Have you ever asked someone to critique your work?
What were you hoping to gain?
We are brought up in school to trust the teacher to tell us how to improve. And so we go through life trusting others to give us good direction and to point out areas where we can improve. And in some cases this is really helpful.
But at other times we can experience poor feedback, vague suggestions which confuse, and even discouragement when our efforts are torn down or completely misunderstood. Knowing how to ask for critique is important. How you ask will determine the quality of your answers.
So in this article I will share with you some tips on how to ask for good quality feedback and critique so that you can improve your work.
Art is subjective. What this means is that each person will evaluate your art from their own perspective. Generally when asking for critique you are not so much asking “Do you like my subject?” as much as you are asking “Have I successfully rendered this subject?”.
Unfortunately we can often preface a request for critique with the vague question of “What do you think of it?” or “Will you critique my work?”
As a teacher and competition judge I am often asked these questions. I reply with my own question, “What are you looking for from me?” “What do you think it might need or be lacking?” “In which areas do you feel it could be stronger?” “What were you looking to communicate with this image?”
I need to drill down in order to give a good critique that will give the artist something of value. I may go on for 10 minutes on composition, whereas the artist merely wanted to know if they did a good job on the fur.
So to save everyone time and effort, here is a checklist that will help you get the very most out of every critique.
Question #1: Who are you asking?
It is important to know who you are asking for critique.
I once went to an artist’s salon (open critique) at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC). The professor doing the critique was a contemporary arts advocate. Well, he tore down my work telling me I lack imagination because my animals look too real and are in realistic poses. After going on about me wasting my artistic skill with realism he finally gave me one good tip, “Don’t keep the image inside the wood. Dare to carry it beyond the edges.”
Understanding who was critiquing my work helped me to filter the information and only take from it what was valuable for me. (I’m not a fan of contemporary art so I know we would not see eye to eye anyway). I have since then challenged myself to take my images off the board to communicate the vastness and mystery of the natural world.
I’ve had the chance to also ask for critique from an ornithologist, I wanted to know if my birds were true to form. From an eagle rehabilitator, from a horse breeder, from an AKC judge, from veterinarians, and many other experts. From these people I asked for different information than from another artist. I didn’t expect any technique pointers from them.
From artists I look for information on composition, technique, process, etc. And from art collectors and buyers I am looking to understand what they perceive and what I have communicated to them with my artwork. Have I been successful in telling my story or could it be strengthened in some way.
Knowing who you are asking for feedback from is critical. You cannot expect orange juice from a cow or milk from an orange.
Question #2: Where do you want to focus?
Let’s face it, if you are asking for feedback you already have an idea what you are looking for. It may be technique, it may be realism, it may even be encouragement that your artwork is wonderful.
After you have identified who you are asking, lead with questions that will give you good solid answers in the areas you are interested in. For example, if you are concerned that your burning is not clear, ask “How might I get this area to ‘pop’ more?” or “What is wrong with these bushes, I feel they are not quite right.” or “I had trouble with the nose, any suggestions?”
Keep asking specific questions until you have covered everything. Only then do I recommend you ask if there is anything else. This will give you a really good feel for the quality of information you are getting.
Question #3: Suggestions for improvement.
In order to be qualified to give an opinion you must be capable of suggesting how to improve. That professor at the AIC may not have been my ideal for a realism critique but he was able to make a fantastic suggestion to strengthen my artwork. By offering a suggestion for improvement he went beyond simply giving me an opinion and actually helping me improve.
A true critique is not a mere opinion. A good solid critique comes with suggestions and explanations. Be willing to dig deep and ask for clarification. The ornithologist who critiqued my work suggested some wonderful books on anatomy and physiology that I now have in my library and refer to all the time.
Opinions are cheap and usually worthless – which is why they are thrown at you without thought. A good critique however has immense value. It is the culmination of someone’s wisdom and experience being directed toward your work. Don’t waste it! Be ready to get the most out of these interactions by being prepared. The person offering the critique will thank you because they will know that you truly value what they are sharing.
In this article I have shared with you my suggested criteria to follow when asking for critique. Use these three simple steps to get the most out of any well-intentioned feedback and add value to your path as an artist.
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