Someone recently commented on my previous Journal entry, about "The nerve-wracking business of offering comments and critique", saying that I seemed to be a "no bullshit" kind of person.
I have to admit that that wouldn't be entirely inaccurate... ...although I do lean more toward being as tactful as possible, and packaging critique in a "sandwich" form.
So, since my original reply to their comment was so long that it seemed to merit a Journal entry of its own, here it is:
"How to Make a Critique Sandwich"
First I try to comment on the piece's strength(s), *then* on the areas that would probably be the best place to focus on improving (in my opinion), and then I try to finish off with an encouraging comment, making it clear that since everyone can always improve, having places where one can improve is not necessarily the same as having "weak points" in the piece.
I do think that people tend to respond to critique best when it is offered in a really appreciative and supportive way -- but I've never seen the point in making no comments other than "ooh, aah, ohh".
So if I can't find *something* positive to comment on, I tend not to critique a piece; after all, what's the point in telling someone "this is a complete piece of dogbarf, with no redeeming qualities whatsoever"; in a case like that, I couldn't make any suggestions on how to improve it, without starting with "make an entirely different piece of artwork, which looks nothing like this one".
On the other hand, if I like the concept, that constitutes a strength on which the person can build, and making a suggestion or two on how to start improving the execution can be balanced and justified by that strength.
Sometimes people create artworks that are incredibly beautiful, and in which I can find no flaw, and about those, I have no compunctions about going "ooh, ahh, ohh" -- after all, knowing our strengths is just as useful to our continued improvement as knowing which areas most need improvement, because it is our strengths that we need to build upon, in order to keep improving.
But, the more perfect an artistic creation is, the smaller the flaws which I will critique, because they are all that is left standing between the piece and perfection. That's not to say that I believe in nit-picking a piece to death, though; I prefer to limit the number of suggestions I make with regard to any given piece, because I think one of the important things to remember when offering helpful critique is not to overwhelm the person, and make them feel that the piece is an utter botch, and not worth the work of "fixing". I see critique as being less about "fixing" any given piece, than about the artist's growth over time.
I guess what it comes down to in the end is that I try to give the kind of critique I would like to receive. That means things like focusing my suggestions on the points that are easiest to improve, so that the artist can *see* their progress, from one piece to the next, and will have more strengths to build upon, when they take the next step forward.
We don't tell a baby "okay, that was a good first step, now here are all the things you're doing wrong, that are keeping you from running like Cathy Freeman". If they could understand what was being said to them, they'd probably sit down and howl and never try to walk again.
Growth happens in steps and stages. Respecting that is, in my opinion, a big part of giving *useful* critique.