Thursday, May 30, 2013

Critiques, When To Listen and When to Ignore

Part of being an artist in entertainment (or any place for that matter) is getting the coveted/dreaded critique. While they are invaluable to becoming better at your craft, I do believe there's a level of discernment needed when giving or receiving them. 

If you've been around long enough you may have received a critique or two that didn't make sense or brought you to your higher levels of frustration. On the flip side, there always seems to be that one critique that makes total sense and completely changes your approach.

So, why don't we take today to discuss the anatomy of a critique, when to listen, and when to detect phony advice. Let's start with what a critique is:
Cri·tique n.
1. A critical review or commentary, especially one dealing with works of art or literature.
Critique IS
  • An evaluation of skill and merit based a particular piece of work.
  • For the critic: An opportunity to share methods of improvement, resources, experience, life lessons, or suggestions on the next approach. Giving a good critique can sometimes hurt people's feelings, but if presented correctly will help the artist in the long run. Good critique is a service.
  • For the artist: An opportunity to hear from peers and superiors about techniques and flaws in their work that they may not have heard about. Getting a good critique means being open to the fact you need to improve. Therefore your interest is more focused on the criticism rather than compliments.
Critique IS NOT:
  • An evaluation of preferences, or a platform to spew your hate into the world. 
  • For the critic: An opportunity to show your superiority over the masses by asking the artist to morph their work to better suit your likes and dislikes (I like short hair, give your character a hair cut). A bad critique will try to hurt people's feelings by being demeaning or pompous. A bad critique can also be very nice and complimentary offering no advice or help while spouting out stuff to sound superior. Basically a non-critique.
  • For the artist: An opportunity to show off, or expect the world to love everything you do. A platform where you can defend your style choices. If you're looking for critique then you are looking for critique! People will criticize your work if you ask them to. Expect that to happen and take it from anyone who's trying to help. You're not here to argue, you're here to learn. If you're not asking for critique to learn, then what the hell are you doing?
Another important thing to note is it can be hard for people to take advice from those who are really brash or blunt. This is where the ever-so-common compliment sandwich comes in.
<Compliment> <Critique> <Compliment> 
"I really like the hair and your shadows are excellent. Maybe try working on the anatomy around the hands, but otherwise it's looking super good!" 
Where this can be a good method to not piss people off (I'm guilty of this), it also buries the lead. Without the sting of honest criticism it can be hard for people to remember and change their ways. Imagine every time you did something wrong as a kid your parents would say nice things about you before they punished you then gave you a lolly pop. It's confusing, and hurts the process in the long run. Might I suggest a new method to try?
<Critique> <Encouragement> <Compliment>
"The hands look noticeably wonky. Hands are pretty hard, might I suggest a book (or tutorial) that really helped me. Once you get that all patched up then it will match the quality work you did with the face."
It's good to start with the hard criticism as this sets a precedent for the rest of the comment. You want to convey that you're not trying to kiss people's ass but only trying to help, and sometimes that means tough love.

So what do you do when someones being a punk? There's only one thing to do and it can be very hard. You have to let them do their thing and focus on the people who are trying to help. That's all you can do really. Engaging in arguments with these people is frustrating, supports their behavior, and is an ultimate waste of your time. Let it go, and move on to better stuff.

I hope this clears up a few things and makes your next critique experience a little better. When in doubt I always defer to my life motto: 

"Learn from everyone and everything; good and bad"
With the right attitude, there's no way you can lose.

Thanks for reading!

This is still a work in progress.


  1. As somebody who has taken and given so many critiques, I think you know what you'r talking about. As you know I'm very guilty too, of the 'compliment sandwich', because I thought it was the best way to approach somebody with respect for their work. But you definetly have a point there. It can be confusing sometimes. Your site is becoming a great resource. Well done ! ;)

    1. It's the Gordon Ramsey approach (UK not US). Thanks.