Monday, April 27, 2015

Monday Musings (On Being Kind)

My friends who write, photograph, paint, or dance have no doubt considered the art and value of constructive criticism when it comes to evaluating their creative output.  CC can move an artist to the next level of honest and precise expression.  But what, exactly, is creative criticism?  Especially on a medium such as Face book or web sites.  So much gets lost in translation on electronic formats.  Misunderstandings are commonplace. 

My first rule on electronic formats is: be kind.  There is such negativity and cruelty already in the world.  We don't need to perpetuate it.  Why bother?  Can you say what you need to say and be kind at the same time?  My belief is you can.  And you should.  And if you have to ask why you should, then perhaps you ought to be holding your tongue.

Creative types are often times very emotional and sensitive people.  We tend to wear our hearts on our sleeve.  We put our work out into the world and release it from the deepest places in ourselves.  If the criticism that comes back to us is personal, it feels like an egregious attack. 

My question to the person who is the critic is:  does it move the conversation of artist expression forward?  Is it focused on the execution, the artistic intent, the successful or unsuccessful translation of the idea into an expression?

I am a member of a few photography sites on Face book.  The intent is to share our work and to receive constructive feedback so that we might improve our technique or ideas.  The upside is you are able to receive varied viewpoints from all kinds of artists.  The downside is you are able to receive varied viewpoints from all kinds of artists.  Double edged sword, ain't it?

If the person providing the feedback is not skillful, or kind (two different things) then there is no purpose to the exercise. When I have very negative feedback on a piece of work, I often do not comment unless I am meticulous about my intent and my skill.  Constructive criticsm requires skill and a thorough grasp of the technical language as it relates to the medium.

As an artist, I welcome CC.  I crave it, actually.  If I am not open to it then I shouldn't be sharing my work in a public forum.  Unless I get some satisfaction out of having my vision eviserated.  I am of the opinion that any artist worth her salt uses CC as a useful tool.  Negative and personal comments serve no purpose and defeat the goal of coming together as fellow artists to advance our vision.  As an artist, I know, I feel the difference between skillful and unskillful critique.

Read this and please provide feedback.  And remember, be kind.


  1. Interesting, Tara. I never think about commenting negatively on someone's art. I guess it's because I only respond to art when it moves me. When it doesn't move me, I don't say anything. I don't know enough to constructively criticize someone's style, mode, lighting, subject matter, etc. I'm not even sure if I did know more about the mechanics of artistry, I would even say anything. I always assume that people are putting out the stuff they like. It may not move me, but that's not a measure of someone's art. Or is it?

    1. speaking for my own work, yes, i put it out there because I like it. If I am specifically looking for critique on certain sites, I will ask for critique. Other than that, I expect that if it moves someone they will say so. If not, no harm no foul. Or if they don't "get it" that's also a legitimate question even by a casual viewer. Being able to CC is a skill that, in my experience, is learned over many years and much experience. It's part of the process of developing one's vision.

  2. Interesting subject. For me, the problems with critiques are that we are offering what seems right to our eye and way of thinking. In addition, it is often hard to evaluate a new way of approaching things. What seems strange to us today might seem wonderful tomorrow when we get used to it.

    I am like Robin-- if I am going to critique someone else's work, I will look for something positive if it's in public. If I have something negative that I believe needs to be said and will help them, I email or talk to them privately about it.

    Frankly, some get off on tearing apart another's work. It makes them feel empowered. It's easier to tear down than build up is what I think. That said, it can be helpful to have someone tell us we are wrong. We might rethink what we’ve done or get stronger in our reasons for it. In the end though, any evaluation of creative work (unless it’s of craft) is basically subjective.

    In all the years I have been writing, I have never joined a critique group for the reasons above. Not only have I been reluctant to think I can tell another writer what they should think or write, but I have not wanted them telling me. I want to stay true to my voice, not get caught up in theirs. That said, I bring my ideas to my husband all the time where he and I do tear apart where I am thinking a story will go or whether characters are acting logically. I don’t personally though ever find it fun ;).

    1. I majored in English LIt my first 2 years of college. We critiqued the works of all the great writers -- mostly in the name of teasing the meanings to see what they were saying. In creative writing we had all our work critiqued by the teacher and students. In visual art classes, group critique was a valuable learning tool. I cannot image doing work and not being critiqued. For me, it's part of the learning process, and I've learned to sort the wheat from the chaff.

    2. It's good you know what works for you. Where it comes to writing, I guess it depends on whether a person want to fit the mold of the others who want it to be the way they think is best-- either that or nobody says anything and it goes nowhere. The English classes I took in college graded us, but I don’t remember our work ever being put up for the class to praise or tear apart. It was the teacher—even with speech classes. I think it was 20 years ago that I worked with a consulting writer on one of my manuscripts with a lot of red pen and notes on what I wasn’t doing right. But she was a pro and I was paying her—a lot. What I wanted from her was the craft end though.

      Recently I’ve been talking to my dentist’s wife in Corvallis, as she is a romance writer it turns out. A few of them (who want to write but have yet to turn out a full manuscript) have formed a small group to discuss romance writing. They are trying to make it a kind of accountability group, I think and may eventually want to critique each other’s work. For the reasons I said above, I know it wouldn’t work for me. I would hate to tell someone what they should write, and I don’t want them telling me. I told her that I would share what I know about querying publishers or ePublishing. They are not yet to that point though. I think she and I will meet for coffee as I’d be interested in what her goals are for her writing.

      Surprisingly, right now, I am selling pretty well, which has its own drawbacks, as it makes my work more visible; but I’d rather not sell than trade in my vision for someone else’s. With that kind of contrary, independent attitude, and no need for attaboys, a critique group would only be a frustration for them and me. ;). I will have my first beta reader with my next Oregon historical. It's a guy but he has bought my work from the beginning been good at catching my typos or any inconsistencies that I miss. This should be interesting for him and me