Constructive Criticism

Posted on November 12, 2011


Today’s post is motivated by what occurred on Friday. I attended a discussion on nude art in the Indianapolis area, and discussed a lot of art that was being shown at the Stutz Art Space (all the work are nudes). I also have to be up front and say that one of my pieces were selected for the show, and is hanging on the wall. The work and the panel discussion wasn’t the reason why I brought this up, but rather the comments from people who attended to see the “art”.

I talk with many people. I also encourage people to say their opionion, and I value that individuals can say their mind. Some of what they say may hurt, or may cause me to be furious, but I hold my tongue, and let everyone be entitled to their own opinion. Today was no exception. While talking with a model about the show, she asked what I had heard about it from others. I told her that the response was mixed, and that the content of the show wasn’t the problem (nudes). Instead, it was the composition of work that was presented. The consistant things I have heard were “the pieces were what you would find at a ___ year college art show”; many times I have heard “amateurish” and “contrived work” when people have discussed the show. The model was amazed that I would take this kind of opinion, and asked me what I did because they were being so rude. My response to the model was that everyone is entitled to their opinion. If you can’t respect an opinion, you end up with what is going on in photographic competitions today: no one will give you any constructive criticism on your work. All you hear is “I like this about this image that I am giving this award…” and nothing to do with real criticism on the reason the pieces not getting an award could do to get an award next time. This is a real problem.

How will someone learn what they have done wrong if no one can tell them this? Let me give you another case that occurred a few years back: another model had just posted images taken by another photographer, and it was very obvious from the images that both the model and the photographer were drinking some stiff alcoholic drinks. I advise models to _NEVER_ drink alcohol at a photo session. The end result was the images were kind of bad at the beginning and progressed to horrendously bad at the end. I knew the model, and was going to be shooting a photo session with her the following week. I asked her if she ever intended to work with a modeling agency – she gave me a definitive “YES!” I then recommended that she pull those images off the web before too many people see them. They aren’t professional. She wanted to know why I would say something like that. She then went to the photographer who took the images, and he sent me a really nasty e-mail message and indicated that the images were just candid images. Within two days, she had told all her friends, several models, several photographers, and just about anyone who would listen to her how awful I was for saying such a thing. The comments she received from her friends were along the lines of how pretty, hot, or wonderful she was in those images. It didn’t matter that the picture was tilted, out of focus, and very poorly composed. Nor did it matter that she looked like she was stunned and not coordinated in the images. All that mattered was that she had a photo session with a photographer, and the photographer said the images were masterpieces of art. No one would talk with her about the images, and her friends only would say they were wonderful and great. I talked with an internationally known photographer about this at length, and his comment could be summarized as you never say anything to anyone for comments on their work. If you must (they must ask many times), only say something good and non-committal. If they want to know something bad, by not saying anything, it will speak volumes. This is the problem when you don’t accept constructive criticism.

In the art world, everyone has their own opinion and some won’t hesitate to tell you theirs. This is par for the career and what you need to do. When you create something, others may or may not see the same things that you did when you created the work. You might as well listen, and see if you can learn something from their comments – good or bad. As an artist, or model, it is your responsibility to take both the good and bad, and make it better. You have a responsibility to respect others’ views. You don’t have to agree with them.

The purpose was not to get on a soap box but rather to say “get a thicker skin” and put up with some of life. Take the comments that apply to you, use them, and ignore the rest. Does it really matter that such and such is an egotistical pig? No. Do his comments have something in them that I could learn from? Maybe. But to find out, you have to have someone willing to give their opinion and someone else to listen. With neither, the process to grow as artists (or people) comes to a screeching halt.

The next time you hear something you don’t want to hear, hang in there and hear the person out. Don’t react. Wait and listen. You may find something interesting in what someone else has to say. And, I can assure you that you will grow as a person and artist if you do. If someone asks you for your opinion, be respectful of who they are and give them constructive criticism, and something they can use to grow.