Weekly Question No. 14 - On Criticism.

edited February 26 in General Discussion

We need good criticism to help us grow.  It’s a bit like when you give your potted plants just the right dose of fertilizer to make them flourish and bloom. But we need to be careful because too much fertilizer, or the wrong type, can kill.  I think criticism can be like that.  So, how do we give criticism so that it’s helpful and not harmful? 

This is a delicate question. When I first started painting and posting on DMP over six years ago, it took some courage to post my first few paintings. I had a rather thin skin. But I was desperate for advice from more experienced artists on what I could do to improve. Most DMP members were (and still are) extremely kind and helpful and I owe them a debt of gratitude. Unfortunately, there were a couple back then who were downright rude and seemed hell bent on being hurtful to beginners. They are no longer here, thank goodness, but they almost made me quit painting. They had no reason to be so cruel to beginners – except for the fun of it, I guess.

Whilst comments designed deliberately to offend, or just plain rudeness, are never ok, the question of how to criticize is a delicate one because it’s hard to know how honest to be and how to frame one’s comments so that they are unlikely to cause offence, but will still be helpful. I am very occasionally so unsure about what to say in response to a painting that has been posted that I say nothing. But posting a painting and getting nothing back but silence is perhaps the most devastating criticism of all, so I try not to do that.

What is your approach to giving criticism and what has been the most/least helpful style of criticism for you?




Comments

  • CBGCBG -
    edited February 26
    "When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.”
    ― Thomas Sowell

    Constructive criticism as a rule, try to be proportional to the psychological willingness of the particular person to hear it (as relayed in the OP or other posts by that person).
    tassieguyallforChristMichaelD
  • edited February 27
    I've been wrestling with this as I haven't figured it out. These are the kinds of questions I'm asking myself:
    1. Treat others the way you would want to be treated?: Somebody long ago said this and it's hard to argue with. Those who don't agree with it are giving us permission to tell them they are idiots, I guess. :D Seriously - when we spend hours doing something that is a joy to us and post - what do we need? Sometimes they do want insights. I would suggest the poster tells us. So...
    2. ***Don't give advice unless the person asks for it: I saw quite a good painting this week, but it had an element of 'accurate illustration'. I could see the next level for them was to bring the sunlight to life and pull in the drama and realism. I put it in photoshop and spent some time illustrating how that would work. Their painting came alive. I know what I did was instructive. But I didn't post it. Because I reread their post and they hadn't asked for advice. So I just appreciated what they had done. This is becoming my default.
    3. Painting is about skills - and skills are not head knowledge: It's learning to see in certain ways. It's learning to identify subtle values, subtle colours, knowing how to capture them, edges, brushwork, techniques, entire approaches to solving different problems. I understood the principles very early, but it took years to develop the eyes and skills to accomplish it. Yet I needed to feel good about every new painting and advancement. I think 'teaching' is about helping someone enjoy the journey. I think that is appreciating what they've accomplished, and providing input when they express they are stuck.
    4. A skilled artist has the ability to dismantle any beginner's work: Do I critique... to help them or demonstrate how clever I am? 
    5. Are they really, really wanting input or have they learnt to say that because they know their work isn't at peak level? But really deep down they just want to be encouraged. I can't answer, but I try to read that. 90% of the time I don't give advice now. When I see lots of good advice from others already on the page, I often don't add any more.
    joydeschenesallforChristtassieguy
  • I look back at the feedback I had been given when posting my early DMP paintings.  The posts that helped me most were specific about what was wrong with the painting or under drawing.  But they also were encouraging.  The encouragement kept me going and the specific issues helped me get better with each painting.
    That kind of critique is what makes this a special forum.


    tassieguyallforChrist

  • I have really appreciated and benefited from the comments and advice given. Both from the few paintings I’ve posted of my own and from reading the comments on others work too, it’s what makes me regularly use this forum as an enjoyable source. But I don’t want to just “take” from it. I do though feel a little shy about leaving a comment. So, to you artists who are teaching us all ( you know who you are) Thank you , and I’ll keep working on my comments to support the group.  I’ve posted of my own and from reading the comments on others work too, it’s what makes me regularly use this forum as an enjoyable source. But I don’t want to just “take” from it. I do though feel a little shy about leaving a comment. So, to you artists who are teaching us all ( you know who you are) Thank you , and I’ll keep working on my comments to support the group. 

