Thursday, June 02, 2016

Critique: Fuel, Not Fire!

Overall, critique is both the most helpful and loaded thing that can come up when an artist shares their work. But it's a necessary part of life, especially for an artist. When you start down the road of creation, you will be judged. There is no way to avoid this unless you just plain don't share publicly ANYTHING you make. Here's the thing though: nothing ventured, nothing gained! Yes, I'm speaking in a lot of cliches, but it's all true.

Asking for help can only help!
In short, when you show off your an attempt at a custom, sculpture, or tack, people will be looking at it with a critical eye, whether they share their feelings about it or not. It's just human nature. Critical doesn't always mean bad, though! It just means they're assessing it, as people's brains like to do. If they decided to point out a few spots that could be fixed, for the most part this is not because they want to shut you down and discourage you. QUITE the opposite! Most want to help you grow and improve and succeed as an artist! And from personal experience, if they're trying to help you, that means they see something special, a potential, that just needs refinement.

Many have criticized we live in a time/society that awards everyone, passing out participation trophies like tissues, telling everyone they are a special snowflake and they're doing a great job doing whatever it is they're doing no matter what. This leads to many people getting a false sense of accomplishment, sure, but I have to believe that most people understand the truth about their own individual abilities. Self confidence and esteem is one thing, it's invaluable really so you don't get yourself down, but thinking everything you touch is gold is quite another and I haven't seen many people being the latter.

Ease up, Gramps, it's not that bad
I'm not going to lie. Sometimes the truth hurts. You work hard, you pour so much heart, soul, effort, and to the limits of your current skill, sometimes with frustration, and you're justifiably proud of what you've been able to create... only to be told a laundry list of faults, problems, and mistakes. I hate to say it, but that's life, and some Creative people tend to be just a touch sensitive to it (I say, as a creative person myself) especially as they just begin their "career."

This reminds me of one of my most favorite musicians, Lindsey Stirling. This girl is AMAZING with a violin, and mixes classical training with modern style in such a seamless and inspiring fashion. What she does is original, unique, and fantastic. However, one has to start somewhere:

People booed Piers Morgan's vote, made out to be the bad guy, but he did absolutely nail some issues she needed to address: missed notes, sour moments, balancing playing well AND physical movement. What she did was certainly a lot better than most could doing what she did... but she needed to perfect it. She cried, she got angry later... and then she decided to do something about it. Proving someone wrong may not be the most noble way to improve, but sometimes it helps more than anything else could have been. A kick in the pants if you will.

Granted, there are those who publicly rip on pieces as if there wasn't a feeling human being behind the piece they're so viciously attacking. Usually this happens most on new OF models from Breyer or Stone. Keep in mind the molding process itself may cause some flaws here and there, and judging by one or two angles in a picture is not the best way to fully assess it. NO ONE is stupid for liking something even if it has flaws. Something can have flaws and people can still like it The Gypsy Vanner is a good example of this. Now, these public opinions may have at least a kernel of truth to their bashing as far as the flaws they identify, even if the way they convey it is rude. Yes, they need more tact, but it's one of the things you have to deal with as well when you present your work.

People are already passing "final judgement" (good and bad) on this guy and he's not even out yet!
If you post something publicly, IT WILL be judged. Accept it, because it's just going to happen. Anyone who has seen the comments section on... well, anything on the internet, knows this. If it is up for sale, it will most certainly be judged and critiqued publicly, no matter what because people tend to care more when money is involved (another life lesson!) People will ask opinions on it and other people will gladly give it. You can't stop this, so it's best to prepare for it emotionally and mentally.

Being an artist means having a thick skin. Being able to handle presenting your soul to someone and have them pick over it. Sure, there's your own personal vision, but there's also fixing to correct flaws and problems that dwarf the idea. As replicators of the living, breathing equine equivalents, we have a standard to match: the realism and fascinating science of how the horse moves. From major muscle groups to subtle nuances like how hair flows when a horse moves, we're constantly learning how to faithfully copy our favorite animal.

Hubba hubba, am I right?

That said, DON'T let them get you down! There's always room for improvement and hey, you made something, which is a lot more than many can say. It can be easy to get discouraged, but NO ONE started off perfect. My love and goal of striving for the elusive "perfection" is what humbles me so I can listen to critique. Yes, even I *may* get defensive at first on occasion (no one likes to hear what they're doing is wrong) but taking a step back and mulling over what has been suggested to you is ultimately the best decision.

Even if it doesn't seem like it... Everyone starts somewhere! circa 2003-ish
To those who receive genuine, helpful, constructive criticism... for the love of your craft, LISTEN and take it with dignity and humbleness. Even if you're well-versed in the equine form, there's always going to be someone out there who knows more than you, or even is just a fresh pair of eyes to see something you can't see because you're too close to the project. They only want to help and are as excited about your project as you are AND they took time to say something! And never assume anyone's opinion is invalid just because you don't think they don't have the experience or education to back it up. Lots of people understand and notice issues without holding a degree or their have own line of sculptures. It's all a balance of Pride and Humility.

If someone offers advice you do feel is absolutely just plain wrong due to your own research, you're obviously welcome to calmly counter with your reference materiel to "show your work." If they continue to argue, you can respectfully agree to disagree, but do try to understand what their perspective is just in case you missed something.

Whoops, almost missed that! Drawing on images with Paint or Photoshop can help visualize issues

Now for those who critique: there is a right and wrong way to give advice. First, you have to ask if advice is wanted. A lot of artists are not ready to hear for many reasons, one being they know there's something wrong and they plan to address it themselves first later.. Or perhaps they just aren't emotionally ready to hear anything after struggling with a lot of other problems. Unsolicited advice is a surefire way of creating a poor attitude, hurt feelings, and crushed confidence. And yes, you should care about all of those because creative type people have a certain personality that depends on a certain state of mind to properly create.

Once you've been given the go ahead for advice, be gentle. Do not outright rip or bash on the work done. "It would die if it were real" or "Looks like a giraffe" is NOT helpful. Use positive language and a "compliment sandwich":

  • Point out an overall good attribute or compliment the idea
  • List what what needs fixed with some possible solutions or reference pictures
  • Wrap it up with what has been done RIGHT. 

"Wow, I never thought of Valentine being a Standardbred, very cool! Now that neck is getting a bit long, may wanna knock it down a vertebrae or two. Remember it should be the same as the length of the head... but otherwise I like where this is going! Keep it up!"
Backing up with solutions and facts is helpful to both show you know what you're talking about but also so the artist has somewhere to go with it. But always say *something* GOOD about what they're working on so they know you're not just seeing the negative. Encouragement is both good for an artist, plus it helps them open themselves to what you have to say.

If you and the artist disagree about what is wrong, you can rebut with facts and reference materiel, but it's likely best to back off and let it go. The artist may just be still blind or in denial, but they may also be trying to save face to saving their feelings for making a mistake. It may not be the best way they should deal with it, but either they'll come around or they'll just continue to hamper their own growth and you just can't force them either way.

Overall, Critique is a GOOD thing and should definitely happen, but remember not to hurt people's feelings, assume, or step on people's toes. Too many feel that it's rude to even suggest it, or to talk about something behind an artist's back, but ultimately, it does help teach and people can learn from it. Just keep it respectful (it's a small hobby, people DO hear about this kind of stuff) and someday, some newbie kid may become the next big name artist!

Thank you to whoever spoke up and helped me with this model... the first time I remember getting advice (to raise the back with a lowered head) that helped improve my work and caused me to open my eyes to really *see* what I was looking at.