A POINT OF VIEW: Critiques — Good or Bad?
by Nancy Walters, NIADA Artist
What I’m about to say has to be tempered with the knowledge
that, while scathing comments might cause
me temporary depression, I’m not devastated by them.
It’s been over 30 years since I realized such comments
were going to be a part of my life as long as I continued
in art, so I had best learn to make use of them.
Now, let’s get this said: I have never made a perfect doll
and although I’ve come close a few times, I have never
even done my best! This little in-equilibrium is a big motivator
for me. If I ever did a doll I thought was perfect, I
would probably never do another; however, the desire
to create a perfect doll pushes me on.
Sometimes I get stuck in a kind of linear thinking and
can’t figure out what to do next. My vision is incomplete.
When I’m lucky, there will be time to put the doll aside
and figure it out or, when pushed, a couple of trusted
people will give honest (not necessarily kind) opinions
and suggestions. While I seldom use these tips exactly
as made, they often lead to solutions.
Another valuable interaction is when I get too close to a
subject and can’t evaluate it; I send pictures to those who
will proffer honest, helpful comments. It does happen that
some things will be just plain wrong for what I’m trying to
accomplish. For example, an artist friend told me the neck
on a quasi-realistic doll was too thin, so I started studying
necks. Since then, I have purposely done dolls with
thin necks — more stylistic, elongated dolls — and the
necks worked. Eventually, I would have figured out what
bothered me about the dolls with too-thin necks, but that
critique sure saved a lot of time and effort.
Truth is, a critique is only as worthwhile as the expertise
of the critic(s). A comparison can be made between those
talented artists who can teach vs. those who cannot. We
find excellent artists who are unable to communicate a
positive critique and non-artists who can. Needless to
say, the best critic is a person well versed in a particular
category who is able to evaluate works impartially, then
comment positively and knowledgeably. In my opinion, it
is always worth taking the chance that you might encounter
such a person. And, it is my experience that even a
mediocre critique can provide helpful information.
a Good Critique?
From my experiences on both sides of this situation,
I think a good critique will:
1. Be honest. Without constructive criticism, the effort
is useless. Everyone can do something better. However,
honesty does not have to be brutal.
2. Offer solutions. When something is not good,
the comments should address why and what will make
it better. Example: Not “bad or inappropriate costume.”
Instead, for a realistic doll, “try lighter weight fabrics
with smaller scale pattern.” And for an abstract doll,
“try some variety in texture.”
3. Note strengths. Point out what is well done or,
at the very least, what shows promise. It is defeating
the purpose of a critique for the person to leave with the
feeling that nothing was well done.
4. Not be judgmental. Instead of noting only “right”
or “wrong,” be helpful with, “it looks like you’re trying to accomplish
such-and-such, so consider this or that technique.”
5. Allow for interaction. When critiques are written, both parties
need to allow time for a discussion to clarify comments.
What’s Your Purpose?
I can categorize most of the comments I’ve received in
(1) I already knew that! (2) Why didn’t I see/think of that? (3) Huh? (4) You are out of your mind!
Over time, I have understood No. 3 and come to agree
with No. 4. Much of the feedback has proven useful in
the long run — but by no means all of it!
If you enter a critique looking only for your ego to be
stroked, I advise against asking for comments from serious
artists, teenage children, or an angry spouse.
And, when receiving negative comments, consider the
source: Do you respect the standard of work that artist
does? Evaluate the comments on that basis and file it
away for later reflection. Ask for other opinions, then compare
any negatives. Are they universal or just one point of
view? Seriously review the universal comments.
Don’t take negative statements personally. Some people
mistakenly think to critique means pointing out only what
is wrong, so don’t stress out because of such misguided
notions. If you get a really nit-picky critique, it might be a
compliment in disguise because the critic could not find
anything wrong. Use what you can from a critique and
set aside the rest. It might come clear to you one day
or, possibly, never. Hopefully, the experience will bring
about something for future benefit.
Well-intentioned critiques will be
helpful and the bad ones (those
not useful) will be a total waste.
The good ones can provide tips
and information that will move
your skills a long way in a short
time. As an artist who occasionally
flounders and constantly
strives to improve, I must, on
balance, endorse critiques as
beneficial. — NW
Reprint from NIADA ArtForm -- Volume 2 / Issue 4 / Summer 2001