    As far as the kind of criticism that helps me, it’s when something is pointed out. It’s that… oh wow I didn’t see that! … that helps me move on. Thanks 

    tassieguyAbstraction
  • Thanks, @CBG, @anwesha, @Abstraction, @GTO and @joydeschenes. You all make very pertinent and useful points.   :)
  • I've been wrestling with this as I haven't figured it out. These are the kinds of questions I'm asking myself:
    1. Treat others the way you would want to be treated?: Somebody long ago said this and it's hard to argue with. Those who don't agree with it are giving us permission to tell them they are idiots, I guess. :D Seriously - when we spend hours doing something that is a joy to us and post - what do we need? Sometimes they do want insights. I would suggest the poster tells us. So...
    2. ***Don't give advice unless the person asks for it: I saw quite a good painting this week, but it had an element of 'accurate illustration'. I could see the next level for them was to bring the sunlight to life and pull in the drama and realism. I put it in photoshop and spent some time illustrating how that would work. Their painting came alive. I know what I did was instructive. But I didn't post it. Because I reread their post and they hadn't asked for advice. So I just appreciated what they had done. This is becoming my default.
    3. Painting is about skills - and skills are not head knowledge: It's learning to see in certain ways. It's learning to identify subtle values, subtle colours, knowing how to capture them, edges, brushwork, techniques, entire approaches to solving different problems. I understood the principles very early, but it took years to develop the eyes and skills to accomplish it. Yet I needed to feel good about every new painting and advancement. I think 'teaching' is about helping someone enjoy the journey. I think that is appreciating what they've accomplished, and providing input when they express they are stuck.
    4. A skilled artist has the ability to dismantle any beginner's work: Do I critique... to help them or demonstrate how clever I am? 
    5. Are they really, really wanting input or have they learnt to say that because they know their work isn't at peak level? But really deep down they just want to be encouraged. I can't answer, but I try to read that. 90% of the time I don't give advice now. When I see lots of good advice from others already on the page, I often don't add any more.
    A wonderfully insightful comment, @Abstraction, and I couldn't agree more.  It seems as if you have caught every single subtle psychological facet going on in the beginner poster's brain.  (I know because I started posting last June!  I'm still there really!)

    Trying to read the poster's mind is important.  What do they actually want to hear?  Sometimes a 'compliment sandwich' is helpful, which I find myself doing fairly frequently.  Put your critique in between two truthful positives.

    Like you said, @tassieguy, critique is essential... but encouragement, just as much so.  My first painting I wanted to hear the good stuff, but really, and here's my point for this comment,

    As long as the critiquer was experienced and kind with a dash of encouragement, they could have told me to change anything.

    Because as a beginner, that is what killed my 'joie de vivre'-- UNEXPERIENCED persons being 'helpful', armed with as many critiques as Santa Claus has presents.

    That is why I think sensitivity is thicker here on this forum.  There are truly great artists who have gone through the exact same 'basic training' that the beginner is going through.  they know.  They can help the beginner get better and better.

    To the beginner reading this, 

    "Good, better, best.  Never let it rest.  Till your good is better and your better is best" -St. Augustine

    Also @Abstraction, that quote you were unsure of the origin of was initially from Jesus Christ:   “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you"

    Here's a link where you can read the chapter it was in from the Bible:

    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+7&version=NASB

    Everyone's comments and thoughts on this thread are spot on.  

    Don't forget to try to comment whenever and wherever possible on people's paintings! :)

    @joydeschenes, I completely understand that.  I'm a much lower level than many people here... so I often feel as if I'm coaching way out of turn.  I think I, and anyone who has gone through Mark's course and learned from the good artists here, have a good bit of head knowledge from what Mark has taught us, and I try to use that to help others.  My head knowledge can't be directly proportional to my painting level, however.  As @Abstraction said here, painting is about skills, and skills are not head knowledge.

