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Author Topic: How to Actually Critique in a Useful Way, instead of being a jerk or too nice.  (Read 2609 times)

Offline Mousesong

Okay, so, I mostly lurk here, but I'm active or have been active in plenty of other communities.

There's a huge problem here with people not knowing what critique means. This is a How to Properly Critique Tutorial, and if you have to, please feel free to move it to in-depth talk.

This community has swiftly decided it can't delineate between insults and critique on one hand, and pointless praise and critique on the other.

Here is what critique is not.

Critique is not:
 - Telling someone "this sucks."
 - Telling someone "Pose sucks. Lighting sucks. Sucks."
 - Telling someone to stop drawing.
 - Phrasing things as rudely as possible in a cunning attempt to be blunt.
 - Administering three compliments for every honest bit of feedback. Who gave you this advice?
 - Sucking up to someone for three paragraphs and then saying "but her hair is a little flat."

Critique is:
 - Providing HELPFUL feedback that will help the artist improve.
 - Available from everyone, regardless of skill.
 - Demonstrating to the artist what their proficiencies are, what needs to improve, and how to improve it.
 - Suggesting specific changes or courses of study.
 - Identifying what issues recur in an artist's work and which are unique to the specific piece posted.
 - Polite but honest, and open without being disrespectful.

Being able to critique well is just as important in an artistic community as being able to draw well. A good critique makes an artist thoughtful and gives him advice that can actually be used, either on the specific posted piece or in the future.

Respect is important. I'm a member of a generation that seems to think that being willing to speak one's mind means being willing to say whatever they think of regardless of how it makes others feel. Being willing to openly and honestly point out an artist's room for improvement is NOT the same as being willing to bluntly tell them that their art is bad.

Learn this mantra. Memorize it. Commit it to heart:

A bad artist is not one who is inexperienced. A bad artist is one who is unwilling to learn.

If you go into a thread where a beginning artist is asking for honest critique and advice, and answer that plea by telling them how much they suck without offering any feedback they can actually use, you are no more an artist than the person asking for advice, and in fact, you are less.

On the other hand, another sort of "critique" you see around this site is the tendency to just say "looks good!" Don't post this if the artist is looking for critique--go put it on their gallery.

Really LOOK at the image. Be honest with yourself and with the artist: what can I improve?

Here's a bad critique because it's too blunt:
"Your lighting sucks. Learn to shade."

Here's a bad critique because it's not blunt enough:
"Oh wow! This is gorgeous! I really love her hair, and the pose is neat! Her hand looks a little weird, but that's okay!"

And here, my friends, is a GOOD critique:
"The most obvious room for improvement in this piece is in the lighting. Where is the light coming from? On her arm it looks like the light is coming from the top left, but on her face, it looks like it's coming directly from the right. Try to imagine light as being like a liquid poured over your character: where does it fall? Where does it not show up at all? Also, while it's good that you've tried a dynamic and interesting pose, you may want to consult some reference pictures for the hand. It's in a difficult position to draw and it looks a little clumsy: the fingers are too thick and seem to lack knuckles and a skeleton: try drawing lines to represent the finger bones first, deciding where the knuckles would go, and then draw in the hands. This will make them more believable."

As you can see in the above critique, I said exactly what the others said: the lighting needs work and so does the hand. But I gave them advice. I suggested how to improve, rather than just pointing out what was good and what was bad. And I did it politely, and respectfully, but without simply smothering them in meaningless praise. There was no three compliments to every critique ratio. In fact, the only compliment I administered was that the artist was brave and wise to challenge herself by attempting a dynamic pose. I neither insulted nor cooed at them.

This is not a difficult skill to learn. Read your critiques. Think about what you're saying, and ask yourself honestly: "Is this person going to be a better artist if they take what I say to heart?" If the answer is no, don't post it.

You are not doing an artist a favour by being rude to them. Using the above critique as an example, changing "the fingers are too thick and seem to lack knuckles" into "your fingers look like turds" isn't helpful, or funny. It's just rude.

You are not doing an artist a favour by simply praising them. Be willing to tell them how they can get better. If you honestly can't find a way to improve the piece, don't post to the critique thread. Post to the gallery.

Respectfully disagree. If you think someone is giving bad advice, don't say "you're wrong." Instead, quote them, and politely point out another approach. There's more than one way to skin a cat, and there's also going to be people of lots of levels of experience giving advice.

Everyone can critique. More experienced artists are going to have better advice. But even a beginning artist can see errors and maybe even know how to fix them, even if they couldn't do it themselves.

Know what you're saying. See above: you may not be as good as the artist you're critiquing, but if you genuinely know how to fix an error they've made, speak up. If you don't know how to fix it but you can see the mistake and no one else pointed out, don't be afraid to say so: "I can also tell that her eye placement is strange, although to be honest I'm not sure how I'd personally fix that."

