A brief Review on Criticism

I didn’t have a bad review, but I just sent a work of mine to get what I hope to be a good one from someone I admire.

The moment immediately after I clicked on “send”, a few thoughts invaded my mind while sipping the coffee.

The “bad” and “good” concept always sounded me too “catholic judgmental”. But let’s go for it. I remember that the same work of mine was once both rejected from mags, couple times for being “too erotic” and for being “not enough erotic”.
Of course this only depends on the reader’s mind, not on my work.

But there are few thoughts on this:
– you accept better a review when you ask for it to someone you admire;
– you don’t accept that easy a review that you didn’t ask, from someone you don’t think is good enough for it.
Sometimes you must remember that there are people who are excellent teachers and masters on theory, but not as accomplished in their practice though. So don’t judge the reviews you have based on their work, but based on their knowledge and wisdom. This is also a note to myself.

A positive critic, or review, should be objective and rational, including open mind to learn. It must have a positive and teaching/sharing tone on their words, so the creator can go forward and learn from their own mistakes.

A negative critic is often emotional blended with frustration and lack of knowledge. And there are plenty of them, usually not asked, and usually as public comments.

We must be open for it, straightforward honest critics and reviews on our work. And this is what I always try to do when I’m asked to give a review or a critic on someone’s creative work. Pointing out what I find wrong and opening paths to increase, to do better.

I don’t give critics or reviews unless asked for them, and for sure out of any emotional tie. It doesn’t matter who the creator is: lover, friend or anonymous stranger. If I can’t be honest and objective, I don’t give it. I don’t raise other’s egos for them to feel good: that would be dishonest. If you ask for my critic/review on any of your works, I will tell you what I really think about it: emotionally free. Without being judgmental, without frustration. That’s the way I think a critic must be. Coherent, objective and rational, wise and altruistic as in sharing knowledge for the creator to get better. Being open minded. Accepting.

When I clicked on “send”, this came to my mind. Even though I admire this old grumpy man’s knowledge, I know he often gets emotional and covers his words on a harsh hidden frustration. As if he needed to prove a point to himself, or to show off that he’s great and oh-so-full-of-knowledge, which is unwise. He has knowledge and good critic eye, but I know his own frustrations often blur him. I know that I can’t get it personal when I have this kind of response though. I might ignore if it’s not objective or rational and it didn’t teach me anything but the fact that he’s purely venting his frustrations when he’s in a bad day.
Whenever I have one of these critics, not asked, in a public comment, I let it stay. They are often only interesting to show that person’s frustrated mind.
Reviews and critics should be that: emotionally free. Objective. Rational. If someone asks you for a review or a critic, it’s because they want to make sure they can do better, that they can learn from your words: they expect you to be wise and share your knowledge.

Unfortunately people can get offended whenever they have this “artist blindness” which can make you too emotionally tied to their own work as well. So whenever a critic goes in an emotional way, it can be a spark on their egos, creating frustration and even hanger. A creative work is easily emotional, as we artists create them as a mean of expression. So any response can hurt. So can a comment comparing works.
Someone, once, long time ago, said that one of my works reminded him of a work by Georgia O’Keeffe. It was a way for him to say he loved my work. I got it the opposite way, as quite offensive because I don’t like her work. Communication should be careful on this too. Of course my ego would have been happier if he would have said that my work reminded him of Mapplethorpe. So I got hurt as I took it wrongly. It taught me though that I shouldn’t compare works with other works. In a review I can though show other works in the same line to point out some details that are better/wiser, but never comparing them.
Even though the best thing is when I like, and it’s good, because taste is never universal: if Leonardo daVinci would have asked me if I liked his Mona Lisa, I would have said no. But if he asked me about its quality, I would have said it’s excellent and I would explained him why.
When I’m asked to do reviews or give criticism, I have all this in mind: I want you to get better, so for this I can only be honest, rational, and objective… sharing my knowledge in a wise way. I can’t vent or be emotional. It’s your work, you trusted me when you asked for a review, and that must be respected.
I grew up in museums of ancient art, visiting great masters on a daily base. I studied History of Arts. I’ve been always keen on Cultural Sociology. I learned also that a work can be great, even though I don’t like it. One thing is your taste; another thing is the ability to recognize quality. You shouldn’t mix the things. Maybe I like it, despise the fact that is not that good. Maybe I don’t like your work, but that’s my personal taste. Maybe it’s great. Maybe I can even show you the best way to get it even better. Sometimes we artists are the blindest people when looking at our own work. And that’s why reviews and criticisms by the people we admire should be always an option in mind.

Without ego. Being humble. So we can go further on and learn with whom we respect. So we can learn with our own mistakes.

Don’t ask me if I like your work because you will have to deal with my taste.
Ask me instead if I know how you can do it better. Ask me to think out loud with you, to improve your own way to express through your creative work. Ask me to show the negative spots and how you can make them good. And take it in a wise way because if you ask me for my review on your work, you show that you trust me, and I’ll be the most respectful on my words towards your work. Not towards your ego.

Hope you’re having a great and creative week,

Unicorn screen shot
if you have any thought that you find constructive, adding something positive to this post, feel free to express yourself in a comment.

Gonzalo Bénard is the author of The Sacred Book of G that you can purchase directly from the publisher (faster, cheaper and better), AmazonBarnes & Noble or WaterStones.
Follow @GBenard on twitter.

Gonzalo Bénard is also a lecturer, a tutor of autistic teenagers, and a visual artist. His photography has been part of the annual programs of several universities around the world, and are in several private and public art collections such as Museum of Serralves or Sir Elton John’s. His works are in Hollywood productions and TV series.
You can see his work of photography at his webpage.

If you need a review on your photographic/art works go here.