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Shut Up, Stop Whining, and Learn to Art: How to take Criticism on the Internet

Posted Jul 16, '12 at 3:36am



2,354 posts

Art here refers to any creative medium, including drawing, writing, music, etc.

Hey y'all. Xzeno here. Some of you may know me from the Twiction contest. If you don't, enter now. We'll wait.

Back? Good. Now that all of you know me, you probably have some idea of what this thread is gonna be like. Today, we're going to talk about constructive criticism. This thread will not be for asking for constructive criticism or giving constructive criticism. It will be for discussing constructive criticism as a concept and philosophizin' about how it should work.

First thing's first: What Counts as Constructive Criticism? Great question! Well, the reason I'm making this thread is because it's an issue that gets talked about a lot. In particular, I've the issue discussed in art communities like Deviant Art and I'm sure I would see it on fanfiction sites if I tainted my browser history with them. The message most of this discussions have is two-pronged:

-Criticism helps you be a better artist.
-But not all criticism is valuable, so don't feel bad if people say you suck.

Personally, I believe that most of the discussion focuses far too much on the second point and not nearly enough on the first. The final message seems to be a discussion of what criticism to ignore. So we're going to look at what kinds of criticism you SHOULD value.

Pay special attention to people who don't care about you. Most people will end up telling you this. However, they'll disguise it by saying "show your work to people you don't know!" The theory here is that people you do know will want you to feel good, or not want to offend you. This notion is slightly inaccurate for two reasons:

1, if you show it to friends or family members whose relationship with you depends on a power dynamic in which they continually degrade you, showing it to them is A-OK! You know they won't be concerned too much with your feelings.

2, it is theoretically possible to meet a stranger who want you to be happy and feel good, so they say nice things. Of course, they're doing you a disservice by not giving you honest feedback. While it is unlikely to run into an individual who is that misguidedly altruistic, the real danger here is community standards. Imagine:

You're posting your art on two sites. One site number one, everyone is very nice to you. The welcome you to the community, they post reviews, they tell you you're wonderful, tell you what it is they thought was best about your piece, and maybe ask that you look at their stuff. On site two, everyone is an elitist jerk who says what you're doing is unoriginal and explains how even the concept should be reworked or abandoned because of some flaw. Then they insult the piece and use line by line citation to support the thesis that you are a mouth-breathing baboon unfit to write his or her own name.

Which site is more valuable? It's the second one. Sure, in this example, it is slightly too hostile to be ideal (and I do mean slightly; that was not understatement) but the first is way too freakin' happy. What's going on is probably not that you're perfect. It's probably that there is some prevailing and threatening force preventing people form being anything other than Stepford-esque yes-men. It's not you OR them. It's that there is some sort of policy or simply a circle jerk atmosphere that prevents anything but empty compliments. Which is why it is valuable to find criticism from people who don't have any incentive not to offend you.

Pay attention to WHY people think what they think. People stating facts about your piece ("It's great!" "The best yet!" "Not so good..." "You suck!") isn't as important if they don't support it. In particular, things that point to specific parts of the piece, analyze them, and make a normative judgement is what you're looking for. Last, and most important:

Pay attention to what people think. I'll cut to the chase: What I'm saying is that you can't ignore what people think. It is important that you don't focus on people talking about you without considering what they say. It is essential to know there general feelings and whether they thought it was good or bad. Even if it isn't deeply articulated. Even if it makes you feel bad.

"You suck!" is a valid criticism. You should consider it. You shouldn't just write it off as invalid criticism. You can't be like "everyone said I sucked? That's not valid though. This one person that said I was cool is the only thing I should consider!" If almost everyone says your art is terrible, it probably, you know, is. The thing is, most people who make art on the Internet ARE terrible. You're on this forum. You're probably terrible. Just a statistic, yeah, but yes, YOU are probably terrible. I know it's easy to say "most people are but I'm not!" but most people are most people.

But wait, then what kind of criticism isn't valid? Good point! I pretty much said the main type of criticism people label as bad is valid. So then what isn't? There are two very important types of criticism that should be utterly ignored:

Negative responses from people who don't know what they're talking about. If people say you suck and nothing else, good for them! Consider their opinions! If someone types out a twenty-page essay about your poem, illustrating what they disliked, saying they thought your choice of iambic pentameter was simply a horrible choice that should never ever be used, then guess what? You got 20 rich, detailed pages of useless information. This person doesn't know what they're talking about. He probably has a personal bone to pick with the meter, and is objectively wrong about that meter being bad.

