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On constructive criticism, and being nice April 25, 2009

Posted by thejinx in art, writing.
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Art and writing are subjective endeavors. When I draw something in my own style, there’s no guideline to tell me if I’m doing it right or wrong. I can only guess. When I’m working on it, the only opinion I have to tell me if it looks good is my own. And as anyone who knows me is aware, I don’t think very highly of myself.

So, when someone comes along and tells me something is wrong with my art or writing, I tend to think their opinion outweighs my own. And when the first thing out of someone’s mouth is to point out a flaw in the work, then that makes me feel like I’ve done nothing right.

Yes, I want to improve. But yes, I’m sensitive. It may not look like it with the subject matter I choose to draw or write, but I pour my heart and soul into my art. I have spent years working on these things. Then, when I get a comment that begins with criticism, it feels like it’s all been for nothing.

That’s what really hurt about the one useful review I got from the Amazon.com Breakthrough Novel Award. The first line of the review was, “Hero is awfully stupid.” That opening line, that first impression, made me feel like he thought the complete excerpt was garbage. And because I need that affirmation beyond my own opinion that my work is okay, I felt like I was completely wrong in believing that what I wrote was good. Especially since the person was labeled an expert reviewer and wrote with such confidence, it seemed like he was right and I was simply wrong.

I got one comment on October on DeviantArt. The first thing the commenter said was, “The model looks weird.” Again, completely ignoring any positive things to say about the picture, which the commenter did have, but I can’t even remember what they were. That first line just stuck with me and felt like a complete rejection of any positive qualities of the picture.

Please, please, when you’re commenting on someone’s work, start with something positive. It lets the artist know that you respect their work and your friendliness will make the artist more inclined to listen to and consider the suggestions you have on how to improve it. And when you do have constructive criticism, be specific. Saying, “the proportions are wrong” doesn’t help the artist very much and serves only to let the artist know that you think their work is bad; saying, “the arms are a little long compared to the torso” does help.

And remember that even though the artist might be a professional, might be one of the best artists you’ve ever seen, does art for a living, or is one of the most popular artists on the Internet, they are still real people with real feelings that can be hurt by a mean comment. If that review of Halcyon had been phrased, “I’m surprised the hero doesn’t realize that isn’t a good idea,” I wouldn’t have been hurt by it, and I would have taken much more out of it. If that comment on October had said, “the figure could be improved if you changed so and so,” I wouldn’t still be avoiding reading it.

Just be nice, okay? Not only is it nicer to the artist, but they’ll think of you more favourably in return.

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