Friday, May 17, 2019

The Art of Receiving Critiques

I was thinking about this the other day. What works for critiques? I'm lucky to have been submitting pieces I've written and artwork I've made since I was relatively young. Or have taken art classes where critiques were an important part.  Plus, I like to improve. But if one hasn't been involved in spaces where critiques are done or haven't been shown how to do them well--it can be a problem when faced with it.
I tried to find a picture of younger me with a piece of art---so here I am getting judged at equitation instead.
Being able to give and receive critiques are separate skill sets for artists to have. Or just for people in general. The most important one to have is the ability to receive critiques. Who wants to hear they're wrong? No one! But it takes skill and maturity to understand the benefits of putting yourself on stage. If you want to be a better finish work artist, sculptor, prop maker, tack maker, or performance shower, you have to be able to receive critiques. If not you will stagnate. And in a hobby where the bar of excellence continues to rise, not improving is the best way to insure frustration.

Art is subjective. Everyone sees a different object or finds a different meaning to a piece.

picture source
With art being subjective, this means that every voice is not to be heeded.
Everyone has a right to state their opinion, but that doesn't mean that every opinion is valuable. 
One more time. Everyone has a right to state their opinion, but that doesn't mean that every opinion is valuable. With model horses, look to the experts, the people with more knowledge than you. Experts can be the creators or people who have studied. If you want to sculpt anatomically correct horses? Look at the sculptors that do it well. If you want to make tack? Look at the tack makers that create what you aspire to make. For performance showing, look to the people who consistently do well. Groups filled with knowledgeable people exist. Plenty of Facebook groups are devoted to different parts of the hobby so there's something for everyone. And many groups are filled with knowledgeable people. Critiques only help you if it lines up with your end goal. These are the opinions you should listen to.

I'm going to be blunt. There is a hierarchy of knowledge and everyone's opinion does not fall on the same spot of the pyramid. Some people do have more knowledge. Some people do have more experience. Some people gather skills and understanding faster than others and excel at the task ahead. Therefore what they say should carry more weight than someone who knows less. Time involved doesn't equal knowledge gathered either. This doesn’t mean the less knowledgeable person has some character flaw or something that is set permanently against them. It means as it sounds—knowledge is not an innate skill and it is something for you to work on. And the experienced and the most knowledgeable have worked hard to obtain it.

But how do you respond to critiques given to you? First, separate yourself from the piece you want opinions on. If that means you have to let it sit for a few days or weeks to allow yourself to separate yourself--do it. There's no shame in that.
So you've built a thick skin and have decided to post a picture of something you're working on. People have taken time to respond.
Let's use an old custom I started years ago (and won't ever finish :p ). 
Imaginary hobby people have responded and given critiques such as:
Nice start! One thing to fix would be the neck length. *insert intelligent horse anatomy muscle talk*

One part that needs fixing is the crack where the head meets the neck. *insert talk of apoxie, super glue, and baking soda*

I think the neck needs turned upside down and be an inch longer. Also don't forget that horses have two heads. 

In the beginning of the post I mentioned one should look to the experts. This was supposed to be a realistic custom. The first two comments are things to be considered. The last one you can scroll past. 
How do you respond? Say thank you, and ask more questions if something isn't clear to you. 

Things to remember when receiving a critique: 

Critiques are not a knock on your character. So don't take them personally. If someone says there's something to fix--they aren't saying you're a terrible human. So don't equate the two. 

Be grateful, even if it isn't what you wanted to hear. The piece you've posted may have taken weeks or years to set up or make. Maybe this is the best you've ever done and you can't imagine getting better. The people who critique only see the product, not the process. Be humble when you receive advice and use it as you see fit. But if 24 out of 25 people say to fix a section and you puff out your chest and say Why would I ever listen to such stupid advice? Clearly I'm the most expert of experts, maybe hold off clicking post the next time. Don't waste people's time if you weren't going to listen in the first place. 
Don't be a jerk. Don't go on the defensive. Listen. People took their time to respond to you. Don't delete the thread so people with similar questions can not read it in the future. It'll make people less likely to give detailed responses next time.

Remember in the end that the creation you've finished is still yours. You can take and use critiques as you see fit. But knowledge is power, and when knowledgeable people take time to give you pointers, sometimes it's better to listen.

Does anyone have any tips for people seeking critiques? Feel free to post them below!
Next up will be the how to give critiques post.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I wrote few posts on this a while ago - more geared towards art school in general but the tips can be applied in general too -

  3. I would say don't respond to critiques you view as negative right away. I know I can be a little defensive of my work even if I really want tips on how to improve. So when someone gives me a critique I feel is stupid or unfair, I just wait a day or two and then look at it again. Having time to mull it over, consider the tone, and consider the validity of it usually causes me to change my initial opinion and allows my to respond more rationally. Comments I might have thought were overly harsh might actually be just what I needed to point out what needs improved.