Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Critiquing - Critical Praise

The subject of critiquing was the topic of discussion this morning in our house. Our daughter, a talented artist, told us of a friend who criticizes her work making her think he doesn't like her as an artist. After, I realized that while professors and teaches have students critique one another, the students aren't always taught HOW to critique. Many of them think that you only improve by knowing what doesn't work so you can focus on making that better next time. That's really only half the story!

Everyone loves praise. We want people to tell us we are amazing artists, photographers, writers, whatever. But we don't actually improve in any of these talents when given praise alone. We all need constructive criticism to grow. Remember, constructive not destructive! Most teachers/professors will instruct their students on the difference. What they fail to teach is that all the helpful, constructive criticism in the world will fall on deaf ears if that is all that is given. Lead with praise and the criticism will be soaked up like a dry sponge in a sink full of warm water.
meme courtesy of Kami Dempsey http://www.kamidempsey.com/1454-2/
I'll use one of my photographs as an example. It's not particularly award-winning in quality, kind of average in my opinion. Which makes it perfect for this exercise! If I were to critique this photo for someone else, I might start off with saying, "I love all the orange of these pumpkins. The range of colors in each one meld together to fairly shout out Halloween! or Fall!" 

See, that's a nice compliment, isn't it? Especially since my goal in taking the photo was to project a sense of the season. But there are plenty of technical issues with this picture. Now is the time for the critique to point out those areas. First thing someone might comment on is the angle - it's not straight. Some may like that. It's also a little too bright - here's where the other important thing about critiquing comes in. Yes, point out the exposure inaccuracy but then the critiquer should make a suggestion to correct the issue. Depending on the level of expertise and the skill of the critiquer, the suggestion could be "make it darker next time" or "be sure to shoot with the sun behind you." A skilled photographer would suggest different film and/or shutter speeds. Someone good with editing might suggest how to correct the photograph itself, rather than how to avoid the problem going forward.

Although the criticism will vary by each individual, as will the suggestions for improvement, if each one starts off with a positive note, a word of praise, the one receiving the criticism will be more likely to see the comments as helpful and therefore put some of the suggestions into practice.