The Art of the Critique

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  1. #1
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    Red face The Art of the Critique

    The Art of the Critique:
    Don't take it personally, just take it seriously.

    I think the main thing to remember when giving or receiving a critique is that it is not about the person giving the critique, or the person receiving the critique. It is SOLELY about the art in question.


    I am writing this thread because I think it is important for people to understand the critique process to avoid possible fights and hurt feelings. I will be coming back and adding to it from time to time. If any of you feel that you have suggestions that could make it better, please post them and I might add them.

    I hope people find it helpful.

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    Last edited by Bai Fan; December 30th, 2008 at 01:32 PM.
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    To RECEIVE a critique:

    The most important thing when getting a critique is to be open to what is being said and not get your feelings hurt if you get a bad one. In most situations, hearing something awful about a piece that you put so much time into and so much of yourself into can be pretty crushing and that is understandable. However, listening openly to those bad critiques will make you so much better as an artist than the critiques which tell you only what is good about the piece.

    Remember that critiquing is not only about learning what is wrong with the piece, it is also largely about learning how to SEE what is wrong with the piece so as to understand how to avoid that type of problem in the future. Beyond fixing a piece, it is about growing as an artist.

    Insulting someone just because they dismissed your art is petty and immature. If you think that person needs to improve areas in their own art, then go to that person's sketchbook or critique thread and give them tips on how to do that. {PuppyKitten - syntax change}

    It is really important for artists to get over the need for every piece to be amazing and learn to be willing to throw out bad art. Artists will go through MANY iterations of a piece, frequently throwing out elements of pieces, or sometimes even whole pieces that they really like but are just not working.

    When going into a critique where you have specific points you want addressed, it isn't always the best thing to point them out right away. Telling people ahead of time of what you think might be an issue will definitely draw attention to those problems, but it might also distract the person giving the critique from addressing problems that you hadn't seen.

    DO NOT THINK ONE CRITIQUE WILL CUT IT! Many times artists will only tell what they feel are the most important and immediate problems when going over a piece. After those problems are addressed, then would be the time to move on to lesser problem areas. After you work the problem, upload an updated version and get more advice. There is a lot of work to get a nice, refined, successful piece.

    It's important to know what you're trying to do with this piece and weigh the critique you get appropriately. You wouldn't want to change something in your piece that detracts from the mood or theme just because someone said it needs to be changed. My mantra usually is:

    Critically consider critique.

    Know what you want to make, be open to changing your image if it does not impede your vision. Things such as anatomy, form and lighting are general principles that will generally apply to every image. {Jason Rainville}

    Finally (for now) remember that critiquing a piece can take a lot of time, and the person giving it is volunteering their time to help you improve. Be open to what is said, even if you don't agree with it and be thankful for the time and effort given. Just because you don't agree with what is said doesn't mean you should be impolite or unthankful.


    More to come.

    Last edited by Bai Fan; April 27th, 2011 at 07:34 PM.
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    To GIVE a critique:

    Please, please, please remember what it was like to put your art up on the chopping block... especially the first few times.

    It is easy to change a piece. It is much harder to help fix it. Anyone can offer the advice, "If I were doing it, I would"... Well, you aren't doing it. Try to understand what the artist is going for instead of arbitrarily changing the style, message, etc. to what you like. Critiquing is helping an artist make their piece better, not making their piece yours. This is one of the hardest aspects of critiquing and one that always bothered me about how some people critique (especially with story critiques).

    When looking at a piece, do not assume that piece represents either the artist's actual level of skill or their style. This one is especially hard because if that one piece is all we see, we have no other frame of reference. Don't think “this person sucks” if they offer up an embarrassingly bad piece, just address the problems that you see. They could only be trying out a new style/program/technique. I know many a wonderful watercolor artist that sucks at oil painting.

    When giving a critique, if possible offer a paint-over / red-line. Many times it will get the message across much easier and clearer than a large explanation.

    More to come.

    Last edited by Bai Fan; December 29th, 2008 at 05:58 PM.
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    cool thread i think this is going to be very usefull and a great idea

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    I have to say, that even if a crit hurts to take, it makes you step back and look at your art. The masterpiece we often think we have created is sometimes the ugly baby only the mother could love...how do I know this, just look at my sketchbook. hehe. I really love it when I get crits, cause I have a hard enough time spotting the big mistakes and I end up completely overlooking the finer detailed ones. I would never see most of those mistakes unless I had someone else pointing them out. In my mind a bad crit is better than no crit.

