(Warning, this is long!)
We have an interesting relationship with the rest of the world, us artists. Pouring our time and energy into our creations and releasing them into the wild, waiting and hoping for someone, anyone really to like it 🙂
When your sharing medium of choice is the Internet, it gets even more interesting. Real time instant feedback 24/7 can be an addictive high to the artist desperate for feedback, one I know is seductive and appealing.
I participate in many different photography forums on the net, sometimes just as a way to share images with a wider audience ( eg Twitter) and other times to solicit feedback and comments (eg WordPress challenges). During the past few years a disturbing trend has become noticeable in many of the more social style places – a distinct lack of honest critique.
Whether it is seen as polite to say only nice things, or in reverse “if you can’t say something nice, say nothing” I am not sure. Certainly there are some forums specifically for critique in the more serious sites but I see the trend there too.
Since becoming serious about photography 6 years ago, in recent times I have acknowledged the fact I am an artist. It took a long time and much education before I really understood that. One day it is my hope that people will pay money for my images, competitions might be entered and prizes won, that sort of thing. As a result I am very serious about my art, right now my photography is OK, sometimes even good, but I know that to get better, I have to work at it. To study, practise, learn, read and grow.
The dichotomy is to do this, feedback must be recieved. Other opinions must be queried, people with different knowledge and skills need to view my images and provide feedback.
So here is the question:
If people only say nice things, how does that help me improve as an artist?
Recently I had an exchange with another blogger, where I had expressed my dislike for and queried the reasoning behind their artistic choices. Interestingly they chose not to release my post for viewing but decided it was OK to take random statements out of context and respond to those. They weren’t impressed!
Fortunately I’m a lot older and wiser, and found this amusing and pause for thought, rather than the vitriolic flame response it might have generated in years gone by. This is that response, because one of the things said in the reply really irritated me – the concept that blogging should be a fun, enjoyable safe space and only constructive criticsm should be allowed.
It irritated me BECAUSE I had gone to considerable effort to try and make my critique constructive, was honest with the poster that I disliked their work and struggled to understand their reasoning behind why they created it and specifically asked for clarification.
So here we have the Dilemma of Honest Critique in this day and age. One one hand I understand that we have delicate artist egos, fragile and easily damaged. That the Internet is a wild and savage place full of “other” people who have ideas and opinions different to our own. That sometimes text is a terrible method of communication and what is meant one way can come across as harsh and upsetting to the reader. Also that some people delight in just dumping their shit because they can (generally that isn’t something I see a lot in the forums I’m talking about but I’m also not on Facebook LOL)
Yes I get all that. Here is my problem, if people are afraid to get honest critique, then they will also be afraid to give it, and then we end up with the situation seen now, where its like kindergarten, and you get a gold star for trying, no matter how good or bad.
How does that help those of us who are genuinely desiring of honest feedback?
My local camera club hosted recently a qualified photo comp judge. He offered a free critique clinic where you could supply a few images in advance and he would comment. There were over 60 images and he spoke to every single one. I supplied 5 and only one of them had something nice said about it 🙂
Initially I was quite hurt, but when I thought about what he said, he was right and it was a turning point in my evolution as a photographer, where my realisation that composition was so very critical to the success of an image.
It was because of that experience I entered into the first One Four Challenge, because it asked me to do something completely new and foreign – to edit and post process my images in a much more creative way. Previously my style has been somewhat of a purist, only the basics for me! But over time I have learned new things and techniques and understood more about how images can be processed, and my attitude has relaxed a little bit there.
But all this fancy photoshop stuff with layers and effects and things! A whole new world that I had never ventured into. So taking part in the challenges has been really valuable to me and the thing I value most is the feedback I get. I ask for honest feedback and am lucky enough to get people telling me they don’t like something. I love that! I love it more when they tell me why too!
In this day and age when attention spans can be measured in picoseconds, and someone taking the time to hit the LIKE button is awesome, consider then how important it is that these people are prepared to view my blog AND ALSO TYPE OUT A COMMENT!!
THAT IS AMAZING!!!!
So I make sure I visit everyone who is participating in the challenge and comment on their entry too. And for everyone out there who has ever recieved a comment from me liking something, you can be sure it was a genuine and honest response 🙂
Part of the challenge of honest critique is the differential between you the viewer, and the artist. They may be at a different stage on the path, have different technical skills, their personal style and preference may not mesh with yours and many other things.
For example it surprises me the number of people editing images on iPads. Personally I think it is a terrible tool for image editing, the ability to manipulate fine detail is extremely limited. Yet other people are happy with it, they might like the apps they use, it may be the only computer in the house or what they can afford etc etc.
So I try to judge each image on its own merit and with the challenges many people explain what they did and why, and that is helpful. But sometimes an image is just …… not good. It might be retrievable so I sometimes ask “what would happen if you did X” or I offer a tip like “you could fix X with this tool” and I really really try to make it non confrontational. Really! DAMMIT I WANT TO HELP!
My assumption is that the people taking part in the challenge are doing so for the same reason as me, to try new things and learn as we go. The community feel is a nice one and I have learned a lot from people generous with their time to share tips and teach me new concepts. I really value that.
So what do I do when faced with an image that could be vastly improved with a crop, needs to be a bit brighter, isn’t straight etc. Do I say nothing? Do I run the risk and say something, trying to make it palatable?
Am I wrong in assuming that people putting their work out there even want honest feedback?
So this is my dilemma -Should I give honest feedback?
Should I toe the party line and just say nothing if the best I can come up with is a bland meaningless response for the sake of it?
Do people really only want to hear nice things about their work?
Comments welcome – be as honest as you like 🙂