Raise your hand if you’ve ever had your creative work critiqued. Now raise your hand if you enjoyed the experience. Chances are, your critique experiences weren’t very pleasant. The sad reality of the creative world is the critique process is often far more painful than productive. We offer up our latest creations for constructive advice, only to receive criticism and condemnation in return. A friend of mine experienced this very thing not long ago. What should have been constructive critique from an expert in her field turned out to be vague commentary and veiled insults. Her experience is all to common.
All these bad critiques beg the question: how can we make creative critique into a productive, and even positive, process? Good critique begins with good training. Most people critique as they were critiqued, with a greater focus on criticism than constructiveness. Learning how to offer constructive commentary is key to delivering useful creative critiques. This excerpt from the Bright Ideas book offers advice on how to give and receive quality creative critiques:
Any true critique should create one or all of the following for the recipient:
We have all experienced moments of utter creative blindness in the midst of a project. We may know that something is wrong, but we are at a loss to correct the issue ourselves. . .A true critique in these moments enables us to see our strengths and weaknesses in a clearer light. . .Neither the strength nor the weakness is weighed heavier than the other. In fact, they may be presented simultaneously, allowing us to accurately see what is wrong and what is right. Armed with a clearer understanding of our true skill level, we are able to proceed more effectively towards a solution.
Even if we can see our true skill level, we may feel as if we cannot break out of our present state. We can see the issues, but we find ourselves continuously confined by them. Thankfully, true critique. . .shows us ways to move beyond the present block. The critique giver can see what we can’t, and their perspective enables them to clear away the confusion that blocks us from getting out.
The understanding of our skills and issues is meaningless if we lack the resources to change the situation. . . A good critique should offer you the tools you need to make your creative ideas come to life. However, this doesn’t mean the critique giver does the work for you. Like the proverb about teaching a man to fish, this kind of critique teaches you how to provide for yourself.
There is nothing more draining than a creative problem that cannot be solved. The longer the problem lasts, the more we doubt our skills and creative ability. . .This is the moment when good critique is needed most. The foundation of all critique is the belief that you can become better than you are right now. The best critiques energize you to keep pressing forward by making you believe in yourself and your abilities once more.
Understanding these features helps both the critique giver and the recipient. Givers learn how best to present their thoughts and ideas, and recipients understand what to expect from the process. Knowing what to expect empowers you to find the constructive parts of even difficult critiques. Instead of condemnation, critiques should offer hope and encouragement. To quote the book once more, “A properly rendered critique should leave you with more hope than angst. You should walk away with a clearer picture of where you are as an artist in the present moment, and a stronger conviction about the artist you are becoming.” If your critique experience leaves you feeling discouraged, belittled or condemned, then throw it out.
Sarah is the co-founder of Bright Ideas, a designer by trade, and an artist by passionate choice. She was born and raised in South, and delights in sharing Southern culture with anyone who cares to learn. Sarah collects creative hobbies; when she isn’t making art, you can usually find her on the dance floor. Follow her creative adventures on Instagram and Twitter!