The Value of Critique
The easier we accept critique, the more constructive critique we get, the greater our opportunity for growth in our chosen craft. This is true not only in photography, but in filmmaking, writing, painting, music, and every other art form. Craft skills in the arts are learned, and then honed to perfection by the artist over a lifetime. Basic raw talent may be there from birth, but without training almost never develops to the fullest potential. And never without frequent mistakes.
Photography can be an intellectual exercise. You read a lot of that type of discussion in most online forums. Those passions expressed are real feelings, and strong ones, arguing about the relative merits of such and such a lens design or this and that color space. Informative discussions all, some of them with truly brilliant insight on new photographic techniques or defining errors and limitations in equipment choices. Other comments, unfortunately, a troll’s view from the bottom of the creative barrel, hardly worth the time.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the social aspects of online forums and have for many years. What I find lacking in most is the element of honest critique, the stuff that moves the ball forward for a photographer/videographer/storyteller. I see plenty of folks giving each other “high 5’s” and praise with their online “likes” but I don’t see a whole lot of honest constructive critique. From my perspective, where are the iterations? Where are the improvements if everything is “liked” and no constructive critique for improvement provided? Where are the colleagues that will tell you the truth? Where are the Facebook “Likes” that mean more than simply a popularity contest? Just because some stranger “likes” a work doesn’t necessarily mean the work is good, but it also doesn’t mean it isn’t. That “like” badge in reality has little to nothing to do with your work product, it has more to do with your social networking status.
My most valued treasured friends are a group of other professional photographers, who I frequently disagree with, but who always share their honest opinions. Where are the images created from trying the same thing several times? Refining and perfecting the process, being it landscape easily reproducible or “street” shots coming in fleeting moments. The true portfolio images are the ones I really had to work hard for. Not the grab shot wonders, we all get our allotment of those. I am talking about the honest “portfolio” images that define your own individual style, your particular vision of the world and the many possible subjects in it that you carefully crafted.
The very idea that photography or artistic photographic images are either “liked” or “disliked” it is a “bean counter” approach to art, not an artists perspective. I say make your mistakes, and enjoy them. Savor your many failures, as failure is as the secret sauce that sweetens the success even more when it comes. Without frequent failures, none of us would ever learn anything. Neither will you. So step out there and push your own personal limit, experiment, and may you fail frequently, with true friends critiquing honestly as you do.
Group critique can be a powerful tool. A collection or group of friends can bring the necessary clarity of vision we all need. No man is an island, and no work has ever been created that could not be improved with good constructive critique. Constructive being the operative word. Nobody needs to hear their work is poop, that is not critique. Hearing that the color saturation may be a bit high, the main subject not composed pleasantly, or hearing about a distracting object in the frame all can lead to an improved second attempt. So “good critique” then is feedback that can be used to improve the quality or appeal of a particular image, while the process of critique can improve our photography in general.
Critique groups can be a useful exercise, provided a few rules are followed. What can these provide? A workshop like local support group! Having regular critiques can build trust and create a bond with others in your group. As time passes, the group members all get to know and trust each other. They all get to know you, your goals and aspirations for your photography which makes for the best critique, and know what your work is about. A much better situation than trying to explain yourself and your work constantly to new people. Your critique group can be a big help working a piece to where you want it to go too.
Tips for successful critique sessions:
- Post work that needs input. Critique is not meant to be a “pat on the back” love-in. Finished works you know work do not need critique as much as the works you hide under the bed.
- No Arms Twisted Here. Not everyone is ready to post their work publicly. For an artist, that public posting is a big step, as it makes a definitive statement of the artist’s vision. Work that is never displayed or critiqued is all excellent in the artist’s mind. How well it holds up to peer scrutiny is often another story, and that is OK.
- Constructive critique, not destructive criticism. All of us look to improve our work, not hear our work called a piece of shit! State your questions and own observations along with the piece you wish to be critiqued. Good critique takes into account where an artist wants to go with the work.
- Do Onto Others As You Would Have Them Do Onto You. Whether giving or receiving critique, remember this is all about the work, none of it is about anything personal. Judge others works in the same manner you wish to have your own works jugged. Always be honest, but there is never a reason to be bitter, jealous, or unkind.
- Have Fun!
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