Potential Downsides to Too Much Critiquing?

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  • Pro SVS OG

    @jazeps-tenis I think the potential risk is due not to critique by itself but to how you react to critique. The more critique you receive the more you learn to distinguish the useful from the less useful and to read each one beyond the actual things that are being said to something that is technically and/or artistically relevant.
    When you put your work out there, it´s seen by hundreds or thousands of people and each will react in a different way. Because I consider myself a commercial artist I`d rather get the largest possible sampling of how people may react. For a fine artist, working for a limited number of collectors, things may be different - the own vision is probably more important than any external opinion.

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  • Pro SVS OG

    @jazeps-tenis I try to interpret critique in one of three possible ways.

    The person is telling me something that I already know and is just confirming that my hunch is right - that gives confidence that you can see your own weaknesses well.

    Or the person may be expressing her own opinion, like „that’s too cartoony“. That´s something that you can choose to ignore (there’s a market for any type of illustration) or use it as a barometer of where is your audience and where you should market yourself (I know for example that I`d be the totally wrong illustrator for something that needs to be very poetical and delicate but the right one, possibly, if you want something fun and colorful).

    Finally there’s the most important one which is also the trickiest one to interpret. It´s the people that point out your blind spots: weaknesses you’re not even aware of. Often such critique is offered at the wrong moment or by the wrong person and you cannot use it...that’s fine, because if you seek critique often and from knowledgeable people, they will point out the same things over and over again....until you start to listen and then to understand. That´s why is important to get critique often and by many different people. Some of my best teachers were the ones who kept telling me the same things over and over again on every piece I submitted.

    You don’t need to do anything in to a critique - just listen with an open mind and see if it resonates with you - if it tells you something you believe you need to know.

    And you cannot really be upset by any critique...because ultimately you can always choose to ignore it!

  • I've been asking for a lot of critiques recently and I've found it invaluable - I've gotten advice i simply wouldn't have thought of or at least it would have taken a lot longer to discover but now its in my arsenal.

    I'm pretty new to Illustration i'm trying to transition from a graphic/UX design background and in both fields being able to take critiques seems to be key part of of growing and requirement of the job (at least it has been for me), we will always have stakeholders, clients or an audience to cater too.

    Sure if you follow every critique indiscriminately your more than likely going to end up with a hot mess but we need to learn how to take critiques and how to NOT take critiques and the only way to do both its get lots of critiques and learn how to filter.

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  • SVS OG

    I think getting critiques is essential, and hard. Early on in school I had a hard time with them, but after awhile, and particularly after having a job where getting my worked critiqued was a regular thing, I came to have another attitude about them.

    I remember in highschool getting a painting I had started critiqued. We had a rule, like most, where you start by saying what was working, but for some reason that got skipped over and my classmates just really took apart the painting--the angle is weird, the drawing is inaccurate, etc. etc. When they finally stopped talking, my teacher finally said, "Well--I actually really like it! Its a great composition with an interesting angle. I'm excited to see what you do with it." (Well, not exact words of course, but that was the general idea 😉

    Well, she never got to see it because I just couldn't bring myself to finish the painting. Though my teachers comments probably should have meant more to me that my classmate's, those negative comments from my peers came back to me every time I looked back at that painting.

    My point here is that GOOD critiques don't rip into the art (or artist) that way. They are balanced, and offer compliments AND suggestions. I would argue that its hard to get too many GOOD critiques. Bad ones, though, its easy to get more than you need. People around the forum generally do a great job though, which is why I hang out here ;-).

    It was harder for me to generate a "thick skin" about self-initiated work than for images created by assignment. I was amazingly lucky to have a student job doing illustration work (not avaliable to many, I know... I lucked out!) and it was an amazing opportunity to just experiment and get the feel of creating something for someone else. The first few assignments having the critique was a bit hard, but then when I internalized the fact that it wasn't about ME, it was just about fulfilling the assignment I was being paid to do by the person in charge of paying me, I became much more detached.

    One strategy I used was, on the rare occasion where my supervisor requested a change that I didn't agree with, I would keep the original version for my portfolio while making a changed version to be used for work. I filled the assignment while keeping the image I liked. Done! One of the great advantages of working digitally.

