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  1. #1
    Cheryl Jacobs's Avatar
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    Critiquing Critiques

    Critique is something near and dear to my heart. There’s nothing like an outside perspective on our work to understand where we are as artists, and how to get where we want to be.

    I think, though, that there are misconceptions about what critique is and isn’t, or maybe what it should and shouldn’t be. For that reason, the word “critique” tends to strike fear in the hearts of vulnerable artists. I’d like to address a few points for your consideration.

    Critique does not have to be brutal and abrasive to be effective. I really do not understand the mentality that a mean critique is somehow more effective. I feel just the opposite; an unnecessarily abrasive critique tends to instantly put the “critiquee” on the defensive, and the hurt feelings can prevent the critique from really being absorbed. It is possible to be just as honest and frank without ripping holes in the self-esteem.

    Let’s say you went to your hairstylist asking for advice on how you could improve your look. Would you want the feedback to start with, “Well, your current hairstyle is ugly and makes you look like a troll?” Of course not. It’s not necessary.

    Critiques that include the word “can’t” are rarely valuable.
    I hear this a lot. You can’t center your subjects. You can’t use high contrast. You can compose your shots like that. You can’t have that much DOF. Can’t, can’t, can’t. This is art, folks. There are very few things that can’t be done successfully. An effective critique will not tell you what you can’t do; it will help you identify your tendencies so that YOU can decide how you would like to address those issues. A good critique-giver will help you understand why certain things generally work, and leave it to you to decide what is right for you.

    The best critiques take into account your personal taste and what you are trying to accomplish. Critiques based solely on the preferences of the critic will only tell you how to make that person happy. It’s much more valuable for you to get feedback on how to achieve the results YOU want. I may personally prefer muted color, but if you love saturated color, my job is to help you do saturated color well.

    A truly effective critique should help you identify opportunities for improvement and direction in your entire body of work — not just nit-picking little things in individual images. At the end of the critique, you should have a very clear idea of what you want to achieve and how to achieve it. And a really good critique will also help you understand what you do well, so you walk away feeling positive and motivated. it is at least as important to understand your strengths as it is to understand your weaknesses.

    Critique should never be accepted blindly. You’ve heard me say it before. Just because someone said it doesn’t make it so. It’s up to you to listen to what is said, consider the point of view of the critic, and decide if and how you will act on it. Only you can truly understand your sense of beauty and what you want your work to say. Apply what it makes sense to apply. You should never have to worry about offending the critic; the critic who demands gratitude and obedience is (generally) just plain old insecure.

    - CJ
    (from today's blog post at http://photodino.wordpress.com)

  2. #2
    jovo's Avatar
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    These are all pretty sensible statements. It would be nice if there were a nationally disseminated rubric like this for those who do critiques for money at portfolio review sessions. I'm sure many such people address many of these criteria successfully, but, without guidance, some most certainly do not.
    John Voss

    My Blog

  3. #3
    CPorter's Avatar
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    All very well thought out, I enjoyed it. IMO, the hardest part about providing a critique would be to divorce yourself from your own methodology while trying to be objective at the same time.

  4. #4
    df cardwell's Avatar
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    Critique is a discipline that is more telling of the critic, than of the artist,
    and takes some personal transformation to learn.

    Criticism is not judgment, and it is not something that cannot be done without accountability or responsibility.

    To be a genuine critic of someone's work you must first bind yourself to the artist.
    "One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid,
    and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision"

    -Bertrand Russell

  5. #5
    TheFlyingCamera's Avatar
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    The best critiques take into account your personal taste and what you are trying to accomplish. Critiques based solely on the preferences of the critic will only tell you how to make that person happy. It’s much more valuable for you to get feedback on how to achieve the results YOU want. I may personally prefer muted color, but if you love saturated color, my job is to help you do saturated color well.
    I don't per se have a problem with a critic offering their personal taste - so long as they A: identify it as such, and B: offer it in the form of "I'd like to see you try technique x - I think it has potential to improve your work". That of course feeds in to your ultimate point - understand that a critique IS one person's opinion, and they just may not get what you're trying to do. However, if every critique you receive says the same thing, maybe it's time to listen and rethink what you're doing, because nobody's getting it. It may not be that your idea is bad, but something about what you're doing is not communicating that idea.

  6. #6

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    If you ask someone for a critique of your work, then you should expect it to be based on their individual tastes. To expect someone to divorce themselves from their own work in judging yours is asking too much. At best, if they are a good teacher, they may be able to recognize what you are trying to do, maybe even better recognition than yourself. The onus is really on you to pick the individual who can best judge your work, possibly someone you admire for their work. A mentor, for example. I would not submit a portfolio for review to one of those pay-for-review sessions composed of some disparate group of photographer/artists. Their critiques will range from superficial to nit-picking.
    van Huyck Photo
    "Progress is only a direction, and it's often the wrong direction"

  7. #7
    dpurdy's Avatar
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    I think that unasked for critique is a bit irritating especially if I am in an irritated mood. My answer is likely to be "yes I could do that and then I would be like you eh?" or "why don't you try to understand what I did instead of telling me to do what you would do?"

    But I do have some people who I am curious what they think of my work. They are open minded people and I am wondering if what is having an impact on me is having an impact on them as well.

    Dennis

  8. #8

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    I find critique and reviews are useless without some knowledge of the person(s) doing the critique or reviews. Other than in a close knit community such as APUG, Internet is filled with self-proclaimed experts who may or may not have any experience or expertise but willing to offer opinions - and are very good at wording so that they sound authoritative. Making it worse, there are those who loves to purposely put something out and see what develops - mostly arguments.

    I make it my routine to see who's responding and if necessary,examine the reviewer before accepting any opinions - positive or negative.

  9. #9
    wclark5179's Avatar
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    I'm an avid Toastmasters & could I suggest how we evaluate speakers and apply it to photography?

    This would apply to a seminar where it's a learning experience and not competition.

    What I would recommend is discovering from the maker of the print(s) what are s(he)'s objectives. Are there areas they want the evaluator to focus on? There are 12 elements that the PPA uses to determine a merit print. Does the maker want to those used as a foundation of the evaluation.

    Suggest having a sheet of paper for each print to make notes. Divide the paper (could possibly be formulated in the cranium but sometimes fog gets in the way!) in thirds. The first third find some good qualities positive traits that you found in the photograph. Can't find any? Keep working on it until you do.

    The second third would be one or two, maybe even three, ideas to help the maker improve next time around. Our goal should be to build a fire inside the maker so as they go out and learn from our recommendations and want to submit more.

    Be careful with this part. Egos can get bruised. Our goal should be one or two and maybe three areas to go out and do better. And better the next time and every time after that.

    Finally at the last third on the paper, end your critique on a positive not. Find a couple more good qualities, maybe recite again what you said during the first part and end your critique saying something like, "Good job and I look forward to reviewing the next prints you make."
    Bill Clark

  10. #10

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    Thank, Cheryl. Good advice.

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