It can be tough knowing what to say when a friend asks you what you think about their latest painting or to give a critique. But there are some things you should never say if you value your friendship.
1. What is it? (You’re supposed to know and if you can’t tell, keep it to yourself as it might not be intended to a representation of an object.)
2. Do you paint like this because you don’t know how to paint real things? (The belief that realism is the only valid form of painting was discredited over a century ago.)
3. Why don’t you use more paint? Why did you use so much [insert color]? (It’s meant to be the way it is, they didn’t run out of paint or accidentally use too much of a particular color.)
4. It looks so real, did you trace it? (You’re implying they cheated. It reduces what they’ve done to a colored-in drawing.)
5. Why didn’t you just take a photo? (Because then they’d be a photographer, not a painter.)
6. My sister or brother or mother or father or second-cousin-twice-removed also paints and their things are very beautiful. (No-one wants to be compared to a stranger.)
7. The colors will match the curtains in my living room nicely. (The context of your conversation is art, not home decorating.)
8. Can you do me one like this in [insert color]? (They’re not an artist in a sweat-shop churning out copies of paintings. Every painting is an original.)
9. Show it to me again when it’s finished. What are you still planning to do with it? (Always assume it is finished unless you’ve been specifically told otherwise.)
10. Nothing at all. (No reaction is worse than a bad reaction. Practice a neutral comment such as “It’s not really my kind of thing, but it looks like you had fun painting it” or “It’s not really my kind of thing, but I can see why you’d be pleased with it.”)
Saying something nice about a painting rather than finding fault or giving ‘helpful’ suggestions doesn’t mean you haven’t looked properly nor that you’re ignorant about art nor unsophisticated. Ill-considered comments can be hurtful in ways you never intended. The person showing you their paintings is showing you something that’s important to them, that they’ve spent time creating. Be happy for them that they’re enjoying what they’re doing, even if you don’t like the result.