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  • Jan Thoreen Lewis

The Dreaded Root Canal

Updated: Feb 1, 2019

Or "Critiques Can Be Like Medieval Torture"

One of the toughest things any of us can do is be willing to take an honest, hard look at something we've made, something we've done, something we've said, or something we are, and not cringe away from the results. 

The reality is that you'll probably like me a little more for being real with you, for trusting you with my warts and fake tan.

Most of us would say that we desire to grow as humans, but when that means letting someone else shine a light on our lives, it's . . . gulp . . . like having a root canal without novacaine.  Right?!  And there are always areas in our lives that lurk in the shadows and that we try to play down or ignore for fear of being found out. Found to not be not as talented, nice, successful, funny, happy,  witty, patient, loving, kind, genuine, generous, wealthy, beautiful or ______________(fill in your own blank) as we want others to think we are.

But who are we kidding really?  The truth is that I hide because I fear you won't like the real me, and that ends up putting up a wall between us, which, ironically, just serves to make you not like me.  The reality is that you'll probably like me a little more for being real with you, for trusting you with my warts and fake tan.   So, in the interests of going first, I'd like to give myself a critique of this painting.  I know that not one painting I've ever done couldn't use some element of improvement. Sometimes someone else – my husband, for instance, who has always had a very good eye – can see something I'm missing.  Or sometimes I see it, but it's too late. I've already framed, sold, & delivered the piece and can't rework it. I'm going to choose one of those because if I chose something I still have, you might not like it so much after what I'm going to say.  Sound hypocritical? Ha! I guess it is.

I always start a critique with something positive, but first I just have to say that this photo is out of focus, which never gives a good first impression.  But now I'll give myself some grace. I love my rocks.  They look real, hard and edgy.  And I think my reflections are pretty good 

Road Trip Surprise, SOLD to private collection

too, though not as interesting in shape as I'd like.  I also like my sky and water colors even though I can tell from them that I did this painting years ago. Why, you ask? Because I was married to the photograph my son-in-law took instead of just flirting with it – something I learned later.  NEVER MARRY THE PHOTOGRAPH. You'll always wake up the next morning regretting it.

Second, I'm not sure that my focal point is where it should be.  This is something I'm a stickler about now, but because I was so in love with the photo, I let the sun in the sky dictate to me the conditions of the relationship.  Since I'm the Artist, to this piece of paper and paint, I'm a god. I get to tell it who and what it will be and not be. I get to change things.  I can even leave things out or add what I wish was there and it won't be sacrilege!  

Other things I would do differently now?  Now I always repeat my colors.  This means that I never, even use a color in only one area of the painting like I did the green grass at the front.  It divides the painting too much, discourages continuity, and keeps the eye from moving upward as quickly as I might like.  So I would use green in the sky and pink in the grass (really!)  I can also tell from the washes in the sky and water that this was a brand of paper I don't use any more - it's just not absorbent or textured enough.

And one last thing – just because mountains are awesome and inspiring, they are not the boss of me.  These purple mountains may be accurate, but they're not very awe-inspiring in height or ruggedness. Unless this was a commission for you and I knew you would freak out because I changed the scene to suit my taste, I would probably have made these a little higher, a little grander. 

I've learned that blunt and honest can also be the most loving thing when we want to grow up more than we want our feelings to never hurt.

But I didn't, and this piece sold like a hot pancake as soon as it hit the gallery wall, so I can't complain.  This is a taste of what an honest art critique would sound like – both gentle, affirming, and constructive while still blunt and honest. I've learned that blunt and honest can also be the most loving thing when we want to grow up more than we want our feelings to never hurt.

 So I'm not asking you to bare your most embarrassing secrets in reply here (I hear the collective sigh), but to accept that, whoever you are, you are lovable right now.  Just as my painting was loved immediately by someone who saw it in a gallery, even though I didn't then have the maturity to make it better, we're all desired, accepted, and precious just as we are.  

We get to gently hold each others' warts and not even try to find out if anyone's tan is real or fake.  Because we don't care! We're all amazing human beings, created in the image of our amazing Creator, and there's nothing that makes us either less or more lovable.  Ever. So let's all relax the posture, let the mask slip, and just rest in each others' presence. I promise, it'll feel great.

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