    The difference between genius and stupidity is genius has its limits.
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    It’s a wonderful feeling if you think you can help someone, even if I’m bad at explaining myself sometimes, and then see them go that extra bit - that sort of makes my day when the penny has dropped.

    Also, I don’t always get it right. Some pictures are hard to read the direction the artist wants to take it and getting it wrong is not nice, so a bit more description of where you want to be might help. I don’t dig all the art posted, but being open minded does help, especially on new migrants from DA. Maybe we need a standard reply re studying the human form and anatomy.

    I really enjoy helping people and must give you all a chance a bit more often to tear my stuff up.

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    ooooh I like that Idea Blackspot. I know re studying (actually studying for the first time..for me anyway) the human form and anatomy would help immensely. I also agree that artists need to put more of an explanation on where they are intending to head with there art. However if you're like me you end up going over board on the explanation and totally confuse anyone trying to help...which pretty much makes them want to run away.

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    Just for some balance, I'd also like to point out the importance of knowing what critique applies to you and your piece, and what critique is rubbish (because there IS such a thing as misplaced or 'bad' critique)

    It's important to know what you're trying to do with this piece and weigh the critique you get appropriately. You wouldn't want to change something in your piece that detracts from the mood or theme just because someone said it needs to be changed. My mantra usually is:

    Critically consider critique.

    Know what you want to make, be open to changing your image if it does not impede your vision. Things such as anatomy, form and lighting are general principles that will generally apply to every image


    The only reason I write this is that it's all too easy to fall into the trap that all critique from random strangers of varying levels of competence are viable. They're not. Know the artists that you admire, know who you trust. Get a small group of people going that have similar goals and critique each other.

    Don't get me wrong though, this doesn't mean toss out critique if it doesn't jive with what you want to hear or makes you realize real faults in your work. Some of the best critiques I've got included very radical changes to whatever piece I was working on. At the same time though, there are TONS of critique that I hear but then discard; All I'm saying is that a critique such as "make it during the daytime" or "tone down his muscles" and other crits that don't take into account the mood or circumstances you're trying to create aren't always going to help you.

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    I didn’t run away from you (spaztastic) and kept on nagging because I knew you could do better. I only do that when I know the artist can and should.

    The thing is I go by my guts a lot of the time. Knowing that something is not right but trying to explain is hard. I’m not a brilliant artist but I can see dispassionately that it’s either right or wrong. That gut feeling can be useful, especially when I disagree with other posters.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Black Spot View Post
    I didn’t run away from you (spaztastic) and kept on nagging because I knew you could do better. I only do that when I know the artist can and should.

    The thing is I go by my guts a lot of the time. Knowing that something is not right but trying to explain is hard. I’m not a brilliant artist but I can see dispassionately that it’s either right or wrong. That gut feeling can be useful, especially when I disagree with other posters.
    Thanks Blackspot... I value your crits...and I know you didn't run away, I was trying to be facetious I guess it didn't work.I am gonna apply your paint over I just haven't had time to do it yet, had family over the weekend and my computer is evil. I also agree with you Jason Rainville, crits should go through a mental filter before there applied or accepted.

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    Thanks for commenting guys. I have a feeling that this might become a really good thread.

    Blackspot: I am actually putting together another thread called "Cut and Paste Critiques" which I think is exactly what you were talking about... what the heck. I will upload it now and we can work on it together.

    http://conceptart.org/forums/showthread.php?t=145606

    Jason: Some good stuff there. I will add when I get some time.

    Thanks again all.

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    One of the things that I believe that has given DA a bit of a bad reputation, aside from the whole Myspace problem, is that people often have a hard time getting any kind of feed back which was why I created my small critique club there so that they could learn how to give and receive a critique.

    For the receiver and the giver of a critique I think that communication is paramount and if there is little or bad communication then this really messes things up.

    If an artist posts a piece of art whether it is a WIP or not needs to tell those that will offer critiques what kind of feedback he needs. For instance, maybe the artist needs help with the composition balance, its focus or maybe some just technical help.

    Like others have said before about direction it would be a good idea for the artist to state where he or she was trying to go if it is not obvious with what they have already done. Sometimes though it is not always apparent.

