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Author Topic: How to actually give constructive criticism  (Read 214 times)

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Offline Lord Kesashi

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How to actually give constructive criticism
« on: June 22, 2018, 08:27:17 AM »
A lot of people have different stances on criticism. Most people don't like the idea of saying something nice about a piece at all when criticizing it, but that's not necessarily best.

Typically we use the term "constructive criticism" when we're telling people not to insult each other on these forums, or go off topic and just consider everything else constructive. But not all criticism is constructive, it can be as destructive as insults.

What I've found is the most constructive way to give criticism, based on the input of professional artists, is to say at least 1 good thing, and at least 1 bad thing. Even if a piece is so bad all you like about it is the fact that the artist was ambitious enough to try or it's so good that your only problem with it is the fact that there isn't any more of it. These are both valid points that any person looking to improve would need to set their pride aside and consider. It might seem crazy at first that you need to come up with something good or something bad even when the piece feels perfect or just feels terrible, but there's a reason.

The goal of constructive criticism is to help the artist or creator's next work be better than the last. In order to improve you have to:

A. Continue doing the things that are successful.
B. Stop doing the things that are not successful.

If you have no idea what's successful about your work, because the critic only focuses on the bad, you have no foundation to fix your next piece on. You might as well assume everything is bad and try something completely different. You'll end up abandoning strengths that were actually helping you in your work because you thought they were weaknesses.

If no one ever brings up what's wrong with your work, you'll never try to fix it. You'll continue letting the same problems keep you down and stagnate when you should be improving. You'll become more prideful of your work because the first person to say something bad about it will seem like a complete culture shock, and everyone who ever said something good about it is now a type of evidence preventing you from accepting its flaws.

This is where criticism can become destructive. This goes for any type of creative work, not just illustration.

Offline MahluaandMilk

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Re: How to actually give constructive criticism
« Reply #1 on: June 22, 2018, 12:48:20 PM »
I can be a little guilty in this regard. If I have any reason to believe that whatever might be a good thing about a piece was accidental among various mistakes, I don't highlight it because even if it is a strength, it also needs to be strengthened. I feel like that's overlooked a lot: you need to strengthen your strengths, too. As a former teacher once told me, "Growth only happens on the outside edge of your comfort zone. If you aren't uncomfortable, then you aren't making changes, and if you aren't making changes, you're stagnating."

I personally don't think it's a bad thing at all if someone takes that to mean "everything is bad; I should try something completely new." You don't just lose strengths. Even if the next piece tosses something out the window, there is a lesson learned in every act of creation. Over time, the artist/creator will discover things that do and don't work. Besides, if they do try to hard reboot everything, maybe they'll find another, stronger strength. What's to be afraid of with that, except a little hard work?

That, and you can never go wrong with the fundamentals of whatever art you're doing. Artists should never forget the importance of line, and writers, of the rules governing syntax.

Offline Lord Kesashi

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Re: How to actually give constructive criticism
« Reply #2 on: June 22, 2018, 07:20:29 PM »
That's a very optimistic outlook on a person's response to purely negative feedback.

We don't consider ourselves to be top critics, we're artists or writers or readers. But I would say that if you can't find something good to say as well as something bad to say about a piece, you shouldn't call yourself a great critic. I understand if a pieces is genuinely poorly put together and the subject matter offends you and the artist is a jerk, it's understandable if we can't find something to appreciate in it. But I think that's what we should shoot for is building strengths and exposing weaknesses.

An example for me when I first arrived at MR I got a lot of compliments for my shading(we could say specifically the eyes) work, and a lot of negative feedback for my understanding of anatomy.

This is like one of my first MR pieces in 2013, and the other is an assignment for a class earlier this year. I understand completely. If I had seen this picture today, I would have struggled to find something nice to say about it. I probably wouldn't have anything nice to say about it, but I'm grateful just as much for the raiders who had something negative to say about it as I am for the raiders who had something nice to say about. I probably wasn't as grateful back then.

Spoiler

Spoiler

And I know it kinda looks like, well that's just a sketch  and the other one is a whole 18 by 24 inch project, but the fact is, I felt the same about both of these pictures when I posted them. They were both made to show off my skill at its finest for the time (relative to time investment). The colored drawing was not required to be a study of anatomy. The project was so open ended, I could have done interpretive dance and gotten an A. But it's my desire to improve on those topics that drove me to work on this piece.

But it is good to try new things. Fortunately I did a lot of digital work in the past that opened me up to working in multiple styles, and trying new media showed me strengths that I never knew I had. When I started painting, my paintings were hideous, obviously, they looked more like the world does without my glasses on, but the colors were accurate. Come to find that I was actually very good with color, but there were still things to improve on.

