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Amongst the tall grasses of the artist’s Serengeti, a predator stalks it’s prey.
It’s eyes are narrowed to the sun, scanning the horizon for it’s next big meal. Drool drips down the sides of it’s downturned mouth and patches of fur catch on the twigs as he passes none too gracefully through the folds of natural debris.
It spies it’s prey.
It’s muscles tense.
And the killer platypus strikes out in a vengeance for a crime never committed against him!
Ah, the killer platypus. I VERY common and slightly stupid looking creature RAMPANT in the artist’s world. It wants to be everything. He sees the lion and envies it’s majestic mane. He sees the meerkat and envies it’s fast little legs and sense of community. He sees the elephant and covets it’s amazingly badunka-dunk butt.
Instead of embracing who he truly is (we are not sure of that anymore ourselves), he tries to hard to bring down what he envies. He tells the lion that his main is an overcompensation, the meerkat is an embarrassment to the rodent underground and the elephant has a fat tookas.
If he can’t be happy…no one can.
At first, this terrible habit starts off as ego…but eventually just turns into ignorance.
So how does this bizarre little analogous creature fit in with the topic of this blog post?
This blog post is all about the art of the intelligent critique.
There are hundreds of different styles of critiquing, but at the risk of inviting argument, I am going to say that the intelligent critique is the only one that matters.
Where the critique of an image by the platypus would sound something like “I don’t like it. The space above her head is too wide. Do this instead…” *links to a seriously terrible image*, the critique of the lion would sound something like “It’s a great shot. But if I were going to change anything, I might consider moving her from the center of the frame upwards…bringing more foreground into view.”
Many uneducated critics are under the impression that a good critic is harsh. A good critic should make people cry. These are ideas born of idiocy.
The formula for an intelligent critique is NOT a difficult one to follow.
A. You should always approach it as a teacher to student, even if your student doesn’t agree with your final analogy. For that one second, you hold that persons ego and potential in your hands.
B. You should ALWAYS be honest. Telling the artist that his work is “Really pretty!!” doesn’t help anyone. At the same time…telling the artist that his work “sucks a dill pickle!” isn’t telling the artist anything OR boosting the artist’s confidence in his or her potential.
C. No matter how bad the image is, find SOMETHING to compliment! Remember what your mamma taught you…”If you can’t something nice, don’t say anything at all.” THIS…is actually the secret formula for an intelligent critique written all nice and concise-like in one sentence. BRILLIANT!
As a critic, your goal should be first…to get your “student” to listen to what you have to say and accept your criticisms with grace. If you start off by telling them about how hard they suck, they are NOT going to hear anything after the first ten seconds of your speech.
Even the ugliest shot in the world has potential somewhere in there!
“Ahem….uh…nice kneecaps you have there!”
If you compliment what they are doing right, there is a good chance that they will continue to do it.
After you win them over with a little praise, your next goal is to let them know what they might want to work on. Here is where you can be slightly more aggressive with your opinion! Don’t soften the blow. You’ve already endeared yourself to them, and they should only respect your opinion more at this point.
D. Remember a VERY important rule: Opinions are VERY different from critiques.
Opinion: “I hate your crooked horizon line!”
Critique: “The horizon line is slightly off, so you might try fixing that in LightRoom. It would really enhance to your composition!”
I like to think of opinions as the chicken’s (or platypus’s) way of critique. They are hiding behind something that no one can deny, their personal opinion. A critique, on the other hand, isn’t up for debate. When the critique is over, the “student” can ask questions…but there is no real room for debate. Either they accept the critique or not.
As an exercise, try to build an argument against the “opinion” above. Notice how, in your head, the discussion can easily escalate to very harsh words.
“YOUR MOM’S HORIZON LINE IS CROOKED!!!”
Now try to argue with the “critique” above. Although it’s still possible, (some people can argue with a fence post), it’s more likely that you will take their criticism with grace and apply it if you see fit.
So what does an intelligent critique look like in the flesh?
“Those are some seriously gorgeous knee caps! I might consider lighting them from behind to really enhance their shape and smooth the skin out. Also, I might move the cap area to the side of the image, just because having it in the center seems a little more flat than what it could be with such an awesome subject.”
Voila! Obviously, a critique can be done a little more aggressively…depending on who you are talking to and the subject you are critiquing. Kneecap photographers are a sensitive bunch, though.
Bonus Section!!! How to take a critique:
Learning how to TAKE a critique is just as important as learning how to give one. You HAVE to be a bit thick skinned to willingly ask for them.
A. A critic will find something for you to improve upon, so just accept that your piece is NOT perfect and you will fare much easier during this process.
B. Be able to recognize a critique vs. an ass. An ass (commonly referred to as a “troll” on the interwebs) is only there to get a rise out of you. They are out to make you cry, they think they are God’s gift to the art world, and they don’t know the difference between an opinion and an intelligent critique.
You can recognize these guys by their platypus shape and the drool down the left side of their chin.
C. Don’t be afraid to not only take all of the advice given…but to also decide for yourself, what you think will take away from the artistry of your piece. If centering your subject everytime is your thing…you MIGHT get a lot of negative critique about it, but it’s YOUR thing!! And if you become REALLY great at what you do, that negative critique has huge potential to become a positive.
That last bit being said, study the basic rules of your field of artistry before you start breaking them. For instance, photographers have rules for the placement of their subject “Rule of Thirds“, rules for focus, and rules for lighting. Although rules are meant to be broken, you have to understand them fully before you can SUCCESSFULLY bend them to your will and snap them in half like the twigs they are.
So carry on my fellow wildlife of the Serengeti!! Shake off the pesky platypus and find your inner Lion. Embrace who you are, but take the critiques of others with grace. We’ve all learned lessons, and the only way to continue to grow is to continue to learn the lessons that others are trying to teach us.
Terra and Josh
P.S. If you want to see this “Serengeti” in action, check out the “Be Brutal – Portrait Photography Critique” group on Facebook! It’s like a zoo in there! We have Zebras, Lions…and even the non-elusive Platypus.
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