Lastly, the type of criticism I think is the most dangerous, and most important to avoid: Praise from people who don't know what they're talking about. This is the trickiest one. See, praise makes people feel good, so they rationalize its value. What tends to happen is you'll see people who run away from all negative opinions and avoid them. But they still manage to comfort themselves by turning to all the praise they get and thinking it shows that they're good. The problem is that if that praise is coming from people who don't know what they're talking about, all that warm, supportive, articulate praise is useless and deluding you.

So in conclusion, just don't worry about criticism much. It's not that big of a deal. But if you're using it to be better (and you should use every tool you can), you should make sure you're, you know, actually using it instead of ignoring stuff that makes you feel bad.

That's my 2 cents. What do you people think of criticism? How does it help artists and how should it be used?


Posted Jul 16, '12 at 5:52am



14,025 posts


YOU are probably terrible


And I can't find my seal of approval.
What does annoy me about criticism is the lack of it. Or, at least the constructive kind. It might be due to the people whining about getting an honest critique (especially if they asked for critiques...) instead of the usual butt pats and kisses and what not.
And artists (and other creators) tend to either have a fragile confidence or tend to be start whining when they don't agree with the critique, so that doesn't make criticism that big an art in itself.
Not that I am any better, but perhaps that is another point criticism can help improve.

Posted Jul 16, '12 at 12:09pm



4,299 posts

A good read. I couldn't find any errors in it whatsoever. It is brutally honest, and the detail is superb. Sticky quality.


Posted Jul 17, '12 at 9:47pm



3,205 posts

The last part is why I'm not too involved with the AMW... I don't know what I'm talking about.

I would just look at everyone's art and go "wow, that's really good"


Posted Jul 18, '12 at 8:45am



1,092 posts

this. is. STICKY'ISH!

but really, totally amazing no spelling errors. (no I am not giving the "praise from people who don't know what they're talking about"...) should be stickied...


Posted Jul 18, '12 at 1:10pm



3,534 posts

I have to disagree with some of that Xzeno (of course I do, you expect nothing less).

You got 20 rich, detailed pages of useless information. This person doesn't know what they're talking about. He probably has a personal bone to pick with the meter, and is objectively wrong about that meter being bad.

Namely this. While I agree anyone who rambles for an excessive amount of time on any given subject probably has nitpicking issues, I cannot agree they do not know what they're talking about. Given the option I would rather someone explain why they disliked my work, then simply saying they disliked it. An explanation behind their reasoning provides you with insight, and with that insight you can judge whether or not something is valid.

Posted Jul 18, '12 at 1:29pm



14,025 posts


Okay, like...
I don't like your post, wolf, because it is written on the forum. I don't like forums, they are useless since they give everyone else the ability to give their opinions on something, and I should be the only one that haves the ability to share my opinion, because my opinion is not only opinion, but also fact, and everyone should agree with what I say, because it is fact. But instead forums and the posts in forums give people who I don't want to hear about the ability to write opinions on stuff I don't want their opinion on, which is everything, and that is why I don't like your post.

From someone who got a thread highjacked because someone didn't like horseporn (which there arguably was none of anyway), I don't think it is particularly relevant to know why someone didn't like what I was portraying. I want to know what is wrong with the drawing, not the subject at hand, just like I don't care about someone hating the colour blue, anime, cartoons or whatever when they don't like my art because of their subjective opinions on a general matter.
You know, the same way it isn't particularly relevant to a discussion about Rowling, that someone doesn't like fantasy as a genre, and also they hate women.
It is not, and here I might add a 'in my opinion', relevant, informative or helpful to know why someone hates MS paint and that they think everything made with said programme is garbage, if you want to know how to improve on that drawing you made in MS paint.

This has actually been, and probably still is, an issue on dA, where people keep discussing what is art and what isn't, and how some critiques basically run down on how the user doesn't like anime or nude photography or digital art, how said things ruins everything and this is obviously why what they are critiquing sucks.
In that case, they are not actually critiquing the piece of work, they are just ranting about their own little dislikes, and considering their stance, they are most likely not capable (or willing) to help you improve.

But well, that is how I see the situation.

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