Offline MahluaandMilk

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Re: How to actually give constructive criticism
« Reply #3 on: June 22, 2018, 07:35:39 PM »
I mean, the way I look at it is that we cannot control another person's actions or perceptions. We can only control our own. So, if someone bombarded me with a response filled to the brim with whole bunch of weaknesses, my response would be to look deeper at it. What caused such a reaction? Should I dismiss everything they have to say, or do they see things that I cannot? Sometimes people are just angry-sounding, and I can't control that. I can, however, control how I take it. I can dismiss them, or take everything they say to heart. I could even quit, although I know myself well enough to know that I personally would not, but speaking in hypotheticals.

I understand the newbie fear of having to change everything or to have everything you thought you knew ripped out from under you. I still get that way and even throw some rather childish tantrums about it when I just can't seem to grasp something, but even if I let myself be bitter over it, I remind myself that I can still learn.

But, then again, I like when things feel like more than an obligation. Sometimes, it is better to just remind someone that a gold polished turd is still a turd. Forced niceness can hurt worse, especially if the artist doesn't feel like it's deserved. It can feel superficial or like an outright lie, even if it comes from a genuine place. Besides, calling something a strength before it's developed can lead to potentially using it as a crutch or outright forgetting to work with it. I have done this in the sense that I had been told my coloring was so great, only to find out way later that I know f*ck-all about values and it really tears down a lot of my works, so I have to go back and really engage with color theory.

While all of that depends mostly on who is receiving the critique and how they take it, I suppose my point here is that I'd rather let someone down a little bit than to suggest something that could allow them to continue developing bad habits that will hurt worse to fix later.

Offline MK

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Re: How to actually give constructive criticism
« Reply #4 on: June 22, 2018, 08:56:38 PM »
I think ot matters more about the mindset of the artist.  If their mindset isn't "criticism is there to point out my flaws and improve my art," then i think it they aren't really ready for the criticism in the first place.  I also want to mention that criticism isn't a mandatory thing for improvement, it helps the process go much faster but putting in the work matters more.
« Last Edit: June 22, 2018, 09:00:37 PM by MK »

Offline suupertramp

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Re: How to actually give constructive criticism
« Reply #5 on: July 01, 2018, 12:58:46 PM »
Yeah I pretty much agree with that. Heres my ramblings which sort of overlap
(read the white for main points)

Generally, as a critiquer (just made that up), I commend newer artists a lot more, and only point out individual smaller problems that don't sound so bad.

As an example, critiquing Lord Kesashi's earlier posted drawing, (as if he is a newer artist):
 "I love the weapons, they look so cool" Do you plan on colouring it?"
(I give a commendation, a sort of suggestion and learn about the artist at the same time),
or "The facial expression is really calm and cute, I think her hair would look cool if it was flapping in the wind/was a bit curlier"
(again, larger commendation and small point that cant be taken as 'not a bad thing')

After a few more interaction ,more pictures posted, I learn about the artist and how they feel about their own work. Do they try and do what you said, do they thank you and/or acknowledge your comments, are they defensive etc. You learn how many eggshells are around them, and how light you have to tread, or, in some cases, to not tread at all, as a critiquer.

Once you know they are all about getting better and want critiques, you still commend what you can, but pick out a handful (not all) of points they can improve, and be more stricter.

so first picture again (as if he is an artist thats been around a bit and wants criticism)
"Good shading on the arms/legs to show depth, it would look better if you shaded a bit more around the breasts and knees to highlight the form better. The clothing is simple and balanced, but it would look better with some folds or creases in to give shape. maybe a few lines to show stress where the buttons are? Is she wearing shoes, socks or barefoot? its a bit hard to tell without extra details @_@"
(So commendation mixed in, but more in depth highlights of what exactly to improve.

Thanks for the example Kesashi, I hope you dont mind my critiques :P
I'm quite a soft critiquer, I view most artists including myself like plants that have to been watered regularly, but still trained into the right shape. So worst case scenario, commendation for actually posting something.

@MK yeah if they dont want criticism, them fair play dont give it :P You could offer a Ming Dynasty Vase to someone for $50 ,but if they don't understand its value, they will just think it a stupid vase and refuse

Not every artist is the same, in their art style or how they take criticism, so I think its up to the more experienced ones to go the extra mile and point them in the right direction. Although not all of us were against criticism when we first started, the phrase "we were all noobs once (and held our newbie art with pride)" certainly springs to mind. don't fall on them like a ton of bricks.

taking criticism is a skill in itself that we learn over time, some have more of it than others. expecting a newbie artist to be able to take a 1000 word crushing critique (however helpful) is as stupid as expecting them to produce a Mona Lisa on their first attempt, so the responability is a lot on us critiquers to help them to appreciate the value of criticism, before giving it.

maybe I'm just too soft, but thats my take :P
« Last Edit: July 01, 2018, 10:53:28 PM by suupertramp »