Bottom line:

If all you have to say is that a piece looks nice, go post it on their user gallery, not in their critique thread.

If all you have to say is that a piece sucks and you can't give polite and instructive criticism, go hang out at 4chan with your fellow trolls.



« Last Edit: August 28, 2009, 12:58:31 PM by Mousesong »
have you seen jezebel? she was walking where the cedars lined the road...

 
        

Zafira

Thank you for posting this; I agree completely.

My opinion, for what it's worth:

When I first joined I wanted to make a thread in the critique section asking for advice on my portraits. I was looking around in other topics, and noticed a lot of off-topic "flaming" going on. Some of the people posting even insulted the artists themselves, and discouraged them from continuing on their artistic path. I'm not saying I'm perfect now, but back then I was much less experienced with making portraits, and knew little about FAZ.

This all made me very hesitant to ask for help. I even avoided posting my opinion on those topics if I had something to say, as I'm not a fan of negative energy. I never want someone to sugar coat everything they say to me, but I don't want them being rude either. There is no perfect artist, even though there are some who have more experience than others. It doesn't make sense that these experienced individuals should mock inspiring artists until they have no desire to draw at all. If they're so godly, then why not pass down some wisdom?

Offline ADALEINE

I'd like to get down on one knee and give you a fucking ring.

Also a golf clap.

Offline Suzy

Thank you x100000000

I've been critiqued quite a few times and while I really appreciate it, it's not helpful to me when a person critiques with a method that makes them come off as extremely rude and inevitably lowers my sickeningly fragile self-esteem. I don't want sugar-coating, ether. Straight and helpful is nice.

Offline La-la

hopefully some people will read this and actually learn from it!

Offline binkari

Quote
- Phrasing things as rudely as possible in a cunning attempt to be blunt.

Quoted for emphasis.

There are people on this forum who seem to think being frank also means being tactless, and then attempt to save their own hides by claiming that an artist needs to develop a thick skin, because if they can't handle critique like that, then they shouldn't be in the art world at all.

Good critics know how to articulate their thoughts without being demeaning. There is a distinct difference between being brutally honest and just being nasty. While you might think your comment is clever and/or funny because you used a dirty word or were particularly "brutal" when it came to putting an artist in their place, it's important to know that, in the end, the point of a critique is to help the critiqued progress and improve.

IPGD

Nobody appreciates the asshole post the moment they read one (and if you did it would defeat the entire point), but there are obvious benefits to it that I've explained numerous times. Of course, you can always just assume I'm lying through my teeth and ignore every last word I say in favor of assuming I'm just doing it for the sake of being a dick, which seems to be the conclusion most of you are arriving at despite my countless attempts to explain otherwise.

It's a good idea for most people to be constructive in this particular manner, because sugarcrits are useless and having seventy jerkasses running around at the same time is overkill, but dickweeds have their place. Have you really never had a negative experience that turned into something good later?

Offline binkari

Good critiques are concise and elegantly present the critic's point of view while being informative. Take a look at the ConceptArt.org critique forums and you'll see what I mean. Sugarcoating is usually undue, but so are extended metaphors about how an image looks like various types of feces. An effective critique is not unlike an effective illustration: it reads quickly, people understand your point, and while they may not personally agree with the content, they can appreciate the skill and effort involved.

If someone ignores your critique because you were being unnecessarily abrasive, it's just as much of a communication problem of yours as it is a matter of accepting critique on theirs. Why be excessively crude with the hope (or belief) that eventually it'll sink in (maybe, perhaps) and they'll be a better person for it when you can smooth out the edges and they'll understand immediately?

Presentation is key.

Overall, I'd say the critiques on FAZ are all right. There are some instances that are really flat-out trolls rather than useful critique yet if someone reacts to it, they get called out as being too sensitive or unwilling to accept critique. It's those instances that really grate my nerves.

IPGD

Quote
Why be excessively crude with the hope (or belief) that eventually it'll sink in (maybe, perhaps) and they'll be a better person for it when you can smooth out the edges and they'll understand immediately?
Because sometimes that crudity is exactly why someone will understand what you are saying. Sometimes people will completely ignore what you say unless you illicit a negative emotional response and force them to seriously think about what is being said and why they now feel this way.

No, dickbaggery is not effective in every situation, which is why I am not a dickbag in every situation and I do not encourage people to be a dickbag in every situation -- but strict politeness isn't effective in every situation, either. Just because politeness has the moral high ground does not mean that being rude is not ever more effective, and in many cases, it's the only thing that is effective. People can be incredibly stubborn and oblivious.