    Whenever I have received a good constructive critique or when I gave one my self the critique was often explaining instead of telling. I have found often in my life that most people are more willing to accept being taught or corrected when they are told the “why.” By explaining why something was wrong or even correct it makes swallowing the pill a little easier.

    I also found that by stating what you find is strong in what the artist has done in the art piece in question is generally a good idea as well. First off, this once again makes the pill easier to swallow and because of this, the receiver is more than likely to accept any negative aspects that the critic may point out.

    The receiver needs to be a good listener and to push past anything that may seem crass or facetious because, you, as the received asked for the feedback, the evaluation, for the critique. So as a receiver the artist needs to go in trying to understand and not react. From what I have observed, most artists when they are starting out are often very defensive but after a while this dies out. I often get defensive so I tend to bite my lip and take it with a grain a salt.

    I find that one of the ways to avoid getting defensive is not to be quick to react, walk away and then come back and look at it more objectively once you have calmed down. If you don’t think the critique is correct you don’t have to take it however it might be a good idea to ask if the person could elaborate some more so that the receiver can then understand what the problem may be and then be more willing to accept the critique.


    Imagination is not a total internal power but rather it is a reflection and multi-faceted projection of our experiences and knowledge. We take in information from the world around us and intuitively re-order it into something new. Something is not created from nothing but simply transformed from what was before.
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    I like this thread already... Gonna be using this one OFTEN!

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    Sometimes if there is a problem too small or too many problems or if the artist isn't convinced It's easier to give them a red line or a paint over. Photoshop speaks louder than words. Even if their skill level is above yours. You might still know something they don't.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ito Saith Webb View Post
    By explaining why something was wrong or even correct it makes swallowing the pill a little easier.
    You have some interesting things here, but I think are missing where I was going with some of the things I wrote. What I have noticed with critiquing people (I did a lot of critiques in my art college) was that once people become comfortable getting critiqued and realize that it isn't personal or intended maliciously there isn't really a need to coddle them anymore and you can quickly and concisely address the problems at hand.

    "The proportion in her arms is off",
    "Her eyes are crooked",
    "She looks like a man",
    "You have tons of tangents",
    etc...

    Those can all be good critiques that get to the point and you don't have to waste time with long winded explanations or coddling. What I hope people can do is get to the point where there is no pill, just the swallowing... um... can we do a different metaphor?

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    Not sure if to post this in the other thread, so I'll leave it up to you.

    In what direction do you want this piece to go?

    Just making a piece of art is not always an end to itself. Is it illustration, a concept scene/character/environment, cartoon, or just wanting to improve on technique?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bai Fan View Post
    What I hope people can do is get to the point where there is no pill, just the swallowing... um... can we do a different metaphor?
    I second that.

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    I hate it when some people asks for critique, you give it and if they don't like it they will go saying that you suck as much as them or that you couldn't have done better, or plainly start attacking your work. What has that to do with anything?

    It doesn't take a better artist than yourself to see the flaws in your work, I have worked in a "art" studio for 2 years and all the critique I have got in that time has come from a cook, because in the studio we are limited to saying how great artist everyone is.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bai Fan View Post
    You have some interesting things here, but I think are missing where I was going with some of the things I wrote. What I have noticed with critiquing people (I did a lot of critiques in my art college) was that once people become comfortable getting critiqued and realize that it isn't personal or intended maliciously there isn't really a need to coddle them anymore and you can quickly and concisely address the problems at hand.

    "The proportion in her arms is off",
    "Her eyes are crooked",
    "She looks like a man",
    "You have tons of tangents",
    etc...

    Those can all be good critiques that get to the point and you don't have to waste time with long winded explanations or coddling. What I hope people can do is get to the point where there is no pill, just the swallowing... um... can we do a different metaphor?
    I am not saying to coddle people and I really didn't mean long winded explanations just short ones, sorry I should have made that more clear. I understand your point of getting to the point of non-coddling or long winded explanations, but to be more specific and perhaps even why the critic is saying what he said. There are new members all the time and so they will not always be up to speed.

    I believe you can't have an all or nothing point of view of how to give a critique there needs to be some give and take.