    A gold star, as @tassieguy would say, to anyone who read this whole stream of consciousness. :)

    Thanks for a really ever-timely question, @tassieguy.
    tassieguyAbstractionMichaelD
  • Thank you, @allforChrist, for the really detailed and excellent comments. 

    And thanks again to all the others who have commented. I won't comment in detail on any of the responses at this stage but wait until later in the week and then do a summary so that all members' wisdom can be brought together into one small but powerful wisdom bomb.  :)
    allforChristBoudicca
  • Great (and difficult question). I think we also need to consider whether the person is posting a work in progress or a finished work. If it's finished it's much harder to want to make changes from C&C! :)
    AbstractiontassieguyMichaelD
  • I notice this week's question has dropped back behind last weeks due to a late response (which is fine) so I'm writing this post to bump this weeks question back up to the top of the Weekly Question list. :)
  • I just always feel that forums are such an inadequate place for critique.. in person I know the artist enough to know what they are aiming for, what they usually have trouble with, and what kind of critique is most helpful to them.

    I sometimes wish forums would make users answer some basic questions before posting their work to be critiqued. Such as "What are you having the most trouble with?", "Tell us a bit about this work, maybe it has a story, or it's for a specific person or a commission, or maybe you are experimenting with a technique or idea:", or "Give us an idea of what type of work you are aiming for. Mentioning favorite artists, art styles or giving an example of a passage in another painting is helpful."

    I have never seen this done in a forum, even the ones with a dedicated area for critique and I have always wondered why.
    AbstractionGTOjoydeschenesMichaelD
  • Here is a little something that is used in a FB group that I am a part of and that @PaulB outlines:

    When asking for critique:

    1. Include the reference photo or state that it is something created from memory or is your own creation.
    2. State your painting experience, how many months or years you have been painting.
    3. During your painting process, if you want specific help, be clear about what you are asking for.  Example: “I’m looking for critique about the leaves.  The rest I will work on at another time.”

     

    When giving critique:

    1. Read the comments posted to ascertain level of experience and what specific questions need addressing.  
    2. No matter what experience you have, even beginners can give critique, especially when comparing to a reference photo.  This is a good exercise for everyone.
    3. The good constructive critique we are looking for may be as follows:  “To improve the sense of three-dimensional form of the flower, deeper shadows and a bit more variation in values are needed.”  This would be much better than saying, “The flower doesn’t look right to me, maybe it’s a bad photo.”
    4. Stay positive when answering questions.  Give a detailed explanation with what you would do and possibly give an example of your own experience in dealing with the same issue.
    5. End your critique with encouragement.  It is important to offer feedback about things that are done well.
    This I have found can be very helpful to beginners who are not comfortable giving critique.  It gives beginners the opportunity to really study a painting, compared to a reference photo especially, and pick out the differences, thus benefiting a beginner and helping the one asking for critique.  Most times, a second set of eyes is all we need.


    AbstractionBoudiccatassieguyMichaelD
  • Thanks for your responses @NotACat and @A_Time_To_Paint. Good points.  :)
  • I think this is an area in which both the OP and any posters struggle with.
    Many of my thoughts on the pros and cons, subtle and not so subtle ways of suggesting improvements have already been mentioned, so forgive me if I am echoing thoughts already raised in posts above mine.   

    Yes, there is a fine line between encouraging a beginner, and dampening their enthusiasm/ego.     However, I look at it from the point of view that most artists I know are their own worst critics.  As artists, we need to be.    We need to be able to look at what we have done and pull it to shreds in an attempt to do the best work we possibly can (at the time) before we offer it out of our control to the world at large.  If we don't do this then we are failing ourselves.     Therefore, if someone asks for help, and I can see where an improvement could be made, I try to offer that help.

