Critiques: How to give and receive constructive feedback.

If there is one thing that I took away from my education in art school, it’s the ability to give and receive criticism. I know that the word “criticism” can be met with a lot of negativity – but it doesn’t have to be. Critique, when utilized correctly, can be a valuable tool to grow your business, art practice, writing practice, or whatever it is you need it for.

Not every artist (or bossbabe in general) went to art school. That’s okay! Education doesn’t make you an artist – your passion does. That being said, the one tool I really benefited from in art school was having the constructive criticism of my peers, and I sincerely recommend practicing critique with your girlfriends. Below are some guidelines on successfully and professionally giving & receiving critiques.

Receiving a critique:

1. First and foremost, remember that a critique is NOT a personal attack. 

I cannot stress this enough: a critique is not an attack on you as a person. I know that many of you feel like your work carries a piece of yourself in it, and that’s okay, but we have to remove ourselves from our work when receiving feedback. Just as the critic should, you must also remain objective. This is solely a piece of constructive feedback on your piece (or idea, business, etc). You and your work are not mutually exclusive.

2. Ask the critic to elaborate. 

Not everybody gives amazing critiques – you may receive some vague feedback. Hearing “I don’t think this piece works” doesn’t benefit you at all. Ask them to elaborate, or for suggestions on how to further improve your work. These conversations are the ones that will really assist you.

3. Remember you can take it or leave it when it comes to critiques.

A critique is essentially this: someone else’s opinion. If you don’t agree, you can simply thank them for their time, and move on. You won’t always agree with what is said in a critique, and you don’t have to act on any suggestions.

4. That being said – take everything into consideration.

Make a note if you hear the same thing multiple times. It can be difficult to realize something isn’t working. If you hear the same feedback multiple times, it may be time to make some changes.

5. Write it down.

Critique can inspire you in ways you might not initially realize. You could build off of your existing work based on feedback, or hear a word used that inspires something else. There is also always the potential you might miss something in the moment – write everything down, and read it later. Trust me.

Giving a critique:

1. First and foremost, remember that a critique is NOT a personal attack. 

This goes both ways. It doesn’t matter if you love or hate the person whose work you are critiquing – utilizing critique as a way to attack an individual is absolutely unacceptable. Avoid using personal pronouns.  You are discussing the work, not the person.

2. Remain objective.

This is the hardest part. Everything in life is subjective – art, writing, music, etc. You aren’t going to love everything you encounter. Look at the piece through an objective lens: what do you see that is working well, and what do you see that isn’t? I guarantee that regardless of your personal taste in art, music, etc., you will be able to find something that works and something that doesn’t in every piece.

3. Avoid phrases such as “I like this” or “I hate this.” 

These phrases don’t help anybody. Knowing whether you like or dislike a piece doesn’t help the artist grow. Try using phrases like “this part of the piece isn’t working BECAUSE…” Always elaborate – explain why you think this. If you have suggestions, share them!  Be useful – think: “is this something that I would find beneficial in this position?”

4. Include the good. Actually – start with the good. 

This might sound a bit cliche, but I guarantee you can find something good in every piece. Critique and criticism aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s also beneficial for the artist to know what is working, so they can continue to build that part of their practice. Starting with the good is a great way to begin a critique – it keeps the tone friendly and encouraging.

Example:  “The technique you used here is really eye catching, and I find myself immediately drawn to the work because of it. However, I did notice that the bottom left corner looks a bit empty, and could maybe be re-worked to be more consistent with the rest of the piece.”

Versus: “The bottom left corner looks really empty, and doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the piece. Maybe if you had approached it more like that part at the top it would be more cohesive.”

These two critiques are essentially saying the same thing, but the tone in the first example is more encouraging. People will generally be more receptive to feedback if you acknowledge some of the successful elements first. A critique should be balanced. Try to acknowledge even amounts of what’s working, and what might not be.  Remember, though we strive to separate ourselves emotionally from our work, some advice can sting no matter how kindly it is delivered.

5. Know when it’s appropriate.

Sometimes you will be asked for feedback, other times you may not be asked, but may feel like you have something to add. If this is the case, always ask permission: “would you be open to some feedback?” If they say no, that’s okay. Not everyone is comfortable having their work critiqued.

Ultimately critique is about mutual respect – both critic and critiquee must remain objective and professional at all times. If you don’t like the feedback you receive, you don’t have to act on it. Always remember that you are critiquing (or being critiqued on) a piece, not a person. Use critique to your advantage to grow and develop your practice or business.

 


I originally published this piece for YYC Girl Gang – see the original article here.

Cover photo by Victoria Bilsborough via unsplash.

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