The Art of Critique - The Critique of Art [Part II - Receiving Critique]

April 7, 2007 4:51 pm

Welcome to the second part of this article on giving and receiving constructive criticism. If you missed the first part, you can find it here.

Part 2: Receiving Critique

You might think that accepting critique would be as easy as falling off a log. After all, that's what we're here for, right? I want to learn and grow! Come on, tell me what you think, I can take it!… Right.

No matter how much we want to improve, no matter how much we long for advice from those more experienced, receiving negative feedback can be a painful process. When you put your heart and soul into an image, it can sometimes feel very crushing when you realise that your vision just didn't make it for someone else.

Here are three steps to help you receive the best feedback and make use of it to improve your images.

~Step 1 - Mentally prepare yourself

Some images are so long in the making that they get inside our hearts and make it impossible for us to see them clearly. Try to take a step back and see the image objectively.

  • Imagine the image belongs to someone else, and you're critiquing it. What areas for improvement can you see? What do you feel works best?
  • Don't take it personally! Bear in mind at all times that you're inviting comments on the image, not on yourself. The comments you receive will be talking about your picture, not your personality or qualities as a human being!
  • Remember that the aim of critique is to help you improve (either this specific image, or your skills in general.) Those commenting are trying to help you in that goal.

Now… if you feel mentally and emotionally ready, post your image.

~Step 2 - What critique do you want?

It can be hard when critiquing an image to know where to start or what pointers to give. This is where the "notes" section can help both you and your audience.

When posting your notes, include information on anything you feel is relevant. Here are some example questions which you might ask yourself:

  • What application was the image rendered in?
  • Which elements did you create yourself? Are you using all props, or did you model and texture the items?
  • Did you add any postwork (2D) to your image? If so, what did this involve?
  • What gave you trouble with this image? Did you struggle with clothing the character, for example, or posing the hands?
  • What do you feel you got right? (Lighting, expressions, materials?)
  • What was your intention with the image? Did you want to convey a feeling or evoke a certain mood? Are you telling a story?

And the most important question:

What do you most want help with?

This final question is the biggest step to getting useful feedback. People out there want to help, so pointing them in the right direction is key. If you're doing a test render of a pose you've created, you don't need 20 people giving you feedback on the lighting!

Here's an example of how the notes might look:

"This is a skin texture and shader that I've put together with this head morph. I made the morph in Hexagon. The render is straight out of Poser 7, no postwork. I'm pretty happy with the skin in general but not sure about the facial hair. I've tried bump mapping around the beard area but I'm not sure if it's right. Any feedback on the skin, nodes, or morph is appreciated!"

Remember - the more specific you are, the more specific (and therefore useful) the criqitues will be.

~Step 3 - Accepting and Acting on Critique

OK, so you're mentally prepared and your image is out there with your specific critique requests.

Now, hopefully we will see a nice flood of useful feedback coming in. Ooh, here come some ebots! Let's go and see what comments have been left…

"You said you were going for a sad and melancholy feel, but the model's expression doesn't mirror that. She looks a little blank and wooden."

WHAT?! What do you mean, wooden? I spent a good two minutes on that expression!

"Why is there a giant pink cartoon bunny in the background? It's a little distracting and doesn't fit a sad theme at all."

HEY! That bunny is symbolic of, of, of, her inner torment! And it's pink because it's making a statement on, errr, gender conditioning! What do you know anyway, you… you critic!

Woah, stop right there! I think we've forgotten step one. Remember, don't take it personally! These people are critiquing the picture, not you, nor your intentions or emotions. Divorce your feelings as much as you can, and read through again.

(Tip: Pretend that the picture is by someone else and you're going to be feeding back all the critiques to them. Rephrase the critiques as if you were providing them with a summary of feedback. "In general, the commenters liked the lighting and pose. Some felt that the expression could use a bit more life. The majority felt that the pink bunny was a distraction. Several people were very complimentary about your handling of shadows.")

Remember, the comments made are to help you improve. Your harshest critic can be your greatest friend, if your honest goal is to improve your work as much as possible. Start reading with the assumption that all the commenters want to help as much as possible (giving critiques is hard and time-consuming - so this will be true for a huge majority of the time). When reading through, don't ascribe tones of voice and meanings that aren't there.

If someone has given a negative critique, but it's too vague to be of use, don't be afraid to follow up with a site mail. Keep it friendly and polite, something like this:

"Hi there,

Thanks for commenting on my recent work, "Girl with Pink Bunny: The Inneffable Sadness of Being."
[give the url]

I read your comment with interest and was wondering if I could get some more details? You mentioned that the lighting "didn't work for you" - did you feel it was too dark? Too washed out? The wrong colour?

Any help would be greatly appreciated, as I am always looking to improve my work.

Kind regards,

If several people are asking the same question, edit the notes to give the answer. Further critiques will be able to go further. If the question is paramount to the critique, you might drop the commenter(s) a mail answering the question and asking them to review the image again in light of the answer.

Try to separate personal opinions from technical critique. There's a difference between someone saying that they don't like the model's makeup, and that the model's feet are buried in the ground plane. The first is a matter of personal taste. The second is something that can and should definitely be fixed.