    There are many areas I am of no use in critiquing.   I am not a good enough artist myself to understand nuances of values, hues, brush techniques etc...   In some of these areas I know just  enough to be dangerous!   On the other hand, if I can see something I would be able to improve, (imaging the work I am viewing were mine), than I will offer a suggestion as to where I feel it is falling down and where I would try to fix it if it were my own work. 

    I try to offer help in areas I am comfortable I can offer a solution.  I figure that if there are people who post, asking for help, and I can, I will help.   If someone posts and I can see glaring mistakes, but do not ask for pointers, I try not to post.    However, if another person makes a gushing post about how great a work is when it has glaring mistakes, I will sometimes post a balancing comment.    What is the point in building false confidence in someone?  Ultimately, that outlook leads no where.  Like it or not, I have no doubt I step on toes sometimes, just as I hope people step on mine sometimes.   How else do we learn, but by taking a long hard look at our work through not only our own eyes, but those of a range of others?  To see how those others view our work, we need Feedback.  As long as that feedback is tempered with suggestions of how to fix the issues that are raised, how can it be wrong?
    allforChristMichaelD
  • Thanks, @toujours. Well said. Your comments will be a useful part of the summary/wisdom bomb I will write later in the week. It will include everyone's contributions.  With all the great input members have offered it should be be the last word on art criticism.   :)
  • A lot of good points have already been raised.

    I guess being thoughtful, kind and honest with a good dose of being constructive is a good way to go.


    and remember…

    opinions are like bum holes,


    we all have them


     :) 
    anweshatassieguy
  • I have never minded criticism.  I always wanted to know what would make a painting better and sometimes it was uncomfortable but I always learned from it.  I do try to be kind because I know others can be a great deal more sensitive than I am.  I've always appreciated the critiques I've received here and always look forward to what others think and what they have to say.
    CBGtassieguyallforChristMichaelD
  • So many excellent points have been made thus far. I have my work cut out in terms of making a short wisdom bomb of them all..  :)
    allforChrist
  • edited March 7

    Thanks to @CBG, @anwesha,@Abstraction, @joydeschenes, @allforChrist, @Richard_P, @NotACat, @A_Time_To_Paint, @toujours, @MichaelD and @oilpainter1950 for your responses to Weekly Question No. 14 on criticism. Here is a numbered summary that attempts to bring together all of the great responses you made.

    1.       There are beginners and professionals here so the same sort of critique won’t be suitable for everyone. Consider what is doable for the person asking for critique.

    2.       Treat others as you would like to be treated. Be nice.

    3.       Encourage posters to tell us what sort of critique they want

    4.       Offer encouragement as well as suggestions for improvement.

    5.       Those asking for critique can help those who would offer it by:


    a)       Including a reference photo (if used)

    b)      Telling us how experienced they are

    c)       Telling us what part of the painting they want critique on


    6.       If you feel unqualified to offer critique on some things then just offer it on things you feel      competent to comment on.


    That’s as concise as I can make it. I think folks have made some very good points.

    I have nothing to add except to reiterate the importance of offering comment/criticism. Giving is at least as important as receiving.  People post paintings because they need feedback. We all know that silence can the most devastating criticism of all. And it's hard to like users who take but never give. 

    Thanks again everyone. :)


  • personally I have been benefited from critical comments, yes in the beginning I used to get disheartened a lot, still I do but relatively I am better. I still feel my art is not good enough for this forum, but I don't mind sharing my works and seeking inputs. Also I am not good in taking photos of my work, so i take the feedback with a pinch of salt. 
  • edited March 29
    Thanks, @vartikasinha. Yes,  criticism gets easier to take (and give) as we become more experienced. 

    I don't know why you think your work is not good enough for this forum. Your paintings are beautiful and you have a very recognizable style. I hope you will keep posting for critique and offer it to others. 

    I am with you totally on the subject of taking photos of our paintings. I find it a nightmare. We just have to do the best we can. Folks are pretty forgiving in this regard. For example, if we point out that there's glare from the lights they will take that into account. 

    Thanks again for your comments on Weekly Question No. 14.   :)


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