    "The proportion in her arms is off, especially where her biceps are as they are too short in relation to her torso. ",
    "Her eyes are crooked which may be due to her left eye. ",
    "She looks like a man, because her jaw is too squared off",
    "You have tons of tangents, particularly where "insert" meets "insert" and etc....",


    Imagination is not a total internal power but rather it is a reflection and multi-faceted projection of our experiences and knowledge. We take in information from the world around us and intuitively re-order it into something new. Something is not created from nothing but simply transformed from what was before.
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    Ptthhhhh::

    That would be helpful to newer people.



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    Even when asking for critique I definitely have moments of, "Ow! My pride!" (And during this time it's best to keep your mouth shut and mull over the critiques for a day or two- even run them by knowledgeable friends who can set you straight) But in the end I do find the changes worth it. :3 Thanks for this post.

    Last edited by SirCalypso; December 31st, 2008 at 12:08 AM.
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    i love it. i espessally agree with "giving critique" hey wait a minute.....didn't i talk about....never mind......"hey why don't you study anotomy and know it like the back of your hand before posting it in the critique section?" .....exactly...
    if i post an image here. it would be nice if it was the IMAGE that was bieng critique'd not me! as an artist.... skill level or whatever. especialy online. you have no idea what a person is capable of in reallity..

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    I agree that critiqueing is a valuable tool to help the artisit move forward but there is a huge difference between good strong "constructive criticisms" and being too forthright in giving advice. There is always room for a little "coddling" for if the artist removes compassion from his/her critique then there is the chance that a great piece of art will only be mediorce. Artists create from emotion, to stiffle that is to stiffle their very creativity.

    "Creativity emerges only when the imagination is given the freedom it deserves."
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    Quote Originally Posted by Razorleaf View Post
    I agree that critiquing is a valuable tool to help the artist move forward but there is a huge difference between good strong "constructive criticisms" and being too forthright in giving advice. There is always room for a little "coddling" for if the artist removes compassion from his/her critique then there is the chance that a great piece of art will only be mediocre. Artists create from emotion, to stifle that is to stifle their very creativity.
    I am not sure I would agree with that. I am hoping that we can get past the ego involved in creating art to the point where we can objectively look at the pieces, and once that happens I don't think a straight forward critique would hurt the passion of a piece.

    I am also not sure that all artists create from emotion. I think they can also create from a necessity of functionality. When looking at art there is a huge difference between a Degas and the drafted design for a military vehicle.

    To make a mediocre metaphor (or would it be an analogy?) that relates what I see happening a lot in critiques to the fast food industry...

    "Now, remember that I like you as a friend and I think you do your job really well... and what you have here looks nice as it is... but you forgot the pickles."

    When all it needs is "You forgot the pickles." ... or even just "Pickles!"

    I see a lot of people on here who are wanting to take their concept art and make a profession out of it. Anyone who has worked in the film or game industry knows how much deadlines play a part of your work schedule. A lot of times there just isn't time for coddling (art directors tend not to coddle) and I hope to help people be ready for that.

    Am I making any sense or just rambling?

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    I agree BF that there are times when being "curt" is a necessity but there is a difference between ...

    did you forget to add the pickles, and

    hey! you gotta add the pickles

    The later indicates a weakness and the aforementioned indicates a simple oversight. An oversight can happen to anyone but a weakness is a direct hit and can be avoided.

    "Creativity emerges only when the imagination is given the freedom it deserves."
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    Quote Originally Posted by Razorleaf View Post
    I agree that critiqueing is a valuable tool to help the artisit move forward but there is a huge difference between good strong "constructive criticisms" and being too forthright in giving advice.
    I agree with this statement. I think alot of times people who are giving a critique are content to just point out what is wrong with a piece and, in an attempt to do so efficiently, end up just giving a laundry list of errors. Then when the artists gets frustrated by that response they get attacked and told to "learn to take a crit."

    I think people who take it on themselves to critique something should keep in mind that the artist has spent time and effort creating the piece and would probably appreciate some time and effort showing in the critique. You don't have to give them advice, so if you don't have time or energy to put some effort into a proper, helpful response for them then just don't respond. No big deal.
    If the artist had wanted someone to look at their work and say "the arm looks funny" or "the colors don't look good together" they would go talk to an art critic or some person off the street who knows little or nothing about what goes into making a piece of art. But if they post here, I think it's safe to assume that they are looking for an artists perspective. Someone who knows how difficult it can be to make a piece work and will show some understanding and insight towards the trouble the artist might be having. I would not call that "coddling."

