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Art Critiques: What is and isn't okay to say?

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Hi everyone! I'm planning to make a journal post about what I think a good critique should look like, and I was going to include a list of general Dos and Don'ts for those who don't understand what they perhaps should and shouldn't say. Have you ever had any critiques for your art that made your blood boil when you read it? Or perhaps a really good comment which really helped you improve your work? What would and wouldn't you like to hear in a criticism? Have you ever had a positive or negative reaction to a critique you gave? I'd really appreciate if you left a comment below with your experiences! It doesn't necessarily just have to relate to art - school homework, work life, or just any general criticism you've received which really stuck with you!
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atomnik's Avataratomnik
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The very first thing to acknowledge abt criticism is that when its not asked for, don't criticize. This doesn't apply to all life situations but when someone posts art/writing/something, its not always to ask for criticism. Not everyone will like unwelcome critique and it can come off as a bit egotistical to jump onto someone's art out of the blue like that, but this is something that is a case by case basis. Some people will be just fine with it. Criticism should def be constructive. Stuff like 'it looks bad/good' isn't helpful because it doesn't specify what can be fixed or worked on. One tip I read is to preface criticism with positive commentary, that way the reciever's first impression isn't negativity. A good balance of positive commentary and criticism goes a long way.
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KO's AvatarKO
KO's Avatar
*INHALES DEEPLY* First of all, full disclosure: I'm an art student at an art college where your classmates/professors can and will tear your work apart if given the opportunity, so that's really shaped my view of criticism over these past couple years. And please note that I'll be using the general "you" in this post a lot; I'm not referring to any specific person, nor is this post targeted at any person or group of people. TL;DR: I believe that criticism should not be mean, but it should be to-the-point and brutally honest, even if it may be unpleasant for the person being criticized. Effective criticism should: 1) inform the creator of a potential problem in their work 2) provide reasons why the problem is, well, a problem 3) if possible, provide the creator with a suggestion to fix the problem 1) If an artist has requested criticism on art and you don't like the way a particular thing was executed, then the artist wants to know! In my opinion, it's okay to state absolutely everything that you don't like if you're criticizing something - otherwise, they might never recognize the ways in which they can improve. 2) If you don't offer why what you've pointed out is an issue, then the artist again won't know what to fix! Say why you don't think the thing you're criticizing is working well, or what effect it has on the overall work. 3) The best way to criticize is to offer ways to improve! Tell the artist how you think adding or changing something specific might help to improve the work. Example: "I really like the lineart on this piece! But the shading could use some work. Right now, it makes the piece look a bit flat. You may want to consider making your shadows a little darker and your highlights lighter!" About being "mean" and "nice": I honestly don't think that a lot of mean-sounding things in critiques are actually mean. "Your line quality is mediocre." "Your anatomy is poor." "Your storytelling is weak." These are all things that have been told to me in critique before, and they're disappointing and sometimes hurtful things to hear, but once I got over my discomfort with hearing them, I realized that they're just criticism, not a personal attack. To people whose work is very personal to them, oftentimes harsh critique can feel like an attack directly to them, but it's usually not. The best thing to do is to take all criticism into account, even if it sounds mean, and use it to take another look at your artwork and see what you can do differently. Of course, things like "your coloring looks like baby barf" and "my five-year-old niece draws better than this in MS Paint" are mean, because they're not criticism; they're specifically designed to hurt the artist, not to help the work. The line between "criticism" and "insult" can be a hazy one, especially when it comes to weird terms like "bad" (which can be used both as criticism and an insult), but I believe that one should assume the best about every comment: that it's legitimate criticism instead of a targeted attack at the artist. Don't put up with straight vitriol, but don't dismiss a criticism just because you disagree with it. It might be uncomfortable listening to that critique, but I believe that it can help you grow as an artist and a person.
