I run a monthly group coaching session through the Super Learner membership program. It was originally called "critique group," but so many people had a negative reaction to the word, "critique," that I decided to change the name. Critique can be terrifying -- especially since it is so often done incorrectly (meaning in an unhelpful and hurtful manner). The good news is that if it's done correctly, critique can help you grow much faster than you could on your own. So today, I thought I'd share the special sauce recipe -- aka how to do critique so that it nurtures creativity rather than crushes it.
Start with Positive Feedback: Begin your critique by acknowledging what you like about the artwork. Highlight the artwork's strengths, such as color choices, composition, or the emotions it conveys. Starting with positive comments sets a supportive and encouraging tone.
Respect Their Intentions: Understand the artist's intentions, style, and the message they are trying to convey in their work. This will help you provide feedback that aligns with their artistic goals. If you don't know, ask. Along the same lines, ask the artist what kind of feedback they would like to receive. Do they have specific questions? Is there a certain area they're looking for help with?
Be Specific: To make your feedback more valuable, avoid vague statements like "I like it," or "I don't like it." Provide specific details about what you like or don't like and WHY. For example, you could say, "I love the way you used vibrant colors in the background to create a sense of depth." Or, "I feel like my eye slides off the canvas -- instead of staying within the composition -- because of the placement of that yellow section." If you can't say WHY something does or doesn't work, don't say anything. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you can't help the artist with a WHY, then your feedback is useless.
As a presenting artist, you also need to be specific. Please don't show up to a critique and say, "What do you think?" That's like asking somebody, "What do you think of my life?" You need to present a problem for others to help you solve. For example: "I like this piece, but I'm concerned that it feels chaotic instead of contained." Now I know exactly what you want feedback on and I can give it to you.
Focus on the Big Picture: While addressing details is important, also discuss the overall impression of the artwork. Consider the composition, visual hierarchy, and the message it conveys. Ask questions like, "What were you hoping to communicate with this piece?" When we focus too much on details, our feedback can become proscriptive -- i.e. "I would put a red dot there." Instead you could say, "I really like your use of red in this piece and I wonder if there's a way to use it to help bring the eye around the entire composition." Let the artist figure out exactly how to do that, instead of you.
Offer Your Perspective, Not Absolutes: Art is subjective, and what works for one person may not work for another. Use "I" statements to express your opinions. For instance, say, "I think the shading on the face could be improved to add more dimension." Use phrases like, "In my opinion," or "I feel," to convey that your feedback is based on your personal preferences and perspectives. You can even offer context. For example, "I tend to like lower contrast artwork, so the color combination you're using really works for me."
Be Respectful and Sensitive: As you know, creating art can be a vulnerable process, and sharing it is too. Always provide feedback in a respectful and considerate manner. Be open to the artist's responses and questions. Artistic expression is a personal journey, and they may have reasons for their choices that you haven't considered. Critique should be a conversation, not a lecture. You're not competing against each other. Critique should feel like a team event with everyone working to bring each member forward.
If you take just one thing away from this blog post, let it be this: constructive feedback is about nurturing a fellow artist's growth and not about imposing your personal taste on their work. Your feedback can make a significant difference in their artistic journey -- both positive and negative. So, the next time you're asked to critique an artwork, keep these guidelines in mind to offer feedback that inspires and empowers creative growth.
Thanks for stopping by!
PS: If you're not sure how to provide the WHY to other people. If you don't know how to even ask for feedback because you can't figure out why your work isn't doing what you want it to, then Design Boot Camp is for you. Sign up today.