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Wed, Jan 30 2013 22:24:33 UTC

The art of criticism

Good feedback is rare. Yet, as most artists realize at some point, getting constructive criticism can be useful to get better at your work. Nobody is perfect, and very few people would argue that their work is as good as it possibly could be. But despite that fact, handling criticism is hard. In fact, both giving and receiving criticism is an art by itself. What often happens is that many content creators place the burden of giving good feedback on the users, simply ignoring or brushing away what they consider as non-useful feedback, while many users think that their comments were pertinent, and decide that if the creator of the work ignores them, then clearly they can't take criticism. But the truth is that criticism is like a dance. It takes two to tango.

Giving good criticism

Feedback starts with the one who gives it, and the way criticism is given goes a long way as to how it will be received. This is why it's important to keep some things in mind when you're about to post some feedback about an artwork, a piece of content, on anything that somebody created. The first key fact is that there is no universal good taste. Everyone likes different subjects, different topics, and what seems ugly to you may be beautiful to someone else. Regardless of your own thoughts about how good or bad something is, always keep in mind that you do not speak for the world, and that those are likely only your own opinions.

This in turn leads to a nasty habit that a lot of critics seem to exhibit, and that is the fact that they are the only ones with the skills to comment on a piece of content. This is what often leads to flame wars, or comment threads degenerating into useless arguments. When you decide to take the time to write some criticism about something, remember that the original creator may object, but so may other viewers. In a similar way, if you see someone else post feedback that you think is wrong, resist the temptation to hijack the discussion in order to attack that person, and instead keep focus on the work itself.

Finally, remember that even if you do have valid, constructive criticism, with real solutions that would improve the work in some way, always remember that this does not mean that the resulting work will get changed. The author has no obligation towards you to follow this feedback, and there could be a lot of reasons you may not be aware of that prevents this change from occurring.

So how do you give good criticism? First, choose your words carefully. Good is not the same thing as like, and dislike does not mean bad. Then, keep in mind the goals and intent of the author. Even if you think an image should be framed differently, perhaps it was done this way because the intent was to show it in a particular way. Finally, always give useful advices so that your feedback is not just negative commentary, but becomes constructive instead.

Being on the receiving end

Feedback is not something that is solely the realm of the viewer. Being good at receiving criticism is also very important. It helps you digest feedback so that you get more out of it, and possibly improve your work in a more significant way. It helps prevent you from lashing out at commenters and getting bad PR, and it helps keep your stress level down.

The first thing to remember is that arguing about art is pointless, because unlike science or other factual events, no one has the correct answer. By its very nature, art can be enjoyed or disliked, and no one has the right to tell somebody what they should or shouldn't like. Regardless of how good any artist is, there will always be people who dislike what they do. You need to be able to read feedback and determine with a cool head whether or not they have a point, and if those are things you can improve on. Taking things too personally is never a good thing.

Assuming that you are right all the time is also a bad way to start a discussion. And in the end, this is what feedback is, a discussion of tastes and opinions. So if something seems unclear, or if you aren't sure what someone means, feel free to ask them, clarify their position, perhaps they do have a pertinent thing to say, something that could be improved in some way. Don't automatically assume the worst, and if a comment seems negative, reread it to make sure you aren't simply taking the words out of context.

Finally, always make sure you are in control of the feedback process. There are a lot of trolls on the Internet, and you will always receive feedback that is mean and degrading, this is a byproduct of anonymity. But the worse thing you can do is give up and close all avenues of feedback, because then you deprive yourself of useful comments. Instead, learn to have a thick skin and to moderate that criticism. If you run a commenting system, make sure you have approvals turned on so you can avoid spam and trolls. If someone sends you nasty comments, ignore them instead of replying. Don't feed the trolls, but keep an open mind for constructive comments, and it will help you become a better artist in the end.

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© 2007-2019 Patrick Lambert - All resources on this site are provided under the MIT License - You can contact me at: contact@dendory.net