Saturday, 21 August 2010

Giving a critique to an artist

Sometimes you'll get requests for critiques, or even have someone give you one (whether you want it or not). So I thought I'd write a quick post on my thoughts about painting critiques (giving and receiving).

  • The first point of etiquette - don't offer a critique if the artist has specifically said 'no critiques'. It's the quickest way to get added to that artist's dislike list. There are many reasons why an artist may not want a critique: it may have been done as a commission and they were working to spec or within tight deadlines, it may have been an experiment/ speedpaint/ never intended as a refined, finished piece, or they may just be having a crappy day and don't want someone to point out all the flaws they already can see in their own piece. And yes, artists do critique their own pieces - they don't always need someone else telling them what they can clearly see!
  • Even when an artist has asked for a critique, don't take it to heart if the artist goes off their rocker at you (sadly I have seen all out flame wars start over critiques). If it's in a forum specifically designed for critiquing (complete with levels such as 'don't hold back' or 'be gentle') then it's easier to define what the artist is looking for. But when it's on a personal blog or in an open forum, maybe see if they do this kind of thing a lot and how they take feedback. Some people aren't really asking for a critique and will take it badly - even when you are kind.
  • When you give a critique, do it with the intention of helping them improve. Offer suggestions, ask questions as to why they painted something in a particular way, point out areas that need to be worked on. There's a term called the 'hamburger critique' - basically it's about always following a negative with a positive (the negative being the meat between the two pieces of bun).
  • Ask before doing a paintover or a redline - there can be some legal and ethical questions when someone else adds their 'hand' to a painting. And some artists just don't like redlines (personally, I think they are great as I think visually)
  • Watch the language. You can tell someone that you dislike an area of the painting, or something looks wrong without being mean. State the problem, keep emotional words out of it. 'The leg looks horrible' has a vastly different meaning to 'There's a problem with the character's leg - I think it may be because...". 
  • Words can hurt. Try to avoid words like ugly, horrible, crap ... you get the picture. These are emotive words - the kind that if you were talking to the artist in person would have them in tears, or punching your lights out :) If you can't say it to them in person, then maybe you shouldn't say it online.
  • Just because you offer a critique, don't expect the artist to heed your advice. There may be reasons why they did something in a particular way or with a particular colour - and considering it's their painting, they have the right to ignore your advice. Even if they don't use it, they may think about your comments for a future painting - so your words are important even if they don't appear to be acted upon.
  • It's alright to ask about the concept, but just remember that it's an interpretation. The artist is not asking for example whether you think Morgan Le Fay was a goddess, fairy or chick with really cool clothes. The painting is their vision and just because it doesn't gel with your interpretation doesn't make it bad. However, you could ask about whether the colour scheme or costumes were influenced by a particular school of thought. Sometimes concept can influence colour choices, textures and symbols, and can help reinforce questionable areas of a painting.
  • Don't critique the subject matter - if you think that all angels should be painted with white wings, that's not a critique - that's a personal opinion. It doesn't help the artist. But if you think that white wings would better help reinforce that the angel is a pure being then that is a critique.
  •  Be careful if you are comparing an artist to another artist. It can come across as you suggesting the artist is a copycat. Of course there are some cases where the artist has taken influence - but mostly they tend to mention it (either in comments about inspiration or favourite authors). And there are cases where both artists have unwittingly worked from the same stock image or just had very similar ideas.
  • Read the comments the artist has posted with the painting - and read the context of where it's posted. Telling the artist they need to work on the hands when they've stated in their own comments they need to work on the hands tells the artist you can't read!
  • Be familiar with painting terms - especially with digital art. Calling something a paintover when it's a painting is about the highest form of insult you can manage. Photo manipulation, paintover, 3D render and digital painting are all completely different techniques. It can be seen as a backhanded compliment if you think a painting looks like a photo, but more often than not it insinuates the artist has cheated in some method or used what could be seen as short cuts.
  • If there are lots of responses already, at least have a quick flick through to see whether what you've got to say has already been said. Sure, saying the same thing will reinforce the issue, but telling someone three times that their lighting is off just gets annoying after the first few times
  • It's also alright to disagree with comments by others. A critique is subjective.
  • And as mother always said, if you've got nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.