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Hayashi Rin's AvatarHayashi Rin
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I'd also like to add something that I don't actually see many people do, but find to be very important as well. Giving praise to an art piece with an explanation of what they've done well is also criticism, not just pointing out what you find wrong with it and saying why. In fact, as atomnik said, leading in with what you like about a piece and explaining why before you get into the nitty-gritty will help the artist keep a positive mindset, especially if you're really going to dig into the parts you disliked. For example, if you really like the way someone shaded their art piece or described an element of their story, not only telling them that it's amazing but why that is may help them improve by sharing other perspectives they may not have seen themself. (Maybe an art piece with a Leafeon curled up in a hollowed out log during a rainstorm, but the sun is out and is causing warm, vibrant colours) "Your art is amazing! I really like how the warm colours you use turn an otherwise sorrowful image into a peaceful one instead, as though they'd just woken up to a damp morning with a warm sun coming out to cast away the storm and give rise to a rainbow!" If the artist who drew that image described above was actually aiming for a sad image of a Leafeon cold and alone, caught out in the rain, they might not have realised that to other people it actually didn't appear sad at all because of the colours/time of day. Now they know, and may try something else instead such as desaturated colours and/or make it night or late evening where the lack of sun might make you think instead about how cold and wet it must be. Criticism can be positive and negative, or even neutral. It's the honesty and the description/details you give them about why you feel the way you do about it, what worked/didn't work for you as a viewer/reader, what they can do to, in your opinion, fix/better the piece, and why what you think will help better the piece that will help an artist or writer improve the most. Of course, this is all my opinion and it's different for everyone. I do agree with KO though about most if not all of what they said, especially the part where they talked about keeping a mindset of everything being a critique. Even in the mean cases like "your coloring looks like baby barf", you can still take from that and keep a positive mindset; perhaps the colour scheme you're using is making that green look like "baby barf" instead of bringing out the beauty of that green like you wanted. It may be best to try some other colours with it and see if you can complement it better. There're also differences of opinion when it comes to colours. For example, if a shade of blue has even the smallest hint of detectable red in it, I will almost always call that purple, whereas other people will argue it's blue because it's predominantly blue. One last thing to keep in mind when it comes to visual art; people may be colourblind, especially men. Approximately 8% of all men in the world are colourblind (myself included). It'd be best if the one critiquing the piece knew beforehand that they're colourblind and say as much, but if they don't, you may have someone who can't actually see the colour the same as most everyone else trying to critique your art. (Cough cough me sometimes cough cough). I'm not so great at being concise or relaying my thoughts as intended, so apologies for it being super wordy or if something doesn't make sense. Can always ask for clarification if not ;w;
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i've heard somebody say "work on the anatomy" isn't a good one and i can't help but agree. also critiquing an aesthetic (exe. Tron) just seems wrong
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Calle's AvatarCalle
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As a writer I've often seen the sandwich feedback. You start with what you liked, then you go to the actual feedback with points of improvement, and you finish on a positive note, again stating something you like, or stating that you enjoyed the entire work/enjoyed reading it/would love to read more/etc. In the writers clan I've given feedback upon request and I always do it like that. I also prefer to get feedback like that. Because even with constructive feedback, it's always hard to see things weren't as good as you thought they were, especially if you're proud of what you did. So ending with something positive will avoid the creator feeling their work is no good, even though in the beginning of the feedback the good points were already mentioned. Bad things tend to overshadow good things and leave a bigger impact. So that's something to keep in mind. And if you don't like something, that is okay, but don't say 'I hate it'. Bring it more politely, like 'this is not my taste, but I appreciate the quality'. People have different tastes and you can dislike something, just stay polite. And while comments are good, and usually desired by a creator, it's not polite to start poking at someone's work 'yeah, this was nice, but I would have done it this way'. If there was no request for feedback a comment like that is extremely rude and gives the impression that they feel their work is better than that of the creator. Although, to be fair, when I give feedback on stories I will judge it by the rules of writing, but I will also compare it to my own experiences. And those experiences can be feedback others have given me in the past, or how I did certain things in my own stories. Sometimes sharing your own experience is helpful, but it should never be done in the way of 'you have to change it, my way is better'. It's just helpful sometimes to get different viewpoints. It's all about being respectful and acknowledge the potential when you see it. I'm also more detailed or more encouraging in my feedback depending on the level of the writer. There is really no reason to tear down a piece of work that is clearly made by a beginner, In that case I just point out the big flaws and encourage the potential. Honest feedback is good and will benefit the creator, but you also don't want to discourage anyone from making art by making them feel their piece had nothing good in it.
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selocon's Avatarselocon
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To tag on to what Calle said (writer here as well), it's much better to sandwich your critiques rather than just start off with good stuff, as it helps the artist/writer get into the positive mindset after you probably just ripped their work to shreds (figuratively!)
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Zen's AvatarZen
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Writer here myself, and a few years ago I had... quite a few comments that actually had me stop writing for awhile. "I hate your work."/"I don't know why I keep reading your work. It's terrible."/"Can you please finish this terrible stuff? It's so bad and I hate it, but I want to know how it ends." Don't do that. Don't tell someone you hate their stuff. Don't tell them to finish it just because you don't like it but want to know how it ends. That gets writers to stop writing, leaving their work completely unfinished. I've left a few things unfinished because of it. Honestly, when critiquing writing in general, your best bet is to not comment when you didn't like anything of it. If there was nothing about it you liked, all you're doing is telling the writer you don't like their stuff. Oh, and telling the writer that if they added this and that then you would've liked it doesn't help either. We write stories in the way we see them, not to please others unless it's outright written for someone. Other people enjoying our story the way we saw it is just a plus. Also much like with art, unless specifically asked or if it's a big error that needs to be corrected to be understood, don't correct writers on their grammar/spelling. If we want it, we'll ask. Yes, people like correct grammar and spelling in everything. A lot of us writers are the same way. But if we really want someone to correct us on tiny things we'll have a beta reader or have a note saying to let us know if something is misspelled or if there's any incorrect grammar. And yes, we sometimes mistake you, your, and you're as well as they, they're, and their. We know. Some of us just don't notice it until a few days after when we go back through our work. Sometimes we auto-pilot and don't realize we made that mistake the first few times we read through it after writing it. No need to comment right away going, "you used the wrong 'you're'."