    One of my professors told a funny story (OK this is slightly off topic, but kinda funny so I'll continue.) He was talking about how some Art Directors seem to feel the need to ALWAYS request some kind of change to the artwork, even if the painting was great. This was in the days before digital art, so there were paintings going back and forth for changes to be made. One day my professor's friend got fed up with a particular AD who seemed to feel like he wasn't getting his money's worth if he didn't require the illustrator to make at least one change to each painting. So, he painted a beautiful acrylic painting with everything just right, which he was sure had nothing in it the AD could object to. Then, using gouache, he added purple dog to the painting. He brought it in to the AD for critique, who performed exactly as predicted: "This painting looks great! I love everything except that purple dog. If you could just paint out that purple dog we'll be good to go." So the artist took the painting in another room, wiped out the purple dog with a wet rag, and brought it back to the AD. XD

    Which reminds me of another experience--sorry this is getting lengthy, this is my last thought I swear! A few months ago I was lucky enough to have one of my illustrations critiqued by @Will-Terry. Its a piece I had posted on the forums while I created it in order to get feedback and make it as good as I could. He gave several suggestions for improvement of the piece, which I applied as well as I could. The thing is, some people who had critiqued the original actually liked the first piece better, without the suggested changes. Personally, I feel like they are two different "good" versions, and there are arguments to be made for both. I wrote a blog post with my thoughts and the images, as well as the video with the critique, if you are curious: http://www.sarahluann.com/blog/april-20th-2017

    Sorry for my lengthy rambling thoughts, hopefully there is something interesting/helpful here!

  • SVS OG

    @sarah-luann I love the purple dog story. I'm a minister in my real job and that is definitely going to make it into a sermon.

  • Pro SVS OG

    @sarah-luann This is very insightful and great stories here. The „sandwich“ method of critique is what I learnt and we applied at school (yes, including most teachers): say first what works, then what needs improvement and conclude with a word of encouragement. Seems formulaic, but works in that it avoids needlessly destructive critique as well as bland words of approval. I’ve tried for years to teach it to my creative directors at work, but with little success :-))

    Having worked as AD (in advertisement and editorial) for more years than I’ve worked as illustrator, I feel the need to defend the ADs - in the spirit of „seek first to understand and then to be understood“.

    ADs don’t generally feel the need to ALWAYS request changes, because ADs are normally under pressure of unmovable deadlines and are managing dozens of projects at once. Asking for changes creates work for them and delays the final art, so it´s always done for a reason.
    The reasons are not generally communicated to the artist, though, so he/she may feel the changes are arbitrary and/or make the art worse. Some of the reasons that may lead to weird change requests can be:

    • The text in the chosen or imposed layout just does not fit. Sometimes the text cannot be moved nor made smaller because of restrictions from brand guidelines or print size or a million others;

    • One or more members of the editorial team have objections to the art. The AD is often not the ultimate or the sole decision maker and has to interpret and balance the opinion of several other people, most of which are neither artists nor have any training or sensibility for art. Some of these opinions come from people that cannot be ignored (like the one who is paying the bills, for example);

    • The art has been shown to a sample audience group (often done in advertising) and the results have been problematic. In one recent example I`m working on right now the artist made a beautiful picture of a person carried by an helium balloon out of a mass of dark and ominous clouds into the sunny sky. The brief called for showing „facing and solving difficulties through empowerement and self-training“. Everybody in the editorial team loved the art.
      Then one member of a test audience said it reminded him of dying and going to Heaven. And that was the death of this image....

    • The art in itself is beautiful but just doesn’t have the right tone for the article or the campaign (too sad, too happy, too poetic, too funny...you name it);

    • The colors clash with the brand colors (in advertisement or for websites) and need tweaking or changing completely.

    From all I`ve seen, children books illustration is handled in a waaaaay less controlling and nit-picky way as editorial or advertisement. The changes I’ve been asked to do on my art have been reasonable, well explained and asked politely and respectfully. One more reason to work as children illustrator (it also avoids unpleasant conflicts of interest with my day job!).

    I hope this gives a bit of insight in the thinking of an AD, even though it refers to a different area of illustration. In general, I think it helps to see yourself as a member of a team together with the AD, editor, designer or the writer or the client, everybody working to make the best possible book (or other product). Critique in this context is most likely not arbitrary, even though it may seem so....

  • @jazeps-tenis I think it is safe to say that good critiques have accelerated my artistic growth far past it could have if I was working without them. In art school you also have no choice, and if you are working in a commercial field, you have to learn to take them and use them. Also, having a group critique of people sitting around discussing work is truly invaluable and I almost always learn more from observing other people get critiqued and learning how to critique other's work than from my own critique or working alone. Critiques are part of how an artist can see the application and implications of their work.

    Often, we get into a single-mind when creating our work and don't see that things aren't working. We become too stubborn to change them. We forget that we are trying to communicate something to other people, and if they can't see it, then have we succeeded?

    If you don't mind, I will challenge your points:

    1. If you can't see that something is a problem, then how can you fix it? Also, sometimes it's better not to reinvent the wheel; if someone can help find a solution, why struggle for no reason?

