Around Here: June 2021
Four Mixed Media Collages from Art Parts

What is Helpful Feedback?

Learning to offer helpful feedback when viewing art is a skill worth acquiring.  It's actually useful both to you and the recipient of the feedback. I often ask for feedback.  I enjoy hearing other people's opinions, even when the differ from my own.  That's right. It's okay to have negative feedback.  But, think about why you're offering feedback.  Most of the time, it's because you want to help the person asking for feedback.  Is it helpful to say, "I don't like this?"  Probably not.  Is it helpful to say, "This is ugly?"  Probably not.  Those kind of statements are deflating conversation enders.  It's like telling someone, "You look terrible."  What are they supposed to do about it?  There are, however, ways to make your feedback useful.  Here are three tips on giving better feedback:


"This is ugly," is NOT helpful feedback.  Helpful feedback always has a "why."  Also, try to use "I" statements.  It's not a fact that it's ugly.  YOU find it ugly. Take ownership of that.

You could say, "I find this ugly because I don't like the colors."  That's certainly more useful and clearly explains why you feel that way, but it's still not 100% helpful. 

Think a little bit harder: why don't you like the colors?  Is it the color combination?  One particular color? Does the color make you feel a certain way that you don't like?

The more specific that you can get, the more helpful the information is to the recipient and to you.  How is it useful to YOU? Lots of ways:

  • Sometimes it's easier to see the problems in other people's work than our own. By verbalizing a problem, you may be able to also recognize it in your own work.  
  • Verbalizing your likes and dislikes allows you to hone in on your personal style/preferences.
  • Being able to accurately describe why something isn't working is the first step towards being able to fix it.  You can't fix a problem that you can't diagnose.

It goes the other way too.  "This is amazing," is always nice to hear and say, but go deeper. Why is it amazing?  What specifically about it is blowing you away?  Specificity is extremely helpful.  By honing in on the details of what makes something work, both you and the recipient of the feedback will be able to take that information to the next piece of work.  For example, when you sit down to make something and the feedback you received on your last piece of work was, "This is amazing," you don't have any useful information to act upon.  However if the feedback was, "This is amazing.  The design is so clean and graphic," then you have a nugget that can get you going right away.  After receiving that specific feedback, I'm ready to sit down and create a clean and graphic design and see how it goes.


Words like "ugly" or "sloppy" are opinion words.  It's an agree or disagree kind of statement. For example, lots of people find Basquiat's work ugly and sloppy while I think it's beautiful and extremely well composed.

And while we may disagree when using those kinds of words, I'll bet that we can all agree on descriptors such as: discordant, aggressive brush strokes, and high contrast.  Those things may be ugly to some and beautiful to others.  When you're offering feedback it's not useful to be judgmental.  It is, however, extremely useful to be descriptive.  Descriptions without judgment allow the recipient to assess whether or not they've met their goals.  Very few people have a goal of "ugly" or "sloppy."  Descriptions without judgment also allow you to drill down into your opinions and really learn why you're having the reaction you're having.


We already know that instead of, "I don't like this," we should try something more specific.  But specificity needs to be open ended.  Saying, "You should put some green along the left side," is very specific. But it's NOT helpful because that's what YOU would do.  It's important to give feedback that allows the recipient to make their own choices.  For example, "I think it would help create unity in this piece if you found a way to repeat some of the colors."  How they decide to implement that advice is up to them.  It's also useful feedback because they can take that same feedback and apply it to other pieces in the future.

Here's another example of specific but open ended feedback: "This piece doesn't work for me because the composition is unbalanced and unfocused. There's nothing that really grabs my attention and so I find that my eye wanders right off the canvas."  The feedback is specific: there's something tangible that I could fix if I wanted to -- imbalance and lack of focus. But the feedback is open: I can make my own decisions about how to address the issues of imbalance and lack of focus.

As you can see, giving helpful feedback requires a bit more thought.  Most people never bother to dig a little deeper.  I believe that the benefits of doing so are enormous. 

I hope you found these tips useful.  If you want to practice, here's a piece of art.

What do you think?