Offline max

uh, frankly, matter, you're not good enough to know what another artist ~needs~ in terms of 'encouragement' enough to justify rude critiques.  i kinda doubt anyone here is.  go outside.

edit: also it would be cool of you to just admit you enjoy hurting the feelings of people you look down on instead of trying to sail in on some bizarre grumpy jackass high horse.
« Last Edit: September 14, 2009, 10:39:28 PM by max »

Offline Safiye

Whether being a jerk occasionally jars someone isn't the question. The question is "is being rude critique?" and the answer is still no, no it is not. It's just being a jerk. Constructive feedback on specific strengths and/or weaknesses is critique, nothing else.

I think such behavior much more often discourages people from asking for the help that they need, as several people above have said it discouraged them from seeking helpful feedback on these forums because of that specific behavior. Even if it helps one person, it probably hinders a hundred others.

On balance, it really just does not seem worth it.

The fact that a person may or may not need a thicker skin doesn't suddenly make "you suck" into valid critique. It's still just being a jerk to someone who needs thicker skin. Maybe if you just said, "You need thicker skin, no one's art is perfect but with many eyes on one piece you can learn how to get better" it would be!

Offline Zim

uh, frankly, matter, you're not good enough to know what another artist ~needs~ in terms of 'encouragement' enough to justify rude critiques.  i kinda doubt anyone here is.  go outside.

edit: also it would be cool of you to just admit you enjoy hurting the feelings of people you look down on instead of trying to sail in on some bizarre grumpy jackass high horse.

By behaving like this, you are no better than the people you so seem to hate. Grow the hell up.

Offline Hugo

Dudes, calm down.

IPGD

Quote
uh, frankly, matter, you're not good enough to know what another artist ~needs~ in terms of 'encouragement' enough to justify rude critiques.  i kinda doubt anyone here is.  go outside.
Sure I am. My art is shit, but I know exactly how to learn and I have an objective view of my own work and others'. Actually learning takes quite a bit longer than learning how to learn, but the fact my work is terrible doesn't mean I don't know what I know.

Quote
edit: also it would be cool of you to just admit you enjoy hurting the feelings of people you look down on instead of trying to sail in on some bizarre grumpy jackass high horse.
Except I don't. I'm pretty damn upfront about my asshole schadenfreude when it's actually involved, so I don't know why I'd hide it in one special case. It's a lot simpler to conclude that I'm an asshole anyway than it is to assume I have some secret evil agenda, you know, could you just do that? I'm more than willing to argue my point about whether or not dickery is constructive, but debating whether or not I'm harboring secret desires to crush the souls of my innocent victims is pointless.

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I think such behavior much more often discourages people from asking for the help that they need, as several people above have said it discouraged them from seeking helpful feedback on these forums because of that specific behavior. Even if it helps one person, it probably hinders a hundred others.

On balance, it really just does not seem worth it.
From what experience do you find this to be true? I've never observed anything I've said to other artists to be damaging to their progress on the larger scale. I've never seen anyone quit or slow down, only get better, and faster than they had before. No, I am not indiscriminately cruel; I'm harsh on the people I think would benefit from it, and I'm softer on the people who wouldn't. I've tried being nice to people who need blunt honesty, and I've tried being blunt to people who already know what I'm telling them is true; the former never works and the latter is unnecessary.

My grand acts of brutal honestly happen a lot less than I make it sound like they do, mostly because I assume people to be familiar with the actual contents of my posts in the critique forum, but these recent threads have made it pretty clear that some people aren't. Most of my posts are pretty tame aside from a few circumstances where I actually thought it necessary, and even in those cases it's a far cry from what some posters in these threads seem to be talking about. When I tell someone they suck, I tend to sandwich it between 2000 words of helpful advice (and/or pretentious drivel, depending on how you see it).

Obviously, disparaging one liners and posts completely devoid of objective and constructive information aren't what I'd consider constructive critique. Their lack of substance invalidates the message and reveals it to be blatantly hurtful, meaningless and dishonest; this isn't how you make a constructive "rude" post, because being constructively rude is about being honest even when the honest truth isn't the nicest thing one could say.

I don't tell people they're bad for the sole purpose of hurting their feelings, I tell them they're bad when it's true. I also tell them that they can get better, because this is always true. It's not about diminishing someone's opinion of themselves, it's about fostering an objective one -- which, more often than not, is much lower than the egotist might hold it to be.

