Everyone’s a Critic, eh?

I can’t stop thinking about it…

The other day, some of our kids and grandkids came for a visit. Among them was our youngest grandchild, the cause of my curiosity.

Next month, she will be just 2½. She’s quite a character. She tries to be fiercely independent and walks with great confidence. Resolute in her opinions, last year she was going through that typical toddler stage at which she replied to every and any request with a determined “No!!!” When our son/her dad tried to urge her to say yes, she looked at him squarely in the eye, and insisted, “NO ‘yes’ daddy!”

She loves to draw, colour, and paint…

Zoey at art

She loves to draw,  colour and paint

So, back to what happened the other day…

While everyone was interacting, I was busy laying out the food I’d prepared earlier in the day for a buffet. I noticed this little girl walk into the space between our dining room table and kitchen island, stop in her tracks, and stare at the painting resting on an easel in the corner of the dining room.

Candles with Flowers

“Still Life with Flowers” Mixed media by Nellie Jacobs

Fascinated to see such a young child study the painting so carefully, I stopped what I was doing  to watch her. Just as I began wondering what thoughts were going through her head she turned to me, and declared,

“I don’t like it.”

I almost fell over.

“What?” I asked, not sure I heard her words correctly. “What did you say?”

“I don’t like it,” she repeated.

Now I was really fascinated, so I asked her, “Why don’t you like it?”

Her answer, “Because.”

No explanation. So, now, like a fool, I began pleading my case to this two year old. I told her I was the one who painted it and that I’d also painted the artwork behind her.

Flowers on Windowsill

“Vases with Flowers” Mixed media by Nellie Jacobs

She turned to look, and immediately turned back to the first one. I mumbled on, pointing out again that I was the painter, that the subject was only flowers – and ended with the grand, “Who asked your opinion anyhow?”

I’d argued in vain. Unmoved, she barely glanced at me as she went off to continue playing with her cousins…

Later in the evening after everyone had left, I repeated the exchange with my husband Paul. He asked why I was feeling so sensitive.

On the contrary, I told him, I was fascinated.  What about the painting prompted this two year old to stop, look and give an unasked for opinion? Why would she say she didn’t like it? What did she find disagreeable? I wished aloud that she could have had the ability to articulate the reason for her reaction. My musings led to the bigger picture, the question of criticism overall: understanding where it comes from, the person’s agenda, expertise, background, knowledge, our reaction to it, our own tendencies to be critical, etc.

I had conversations about it with others. “Out of the mouths of babes” and “She’s pure of heart” and “She knows what she likes” were some of their responses. Those discussions became deeper, leading to provocative debate over the definition of criticism, why people criticize,  and whether there can be any value to critics generally.


Zoey the art critic

Hard at work, colouring

Your thoughts?


See below for comments to this post…



11 thoughts on “Everyone’s a Critic, eh?

  1. Sent by email: Sandy Offenheim

    … regarding your experience with [your granddaughter] and your masterpieces. I find it hilarious and at the same time a little sad for you, the creator of these works……..Your deeper comments regarding criticism are great food for thought and discussion.

    I think firstly it is an excellent piece of writing and should go further than this.

    Although I’m sure {she] is the most wonderful child in the world, I have several comments and her opinion.

    1. Clearly, [she] does not know what she is talking about on these two paintings. They were always two of my favourites and I bought many of your gift cards having those exact images.
    2. [She] is only two years old and maybe her idea of art is a few circles and some sticks to draw a person. She hasn’t taken composition, colour choices and other aspects into her decision making.
    3. It would be interesting to take [her] to an Art gallery and hear her comments on Monets, Picassos and others who have proven themselves.
    4. I think as this precious girl grows up she will learn more about art appreciation and hopefully will change her mind. Maybe you should will them to her.

    I laugh as I type. Wouldn’t you have just loved her to say how much she loves this paintings………..

  2. Sent by email: Merle Torchin

    …the crux of this repartee was about when we develop a critical eye. I believe many young children develop strong likes and dislikes at an early age. Their sensory perceptions are highly sensitized at that age (before the adult world directs their tastes for a million reasons).

    Her honest response, although amusing as well as hurtful, should be embraced.

    Constructive criticism might be a learned or a familial trait; just saying…………

  3. Sent by email: Cheryl Zaccaro

    What a precious story.

    If you look at kids’ pictures they are simple and bright. Perhaps children see the world that way.

    Abstractions, whether colors or shapes, may confuse or even scare them. I remember when I was a child, my mother took me to a Picasso exhibit. It freaked me out. Now I can appreciate his art.

    When children mature maybe they develop the ability to take in more complex images. Maybe your grandchild’s mind sees something she doesn’t understand and that’s why she says she doesn’t like it.

    Who knows. I know I love your paintings and I love you.

  4. Ah yes, to your last comment Nellie. We are reinforced to use critical thinking rather than creative thinking. Encouraged and enculturated to say no first, rather than to appreciate first. Great post and insightful comments.


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