    2. Try a group critique in a college class 😉 But in all seriousness, it is supremely helpful to hear how different people perceive your work, even if not all of it is 'actionable'. The more critique you get and the more you give, the less this becomes a problem. Also, certain voices are stronger and clearer. Learn to listen to those ones.

    3. That's true, but a good critique is mostly objective. An artist should learn how to discern which critiques are worth listening to, just like when taking advice in daily life.

    4. Truthfully, the most valuable critiques usually suggest cutting unnecessary bloat out, simplifying composition, focusing on the things that will tell the story better, seeking clarity, and pointing out weaknesses in the scaffolding of an image rather than suggesting someone polish a turd for the sake of it.

    5. It's true that it feels like a piece can be improved practically infinitely, but an artist needs to learn to decide that for themselves. Critiques are not about other people telling you what to do. That's ultimately up to the individual artist.

    6. I don't quite understand this statement...do you mean people complimenting without critique? Because a compliment is not actually a critique. Critique is more about describing how and why something works or does not work. A compliment is simply someone stating that they like something. If things are pointed out that need to be fixed or worked on the artist would do well to listen closely.

    Something that is beaten into our heads at school is that critiques are not personal. Good or bad. They are about improving the work. We usually have a full class crit at the end of the project, but during the project we frequently ask the opinion of people we trust, and the instructor gives us feedback throughout the process. An artist needs to learn how to actually receive a crit properly as well in order to make their art better, but especially in a commercial industry where there is eventually a customer/consumer. Because whether you like it or not, those people will be critiquing you with their hard-earned cash.

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  • SVS OG

    @jazeps-tenis Some of the pitfalls you mention resonate with me. Sometimes when I get critiques that I feel radically improve my work, particularly if that person provides a draw-over, I worry that I might never be able to solve that particular issue again on my own. To combat that worry, I really try to understand and remember the lessons from those helpful critiques for future works.

    Ultimately, the reasons I submit my work for critiques is to learn something new, get a fresh or different perspective, and level up. With time and experience, the best critiques will naturally begin to inform your work. As the artist, you must decide which critiques are helpful.

    Regarding working as a children's book illustrator or commercial artist, you usually will have to work with an art director, whose notes will be like critiques of your work. Like a critique, you might disagree, but there would have to be a discussion. In a way, asking for critiques from others as you develop your skill is a way of training for that professional collaboration.

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  • @jazeps-tenis I understand where you are coming from. Your point of view is definitely valid. If you are doing art more for personal edification and not as a career, then critiques might not be as important. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but for you it seems that the struggle of figuring it out yourself and the journey of that might be as important and fulfilling for you as the making of the art. For me, the experience of the viewer consuming my work is just as important to me (if not more!) as my experience creating it, so critiquing is vital. Communication of ideas and emotions is what motivates me and is my passion, so anything that allows me to communicate to the viewer better is an asset for me.

    Golden-age Illustrators definitely had their fair share of critiques and a social culture. Many attended the Art Students League and/or Howard Pyle's Brandywine School, were part of other artist colonies and communities, or had apprenticeships under other illustrators and had a rigorous education with constant feedback. And after their formal education, many corresponded with and shared work with their contemporaries throughout their lives after leaving school as well, even if they were working rather solitarily. It's an amazing period to study because the way illustration was taught and treated culturally was very different than it is now.

    Thanks for making the original post! I think this is a great discussion!

  • SVS OG

    @jazeps-tenis ooh, you’re hitting awfully close to the whole “fine art vs illustration” tension with your points. Which isn’t to say that they are not good points, but since you brought it up I think we might as well go a bit deeper. 😉

    On the one hand, you have the fine artist. This artist has a message, or just a desire to create, and makes their art the way they want because they are an artist. And maybe someone likes it and pays for it after the fact, but the important thing is that the artist was true to their art.

    Then you have your commercial illustrator. They have skills for sale. People in need of those skills offer money to get the images they want. The illustrator may or may not enjoy what they’re creating, but the important thing is that they’re being paid.

    And then there is the whole range of in-between and exceptions, so you can think of it as a spectrum if you like. So maybe for someone who is closer to the Fine Art side would be less concerned about critique. They’re in it for the art and the act of creation, receiving approval in the form of money (or any other form for that matter) is secondary. Those aiming more toward the commercial illustration side, however, need that critique, because approval, specifically in the form of money (eventually, hopefully 😉) is part of what they are “in it” for.

    Being more toward one side or the other isn’t inherently good or bad. It’s just a different reason for developing a similar skill set. These classes/forums tend to appeal more to people aiming to become commercial illustrators, thus the general support of critiques.

    Which isnt to say that there isn’t, unfortunately, some tension now and then between the two sides, but that is a whole ‘nuther debate that I'm not ready to get into.

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