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OOOh I never post any deeper machinations here, so why not? I'll give this a go!
So for a topic, how about constructive criticism for the artist? This is a topic I have thought about on off and on, usually after seeing an ill placed/written critique labeled as 'constructive' on someone else's art. Now this may seem obvious to a lot of people, but hopefully gives a few folks out there some food for thought all the same!

First, there are two main points to be made on the nature and place of constructive criticism and here they are.

1.All artists should seek to better themselves:

Alright, well on the surface that assumption seems to make sense. Why not? After all, if you are the sort of artist who is trying to make a name for yourself or carve out a spot in whatever professional industry you desire, then this is just the right philosophy to have if not the most important one to have.

But what if that's not what your art is to you? Perhaps bettering your skills is not your priority when you set out to create. Is there anything inherently wrong with this mentality? No. If your goal of art is merely pure self expression with no other definitive end goal, ie your hobby. Say you already have your dream job and art is your way to unwind and posting it up in a public gallery helps make the whole experience all the more pleasant. I say all the more power to you.

This is just something to keep in mind when you write constructive criticism for someone, or at least it is something I keep in mind. Not all artists are the same, we don't all create with the same goals in mind, so when some folks discourage critique, maybe their reasons are completely benign and they are simply there to share their work.

2. All constructive Criticism is created equally:

This is something I see quite a bit in galleries. Someone will make an attempt at a constructive criticism, and often the delivery method is rather blunt and cold, and the receiving artist will be upset by said critique. The goal of the criticizer is usually with all the best intentions in mind, so of course they feel upset when the receiving artist seems to throw that critique they tried so hard to write back in their face. So they say something along the lines of: "Well if you want to improve, you should learn to hear the plain truth about your art".

Alright, well that has some sound logic to it. Nobody will improve if they are constantly mollycoddled. But does that mean there is only one formula to writing critique and that is "straight to the Achilles heel!" ? In my opinion, no.

But, I should further subdivide things here a bit more. Some people DO thrive from constructive criticism that just tells things straight with no buffer fluff. In those cases, your critique is absolutely constructive, because after all they will utilize the concrit to better the piece. That is the very essence of constructive criticism. But another person may find such a method of delivery disheartening and instead of nudging them to improve the piece, the criticism only makes them shy away. In those cases, your criticism, however well meaning it was, is no longer constructive. The very aim of giving 'concrit', to shorten the terminology, is to help an artist better a piece of work they created.

In short, not all criticism is constructive if it falls on deaf ears, so to speak. And in the end, you are wasting your own valuable time writing these well thought out criticisms when thwey will be shrugged off or leave a sting. I should think it is in your own best interest to take a little care and thought on the best method of delivery so you will actually be heard and your time and effort appreciated.

A blunt edged critique that just points out all the stark negative aspects of a piece without countering it with some good, can make you feel rather small. No one likes the feeling of being talked down at and imo, that's just what a lot of critique feels like. I also like the philosophy of, write only what you would say to the person's face an idea that is often lost when dealing with people as a person protected by the anonymity of the internet. Chances are you would soften the blow a bit if you were speaking to the person face to face, so why not do the same online? Oh I'm not saying make the critique a tower of compliments before placing the criticism in the very tippy top of the radiant tower, but surely there are some good things about the piece you can find to say to show them, 'hey you did good', before telling them 'but this is what would make it better!'

So Let's make a few more points then, after I obviously poopoo'd all those noble hearted concriters ;D!

3. Growing a thicker skin: Hey that ain't easy!

Just as I believe we should be considerate of how we deliver constructive criticism, the flip side of the coin is also learning to accept (or tolerate at least!) constructive criticism, even if it was not delivered in the best of fashions. If you share your work in a public forum, do not expect every comment to be one patting you on the back for your wonderful accomplishment. Even if your goal is not to revolutionize the art world as a whole with your art, not everyone will know that. Just keep in mind that if they took the time to say something in depth, they were likely trying to help you and not knock you down a peg. And if it still bothers you, step away and take a deep breath before commenting back, if commenting back at all. I understand the creative process is a deeply personal one, often interwoven directly with our emotions...but honestly most criticism is not an attack on you or your art.

In other words, both sides should be considerate of each other!

4. Constructive Criticism: That there leg is wonky.

AAhh well here we are at the biggest rub at last. Someone leaves a lovely comment on your work consisting of a few short words. "That leg is wonky!"..and you reply "How is that even helpful?" and they reply "Im giving constructive criticism you snob you cant even take it you should get out of the art world" (punctuation ommitted for effect).

These sorts of comments drive me bonkers, and in my youthful days, my eyes would bulge, teeth gnash and I would ride in valiantly with my counter-comment banner waving! And then I learned my lesson.

Some people simply don't know how to deliver a constructive criticism. So, you ask, what is a good 'constructive criticism' composed of then?!

WELL, let me fill you in. (this is my opinion of course!)

A well thought out politely worded commentary that consists of the following:

a. Things that are solid about a piece, name at least one, it can't be hard and it starts you off on the right foot with the artist. Chances are they are less likely to tune out if you say something good about the piece before jumping straight into the criticism. And for that matter, if you are giving constructive crit, surely you thought that the piece was worthwhile enough in the first place for you to spend your time helping the artist make it even better...so why not name a reason or two that do make it worthwhile?!

b. There's something wrong here: Point out the elements of the piece that could use some improvement. (You may want to start off with only a few criticisms, and if the artist is appreciative of your input, add a few more, and again try to counter it with maybe another strong point of the piece.)

c. Follow that up with suggestions or reasons that those things need work. Telling them the head looks weird does not really give them anything to go on does it?! And if you suggest something that needs work, offer up a suggestion of how they could make it work better. IE: "Maybe if you brought more light into the foreground, the characters would stand out more from the background."

That's really it. Constructive Criticism is a two way road but sometimes people seem to treat it as a one way road. But taking a little time to be considerate of the people going the other way makes for a far more pleasant trip for everyone involved!

~~~~~~~
So I think I will stop there as I'm sure it's already TLDR. I welcome input and a difference of opinion. I just wanted to share some of my thoughts on the matter of constructive crit!
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balaa

May 2010

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