Give and receive critique

Critique can be your salvation or your doom. If done well, it helps the critiquee a lot, improving her morale and willingness beside her technique and product; if badly done, it can crush one’s spirit. I’ve seen, received and given a lot of critique lately, so I’d like to share a few tips with you. All the examples I’m using are real, if not literal.

Giving critique

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment.”

First thing first: don’t abuse your power. You are in a position to do great harm, so be careful to the way you pose yourself. Don’t be harsh or dismiss the other person’s work as insignificant or ugly: he or she put effort in it. I personally believe that every work that required a personal effort is in itself a work of art, may it be a quick composition sketch or a bellpepper and zucchini dish.

Before and after critique.

Why don’t start with a compliment? Say a thing you appreciate about the piece! It could be a little detail, like an eye, or something more general like the composition or the shadowing. It’s far too easy to see what’s wrong in an image, that most people forget to see what’s good.

Next, go on with the bad news. Don’t just bash the work (anatomy sucks, horrible colors…), but offer something that could be built on: you could improve on the anatomy, your colors are too vivid and compete with each other. Never attack the person: I’ve been on the receiving end of sentences like “why should you post something so ugly here” and “you cannot draw”, and they really hurt.

Please avoid general suggestions as “work more on the anatomy”: the person knows that he needs to improve, but put his piece to critique because he doesn’t know where! Try to be more specific, like “the knee is bent in an odd way” or “the ribcage is too low”.

Do you think you can improve the work? Do (simulate) it! If you can, add visuals to your critique. Manipulate a low-res image so to change the colors or move the composition, to better explain what you mean with your suggestions. No need to repaint a whole mural, though!

If possible, give actual studying material! A kind person suggested me to read “Color and Light” by James Gourney to improve my palettes, and gawd how that was useful! Share your knowledge.

Start an actual discussion instead of leaving your critique there. Maybe the critiquee will want to answer and explain some of her choices, and you’ll see the reasoning behind them, as “wrong” they may be. You are not helping an image, you’re helping a person.

And finally, end with another compliment! Try and encourage the person to produce more. A simple “keep up the good work” is usually enough, but the more the merrier!

Receiving critique

So, you’ve put your work in the shark’s teeth: you won’t expect it to get out of there whole!

Critique is not your Granma chuckling “that’s wonderful, sweetie!”: it’s an harsh world you shouldn’t enter if you’re not prepared. When you put your work up for critique, you are openly asking others to find what’s wrong in it, so it can be improved: don’t expect the unconditioned admiration you receive from friends and family.

Don’t be afraid to ask for critique. If you feel strong enough to receive a few honesty punches, go for it. You will improve more quickly with the help of more people!

Before and after critique.

People are not obliged to give feedback to you. Sometimes you put up your work, actively asking for critique, and nothing comes up: it happens. Don’t go around begging for comments, and don’t whine about people ignoring you. You could post a couple more times (maybe your work got lost in a forum avalanche?), but don’t press it.

The first critiques will be hard to swallow. Remember that people are not criticizing you as a person, but they are suggesting ways your work could improve. You are free to listen or ignore them, but if a person took onto himself to help you, I would at least thank them.

That brings me to the next point: thank your critics! They took time and effort just to give you something completely free, it’s the least you can do.

Try to start a conversation! A critique shouldn’t always be dry and firm. Answer the critique trying to share your point of view about it. Avoid the common pitfall I talk about here! Don’t justify yourself (“it’s my first attempt!”), but explain why you took certain choices.

If you put your work to critique, it is because you want to improve it. Your work will work (pun intended) only when it’s charming to most people, not to you alone: if you prefer a detail how it is, and the majority of your critics suggest otherwise, it may be better to listen to them!