Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Responding to Criticism

I received some severe art criticism today, and it threw me a bit, because of such a strong misunderstanding of my work. I have shown the painting many times, in different environments, a Catholic University where it was viewed by nuns and priests as well as faculty and students, a state college, and at a small town gallery. And never had anyone interpreted it quite this way. I responded as I feel an artist should respond to any comment, graciously. But I am relieved to say that most viewers have seen this work closer to how I intended it to read.

"To paint such an image and display the Blessed Mother in that type of art form is disgusting and blasphemous. What a shameful form of talent gone to waste.

After bringing forth her Son, Mary "wrapped Him up in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger" (Luke 2:7), a sign that she did not suffer from the pain and weakness of childbirth. This inference agrees with the teaching of some of the principal Fathers and theologians: St. Ambrose [56], St. Gregory of Nyssa [57], St. John Damascene [58], the author of Christus patiens [59], St. Thomas [60], etc. It was not becoming that the mother of God should be subject to the punishment pronounced in Genesis 3:16, against Eve and her sinful daughters.

Shortly after the birth of the child, the shepherds, obedient to the angelic invitation, arrived in the grotto, "and they found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger" (Luke 2:16). We may suppose that the shepherds spread the glad tidings they had received during the night among their friends in Bethlehem, and that the Holy Family was received by one of its pious inhabitants into more suitable lodgings."
The Crowning by Sara Star

My response:

"Most people who see the painting "The Crowning" see Mary and Jesus's faces as calm and peaceful. I regret to see that you perceive it differently than intended and differently than others who have viewed it. Thank you for your comment. I regret that my art has offended you, but most artists must face offended viewers now and then, though you are only the second in the over five years I have shown this painting to react with disgust.  The first person who hated it disliked it because it did not show enough pain and therefore was unrealistic to her, I assumed she did not know of the story of virgin painless birth.  Again thank you for your comment.

Sara Star"

I would love to read comments from others who have received harsh criticism and how they dealt with it. Please share in the comments below.


  1. Are you kidding? Why would Mary be spared the pain of giving birth? She would need all the experience she could get in preparation for the ultimate pain of seeing her son scourged, spat upon then crucified on display. Pain is Mary's middle name. I think it might pain her to hear that some fool thinks the image of her giving birth is disgusting...

  2. There are some yoga and other exercise and breathing techniques that can allow a healthy woman with a healthy baby to give a painless birth. Of course the woman will still strain and push with her muscles, but can get up and walk after wards.

    Of course, you know that I interpret Eve's "Curse" differently than the norm, but I did consider the regular meaning of it when making this picture. It is thought that Mary foreknew the crucifixion, and is often painted as sad when cuddling her baby boy. But also, it is said that she did not feel the pains of childbirth until the crucifixion. However, biblical stories do not bear that out because she was said to stand at the cross. Either way, some women can give birth without pain, and I wanted to express that with this painting. Most people have noted that the baby does not cry out and that Mary looks calm and focused in the picture.

    The person specifically commented on the issue of pain and weakness in child birth, which I addressed carefully when painting this picture. However, the underlying issue maybe her nudity, or looks. I did give her swelled breasts and did not shy away from a sense of sweet sensuality about her.

  3. I think her face expresses ecstasy...

  4. Dear Sara...I would interpret the criticism as just someone's opinion.. No more or less important than that.

    Sounds to me (my opinion) that your critic is a bit removed from understanding the true spiritual energy of birthing. There is nothing 'disgusting' or 'blasphemous' about your painting...quite the opposite, in my humble opinion. I interpret Mary as showing us the pain and joy of bringing a spirit into earthly existence. Her nudity allows us to see the essence of her humanity and the labor of her love.


  5. What people see in a work of art is affected as much by the viewer as the art itself. So don't take the impressions of another too seriously. There are all kind of people out there, including troubled ones, and just because they react to your painting in some way is no reflection on your actual art.

    The real question is: are you happy with the work? If you are, then disregard contrary opinions of others.

  6. Hi Shybiker! The type of art I do specifically is about sharing a vision with my viewers. My goal is for most of the viewers to at least sorta get it. If most people seeing it don't get it, I go back to the painting to clarify certain elements. So far this image has usually been read mostly as I intended. I talked more with this commenter and he revealed that he happened upon the image when searching for pictures to put on his Christmas cards. So it is no wonder he was a little surprised. Funny thing, I was thinking of making holiday cards out of this picture at one time, but ultimately I avoid such commercialization of my art and I focus more on the fine art aspects.