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Not long ago, a friend of mine got some rather harsh and even somewhat rude criticism, anonymously, that their art has been regressing for a while and that they're squandering all of their potential. This friend responded by simply mocking their statements.

While I certainly don't approve of how the anon gave said criticism, I unfortunately can't exactly disagree with the criticism itself. They still have some great aspects to their art, and back when I first discovered their art, they used to be someone that I'd recommend to others in an instant, but nowadays, there are other artists that I'd sooner recommend, even though that this artist is a friend. It's something that I feel has been the case for a while now, but never exactly had the courage to tell them, the main reasons being:

  • It's not exactly polite to tell an artist their art has been getting worse, even if you give legitimate reasons why
  • Our friendship has been shaky for a while now and I don't want to ruin it, especially considering that, despite it's current status of being "shaky", we've been friends for quite a while.

This isn't the first time they've gotten this criticism; they got a similar complaint a couple of years back, when I started feeling that their art quality has started deteriorating. Unlike the aforementioned time, this hit them pretty hard.

In fact, this isn't even the last time they got criticism either; shortly after they mocked the anonymous person's statements publicly, they got another anonymous message that was much less rude (though not exactly polite either) that basically said that they couldn't help but agree with the other anonymous individual. They more or less brushed this one off as well because they think that because they're anonymous, their concerns of their art getting worse aren't valid.

This brings me to my situation: how does one tell an artist friend that their art has been getting worse? They aren't exactly popular on any site that their art is on, despite being an artist for many years and still having good works at times, and I can't help but feel that my concerns about them is the big reason for this.
I fear that if I attempt to tell them my concerns, they'll just brand me as a jerk, cut me off, and continue doing things the way they're doing them.

I can't help but feel that, because of a combination of the fact that they themselves don't think their art is gradually lowering in quality, and that our friendship is unstable, there ISN'T way to tell them such without ruining everything.

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    Why do you so strongly feel the need to criticize their art? Especially if "the friendship has been shaky for a while now" and you don't feel like there's a way to do this without them "branding you a jerk and cutting you off?" – scohe001 Jul 17 '18 at 4:38
  • Because I know that they can improve and that them improving would get them more appreciated by others, and in turn, more people wanting to commission them? I mean, just because our friendship isn't stable doesn't mean I don't care about them. – anony Jul 17 '18 at 4:47
  • You mention commission and money in comments on the answer below. Has your friend been losing income because of the change in their art? If so, is that loss in income something they are concerned about? – David K Jul 17 '18 at 12:51
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    Hi @anony! Your tags seem fine. You might want to add a location tag to this as well, in some cultures you can be much more direct with giving feedback/criticism than others... – Tinkeringbell Jul 17 '18 at 18:04
  • What defines "high quality" or "low quality" when you're talking about art? Work such as this appears to be highly praised, even though it looks like anyone could pretty easily replicate it (to me, anyway). Beauty is in the eye of the beholder - what looks low quality to you or me could be priceless by someone else's estimation. – CactusCake Jul 17 '18 at 20:30
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As a photographer, I'll say: don't do that.

An artist creates primarily for themselves, and while it is certainly nice to be "appreciated by others", it is not what we are after and it will not make us change our course. Thus if you tell your friend that you don't like their current art, they will probably tell you essentially the same thing they told the anonymous online critics: it is not their goal to please you, so your opinion is quite irrelevant.

Based on your comment, you seem to assume that your friend wants to be "appreciated by others" and wants "more people wanting to commission them". Both assumptions are almost certainly false. If (and only if) your friend expresses concern that they don't get enough appreciation or commissions, then you can say that you think it's because people do not appreciate their current art (which is quite different from saying it's "been getting worse") and suggest that they could get back to their old style, or maybe try something new. Then let them decide for themselves what they value more: appreciation and commissions, or doing the art they want to do.

  • As an artist myself (something I neglected to mention because I felt it wasn't relevant, at least at the time), I can only somewhat agree with your statements. (I'm going to be posting my thoughts into separate messages because they're too long for a single message; I'm not versed enough in Stack Exchange to know if that's against the rules or not) – anony Jul 17 '18 at 6:28
  • Furthermore, considering how hard the first criticism hit them, I have a hard time believing that "being appreciated" isn't at least a secondary goal for them, not to mention, as even you yourself said, it's a nice feeling to be appreciated, and as a friend, why WOULDN'T I want that for them? Plus, I don't feel that this is a case of just simply "people do not appreciate their current art". For example, their overall anatomy has been looking worse. Finally, they, as an artist, ARE looking to improve, otherwise they wouldn't be seeing what many other people see as a regression as improvement. – anony Jul 17 '18 at 6:31
  • Long story short, while your heart is in the right place, I just don't feel that your assumptions, at least for the most part, really describe this particular person. – anony Jul 17 '18 at 6:33
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    @anony To improve as an artist is to get closer to where you want to be, nothing else. And only your friend knows where they want to be, so if they say they're improving, it is not your place to question that. – user19922 Jul 17 '18 at 6:50
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    @anony If the comments have information relevant to your situation (such as the artist looking to improve, or them actively seeking advice), please edit your question with that info. That way, answerers can get all the information at once instead of digging through comments to get a sense of the situation. – Carcosa Jul 17 '18 at 15:30
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I apologize for the repeated, prolonged absence, but I've decided to answer this question myself since I've found a solution that seems to be working for me.

Basically, I've decided to try to gently push them in the right direction by making commissions and guiding them in a way that will hopefully ultimately lead to them improving, as this is an artist that understands that no one knows what a commissioner wants in a commission more than the commissioner themselves.(edited)

This is not an ideal solution for me due to the fact that money is not easy to come by for me and will possibly leave me worse for wear because of such, but I ultimately may just have to deal with this fact.

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