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selocon's Avatarselocon
selocon's Avatar
Apologies for sandwich posting, but Zen brought up a good point on the grammar. I've tried my hand at writing quite a few different novels, and most of them sit unfinished for a variety of reasons. The one I loved the most will never be finished because of a comment made about my grammar and spelling errors. I have a minor learning disability that basically hinders my ability to see my own errors on reading through something I, personally, have written. If I wait a few days, I can usually catch most of them, however, in this particular piece, I hadn't. I showed it to a friend, who made the comment of "go back to English class, you spelled the word "could" wrong." The error was minor (I forgot the u so it read as 'cold') However, she proceeded to make similar comments for every single grammatical and spelling error in the 50-something pages I had written. That novel will never be finished. Mainly because doing so would bring the hurt I felt at that time, rushing back to the surface, and I'd see the mediocracy in my early work. That's another thing, when critiquing, think of the amount of time the person put into the work. Horrible comments along the lines of what I and Zen (and probably every other writer) have received, can make someone feel like they wasted their time on a piece.
Kiryu's AvatarKiryu
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Okay, so. I know that the general theme of this thread is to discuss personal, individual critique. But considering this is both in the "PokeFarm" discussion forum instead of the general "Miscellaneous" forum, as well as considering the past "events" regarding critiques of sprites and designs, I think I can safely assume the critique of the site's sprites and the appropriate/inappropriateness thereof is also relevant for this thread. (And if not, then....my bad? XD;; maybe move it to not specifically the PokeFarm forum??) So initially I typed up a big thing but I scrapped it since whenever I type up a big essay only like one person ends up attempting to read it jfdkl;ajfhdsil So I'll try to make it super concise (yes, this is the concise version): *In my opinion*, critiquing an individual artist's personal work is not exactly the same as critiquing the art of a large, cohesive group, especially in context of companies or where the art is a product that is intended to be sold/appeal to a large amount of people/customers. I believe the contexts are very different, and therefore have different "rules" or courtesies. It is one thing to critique, say, a model of a video game character made by a big company, expressing your problems of what looks off to you and what problems you may have with the design. It is a very different thing to waltz up to someone's personal account on DA, clawing your way to a personal work of that artist that is made only for the artist themselves and then barking at them how horrible it is. While I know that PFQ is not a Big Huge Game Company(tm)(tm), and I know that the majority of the staff are volunteers, I really believe that critiquing the art of PFQ specifically is not equivalent of critiquing an individual artist's personal work. It's somewhere in the middle. Many, many of us, the users, are customers. We put in time and effort, and for many of us, Actual Money, into this game. The most common point of contention in terms of art critique here, the sprites, can almost be seen as products that are made to appeal to us; to encourage us to hunt them and contribute to the in-game economy. Again, I know this isn't 100% the case. You don't (need to) just buy sprites, you aren't forced to buy anything to play the game, much of the staff are volunteers, the site is so small, etc etc. But this /is/ a game. This is a public /thing/ with a /playerbase/ that has expectations and opinions and feedback. If every PFQ fakemon were just individual art pieces in a gallery on an artsite by one person (or heck, even if by a group of people, if this was just their own little art project they were working on for themselves), yes, I would believe it'd be rude to critique their designs and art if it was not asked for. But PFQ is a bit more than that. It's a little bit more complicated. I, personally, don't think it's helpful or fair to compare critiques of PFQ sprites to critiques of one artist's personal work for themselves, because PFQ sprites were not made to be a personal piece of art only for the artist's fun/skill/etc. PFQ sprites were made to be a part of the game PFQ, and therefore were made for the playerbase who is going to be primarily the ones using the sprites. Please note; I still don't think it's helpful to go "BLARGH IT LOOKS LIKE DOG VOMIT!!!!!!!!" since the actual usefulness of such a critique is.....shallow at most. Also note that I acknowledge the context of PFQ is much different from the context of a large game company, especially since most of the artists are volunteers and players themselves, of whom can be directly on the receiving end of any critique made. I know that, for many sprites and artworks made here, there are some that're just made by one person, and it can feel like an attack on a 'personal' work because of that. It's not just black and white, it's a pretty complicated and nuanced situation. I also know that, in response to some feedback from changes in the past (coughmelanscough), it has been said that the PFQ team has a certain creative vision that they strive for, regardless of others' opinions. And while that's all well and good.....this is still a game. You still have a playerbase that is going to give critiques and feedback of what you do, especially when you have a dedicated thread specifically for that purpose. PFQ is no longer a personal project just for a very small group of people (if it ever was one at one point). You don't need to bend to the will of the playerbase, but that doesn't change the fact that you /do have one/ who /will/ react to what they are given. Please remember this is just my opinion, and I'm in no way saying I'm objectively right in this regard. These are just my personal feelings, and how I feel the context is different in this scenario. I'm not dying on any hills, nor accusing PFQ of being a big evil company with evil faceless employees behind it or whatever; I am not attempting to attack anyone whatsoever. I just think this situation is a bit more complex and nuanced than how it is normally approached as and is worthy of discussion and consideration. I can certainly see how a staff member/artist could have a very different perspective on this, but as a very active player for well over a year now (and an artist myself, whose current job Is To Make Art For People), this is /my/ perspective.
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