    Furthermore, if the intention is to truly help the artist learn, grow and do better in the future, simply pointing out errors is not helping. It's like the old saying: "give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime."

    To use your example Bai Fan, when that person says "Pickles!" he/she has essentially "given the man a fish." They have seen the problem and proposed the solution, but if that persons intent was to make that hamburger maker better at the craft and not just to get pickles on that one hamburger, they would say: "This burger needs pickles because pickles provide a sharp, zesty taste and crisp texture that contrasts the savory meat and bland taste of the bun. This will give your sandwich the "three notes" necessary to play the beautiful "chord" that is a proper hamburger."
    That is "teaching them to fish." Showing them why something is not working and not just saying its an error helps them to see why it needs changing and gives them the power to evaluate future pieces on their own.

    Last edited by Mute; January 1st, 2009 at 07:57 AM.
    ...my humble and uneducated opinion.

    -Nate
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  36. #27
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    While I do agree with Bai Fan that we should not coddle people but I also agree with Razorleaf that a critique can afford a little room for compassion. I guess what I am guessing that I am getting at is having a little tact in your critique. To ask an artist to totally remove their ego is impossible and I don't think it is human. When I was in the military I found that when I had tact in my outward leadership abilities I got more results from the people under me as they were then more willing to listen. Yes, we should not coddle people but we don't have to come off like jerks because often the initial reaction will be that the critic is either full of themselves or an elitist. I really feel that the artist who is asking for a critique should come in with a certain amount of humility but on the same token if the critic who decides to offer their critique should also have a certain amount of humility.

    This is one of the reasons I try my best if I can to say something positive about what the artist has already has done before or even after I get into the negative aspects of what they have done so far. I have found that they take the suggestions then more seriously.

    If this message is a little incoherent I apologize cause it is New Years. Hic hahaha


    Imagination is not a total internal power but rather it is a reflection and multi-faceted projection of our experiences and knowledge. We take in information from the world around us and intuitively re-order it into something new. Something is not created from nothing but simply transformed from what was before.
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  37. #28
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    this is pretty right. i was very excited trying a small project when i got bad critiques about it, and yeah, i pretty much had to start over AND study several concepts i didnt knew, but now, thanks to that turn back i have learned pretty cool things that will help me with all of my works from now on, this is pretty much right, you can feel discouraged but, sucess can only be archieved through faliure

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    I am not sure what I am going for by writing this thread is reading. This is good, it will help me develop it into a more easily conveyable idea.

    I am not saying that I am against tack, respect, humility or friendliness... quite the opposite actually. However, I am trying to say that I am hoping that people can get to the point where it isn't necessary to coddle or baby each other. When dealing with people new to giving/receiving them, artists volunteering their time for critiques will need to pamper people not used to receiving them more than when it is happening at the professional level.

    My understanding for the intent of this site is to improve not only one's art but also one's understanding of the industries that would employ our kind. When freelancing and dealing with clients many times the clients commissioning the art focus on what is wrong in the piece so that the artist can address the problems quickly and get the work done in time for a deadline. When dealing with dailies in animation, especially in a crunch time, directors need to go through a lot of scenes quickly and primarily address problems that need to be fixed in a limited amount of time.

    "This burger needs pickles because pickles provide a sharp, zesty taste and crisp texture that contrasts the savory meat and bland taste of the bun. This will give your your sandwich the "three notes" necessary to play the beautiful "chord" that is a proper hamburger."
    This is a very helpful statement and I am sure any artist who gets it would be really appreciative, but I feel that it is pushing more towards teaching than critiquing. That is great if you have the time to do that but to use the animation analogy again, I hope that artists here can get to the point where it doesn't phase them to get "Watch your twinning, you are missing believable weight shift on the turn, scrap the jump and do it over and I am not believing his emotion."

    I am not saying that getting to that point would be an instantaneous thing... it will take time. I do think that keeping these things in mind will help artists get to that point faster and possibly stop some of the pointless whining and fighting that goes on here.

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  39. #30
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    Oh man, that pickle comment is awesome.
    If I may add my two cents in... I generally try and 'coddle' people who are totally new to art. They could just be dipping their feet in the cold, uncertain waters of serious art for the first time,* and I feel that if I can encourage them, I can get them to stick to it. If the person has been drawing for a long time, then I won't go out of my way to coddle.

    *Analagies and metaphores everywhere. What are we to do in this epidemic?

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