If you're going to remake the image with the critique tips incorporated, decide how you're going to do it. Do you want to edit the image? If you do this, future visitors won't understand what the first commenters were talking about. On the other hand, it avoids having an embarrassing mistake in your gallery! You could also consider uploading as a new image, and giving a link in the notes to the original version, or (depending on the dimensions of your image) pasting the new version above or below the original. Speaking personally, I love to see how an image has developed in response to feedback, so I favour the latter two methods. It can also be interesting for you to go back to in future and see how much you've grown as an artist.

One final point - when all is said and done, you are in control of the image. You don't have to make changes in response to criticism - that's your choice. Sometimes images are personal and have a meaning beyond that which the outside world can understand. That final decision on whether and what to edit belongs only with you, the artist.

Come and join the "Critique Club" [in the Poser Forum] - a group of like-minded artists who have joined together to give and receive honest criticism. This is open to all artists.

All supporting images are copyright, and cannot be
copied, printed, or reproduced in any manner without written permission from the artist.

Karen Janes [karen1573] is an artist, writer, and vendor on Renderosity. She is also Moderator in the Poser and Copyright Laws and Ethical Standards forums, as well as serving as a Senior MarketPlace Tester.

April 9, 2007

Article Comments

giorgio_2004 ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 10 April 2007

Great article, Karen! Bravissima! (And that giant pink cartoon bunny was the best part of the picture! Don't dare to critique it again, understood?) ^_^

Zarat ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 10 April 2007

Great work. Thanks. :)

thebasstard ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 10 April 2007

Good article! Too few are able to give and take constructive criticism right. Its understandable, because for most of us here making images is a hobby for joy and distraction, but when I criticize I dont do it to spoil an image. I just think everybody wants to improve.

tnekkralc1956 ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 10 April 2007

In my opinion!... you are a fine woman. You offer light. Need more people like you in my life.

Onslow ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 11 April 2007

A well written useful guide - thanks.

Scott2753 ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 11 April 2007

Thank you for a wonderful article. I have met many on Renderosity who will almost give you the shirt off their backs to help another artist, only a very few have left what I would consider "mean unhelpful comments". Thank you again!

fluffgirl ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 11 April 2007

too many people and too many opinions..who is right and who is wrong...most painter that we regard as great like Micheal Angelo was criticize in his time...i think art is personal it,s for yourself..if you like,s enough and don't forget to put it on line so i can,t see it too... and I love any giant pink bunnies...

Shimuzu ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 12 April 2007

I think it is important to give positive criticism, say what's wrong and praise what's right. I had a crit that went horribly wrong one time which left me devasted! The crit was from a moderator (from a well known site) who pretty much said that I was wasting my time, and that I have no talent. I think that's a harsh and personal comment. Not everyone is as talented than the next, but we should encourage everyone to have a creative outlet.

enigmaticredfrog ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 12 April 2007

I think a good point is if you are offering critique don't push your own program on others, or knock what they are using. I think those are the comments that ruffle my feathers the most. Even though I don't see it as much here as on other sites I hate it when someone says it would have looked better in such in such program... or you could have rendered it ten times faster using this program. Great article thanks for writing and sharing it.

TwoPynts ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 12 April 2007

Beware the pink bunny...

Ace10 ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 12 April 2007

I like the comments that are made about my work,both good and bad,At least someone has taken the time to look.Sometimes you get all wound up in your self importance and a hard comment can bring you down to earth and make you stand back .I know it happened to me and I thanked the person for being straight. Worth while article,well writen.Thanks

Tablesaw ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 12 April 2007

I think we have some really foolish people here at Renderosity that wouldn't know how to give constructive criticism anyways. They are happiest fluttering about blowing kisses. On the other hand there are many here that understand the significance and will take some time (I stress the word time) to study an image and critiqe it accordingly. Nothing makes me feel quite as good as twenty-five words strung together to let me know that they were honestly there. Oh... I sense the moderator in you Karen.

ARTWITHIN ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 14 April 2007

It is helpful to my own development in giving critiques if I look for what I like and point that out in my comments before stating what I have a problem with. Then, if I want to truly help someone grow, I will make a suggestion or two of how to correct the problem. Just telling someone what you don't like is not helpful to someone who is not knowledgeable in what the need to do. Sometimes we have to take some extra time to find the help this person needs and refer them to it. What else could a sincere & helpful critique be expected to provide?

surreality ( posted at 12:00AM Sun, 15 April 2007

This and the previous installment in this series are great. Giving and accepting critiques is one of the very first things they sat us down and drilled into us in art school, and it's sometimes easy to forget that not everyone has been lucky enough to have that same experience. It's wonderful to see the same ideas expressed here so clearly -- I think (and hope) it will be very helpful. Thank you!

Varnayrah ( posted at 12:00AM Fri, 11 May 2007

Thank you very much for that article. In the recent past I stumbled quite often over critics taken personally when I just tried to help - but I also fidn it very hard sometimes to recieve critique without taking it bad. Strangely, that effect5s the pictures I am not quit happy with more than those which I think came out really good gg

Lord_syphex ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 02 August 2007

I am glad there is now a critique gallery and forum. I simply couldn't keep up with all the ebots the other way.

watchman2005 ( posted at 12:00AM Mon, 06 August 2007

Hopefully this sort of forum should help in confidence building when it is done the right way. Confidence in art as in life does have to be nurtured and everyone at some time needs encouragement. Especially for those who are discovering the various art forms for the first time. Good luck with this!