This objective opinion is crucial for tangible improvement. The people who actually want to improve need to attain this to be successful. People who care more about maintaining their ego than actually improving should seek critique where they know they'll hear what they want to hear; I very much think helping one serious artist is worth more than bruising the egos of a hundred hobbyists who weren't going to take anything I said seriously anyway.
« Last Edit: September 15, 2009, 08:19:07 PM by Matter »

Offline max

i wasn't calling your work terrible, i was making the point that nobody here is really good enough of an artist to merit bold statements about the vast utility of malice in critique.  in places where art has been studied for literally hundreds of years, there aren't teenage girls walking around delivering self-important screeds about the usefulness of being snide and unpleasant, there are people courteously pursuing the same goal of artistic self-betterment (or at least it was so the last time i checked).  while i'm (dimly) aware that this is not a parisian art academy, successful examples can be learned from -- somehow, they manage to improve!  if anything your most-recent post makes coarse behavior within critiques seem, at best, irrelevant and unnecessary.  in short, you're reinventing the wheel out of damp cardboard boxes.

and actually, with regard to the second part of your response to me, i was intending to point out that your desire to be a jerk is pretty clearly not a secret evil agenda and that it might be something more than a coincidence that your cutting-edge developments in the field of critique seem to bear a remarkable resemblance to such unpleasant behaviors.


zim: coarseness is part of every day life.  especially from me.  part of my point was that it's in critiques that i, personally, make a special effort.  outside of such situations i unfortunately do not have the requisite patience, nor do i expect such from anyone else.

also, uh, within your own apparent 'rules', you just told me to be more civil by being a jerk for telling someone to be more civil by being a jerk.  dirty pull, old man!  perhaps we could grow the hell up together, hand in hand, swinging on a tire swing hung off the old oak, having a cold swim down at the watering hole, prancing through the hills and vales!  what a giddy youth it would be.

Offline Dolly

(read: pretentious jargon)

IPGD

Quote
i wasn't calling your work terrible, i was making the point that nobody here is really good enough of an artist to merit bold statements about the vast utility of malice in critique.
I didn't make this stuff up in a vacuum. Most of my opinions were formed through the influence of professional-level artists vastly better than I am.

Even if I did, I don't really see how this invalidates what I'm actually saying. I could just as easily say that nothing you say matters because you're not a professional-level artist (I'm assuming you're not), either, but that would be wrong and I'd rather argue about the issue rather than who has the biggest penis (48 inches btw)
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in places where art has been studied for literally hundreds of years, there aren't teenage girls walking around delivering self-important screeds about the usefulness of being snide and unpleasant, there are people courteously pursuing the same goal of artistic self-betterment (or at least it was so the last time i checked).  while i'm (dimly) aware that this is not a parisian art academy, successful examples can be learned from -- somehow, they manage to improve!
You know what kind of people get accepted into art academies? The ones who already know this shit. There are no 14 year old furries who draw shitty anime of themselves making out with Sasuke in these establishments. They can actually function artistically after they put their tablets down. They don't believe their art is god's gift to the universe. People who demonstrate these kind of faults are the people I'm an asshole to. These are the people who need to realize they're not as good as they think they are. Most people in art schools are far past that point, because just by getting accepted they've demonstrated a willingness to learn and a basic grasp of the classical principles.

That's not to say art school is actually a loving and courteous environment. From all of the anecdotal stories I've heard from the people I know who are going to/went to art school, many of the professors are fucking dicks and the students are petty and vindictive.

Quote
if anything your most-recent post makes coarse behavior within critiques seem, at best, irrelevant and unnecessary.
Not really? I think it has relevance and necessity in certain scenarios, I was just clarifying that I'm not a dick indiscriminately, or even most of the time.

Quote
and actually, with regard to the second part of your response to me, i was intending to point out that your desire to be a jerk is pretty clearly not a secret evil agenda and that it might be something more than a coincidence that your cutting-edge developments in the field of critique seem to bear a remarkable resemblance to such unpleasant behaviors.
It's not. What reason do I have to lie about it? Being a dick certainly makes it easier but it's not like that completely invalidates all of the other reasons that honestly do make up the great majority of my motivation to do this. I wouldn't care about this shit as much as I do if I wasn't being sincere. There are certainly much easier ways to hurt people if I actually wanted to do that.

Again, you could just conclude I'm deluded so we can end this cyclical thread of the discussion.

Offline Zim

Quote from: max
also, uh, within your own apparent 'rules', you just told me to be more civil by being a jerk for telling someone to be more civil by being a jerk.  dirty pull, old man!  perhaps we could grow the hell up together, hand in hand, swinging on a tire swing hung off the old oak, having a cold swim down at the watering hole, prancing through the hills and vales!  what a giddy youth it would be.

I treat others the way they treat everyone else. You're coarse to people you disagree with, so I'll be coarse to you. Treat others the way you wish to be treated.

Also, this thread is turning into nothing but a flame war. Locked, because people can't not claw at each other's throats or not be completely childish in their responses.


 

anything