart's content.

I've never thought your human figures' skin colors were anything more than an extension of the vibrant palette you use. Then again, I spent a good deal of time in my teens and early twenties trying to figure out how to dye my skin blue...

on Sunday, December 4th, Elise said

You know, blueberry juice works quite well. I thought that keira knightley looked beautiful in the final fight scene of King Aurthor (the Antoine Fuqua version with Clive Owen that was set in the Dark Ages) with her blue skin.

Did you see the movie?

on Sunday, December 4th, Kasia said

Just stop worrying! Hey, are you the boss in your own art? sure, you are. You are the right to paint anything in any way. People are just people. Let them say what they want. (And that's good, i mean other people's opinions are important, but they definitely shouldn't make you feel guilty))The most important thing is what you think and feel. And i know it's hard- I am still learning that, too. A propos that art magazine - the interest will grow. At first people don't know what to think, who you are, if it's worh their time. etc. Just start doing your thing and they will come to you!

on Sunday, December 4th, Elise said

Hi again Kasia! I can honestly say that I always paint what I want, and mostly I feel great about it. But when people have questions about why I do something one way and not another, or are disappointed because something they used to like about my work has changed, I'm not sure why my responsibility is to explain my choices.

It's not a big deal, I just realize that after *years* of stone cold critiques in art school it hasn't gotten any easier for me.

on Monday, December 5th, holly said

I did see King Arthur-- it was really awful. I mean "Wow this is awful" awful. But Clive Owen is hot and Keira Knightly is always gorgeous (with some talent, to boot!). Everyone looks good in woad!

on Monday, December 5th, Elise said

Your sentiments seem to mirror the general consensus about that movie, but the blue skin was cool and I'd watch an hour long toillet paper commercial if it had Clive Owen in it!

on Monday, December 5th, holly said

The costumes were wonderful, the scenery was wonderful, kudos to the director for setting the story in the most probable time frame-- but DAMN! the acting and scripting was unforgivable! I've never laughed so hard at a serious film in all my life!

Have you seen the DVD of short films from BMW starring the delicious Mr. Owen? I believe it's called "The Hire" and I got it free a few years ago. Highly recommended. Basically an hour-long BMW commercial with Clive looking hot while he drives gorgeous cars. That'll do in a pinch.

on Tuesday, December 6th, Elise said

I'll have to check it out, it sounds delicious.