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Jim Kelso

Forum courtesy

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This is a subject that I've been thinking about for some time. I'll just kick it off with my own views and see what others think.

 

It's been my experience both from the receiving and giving end that critique is often unhelpful if it is not asked for. Obviously there are times of danger when this is not the case, but in general in a non-threatening social situation, it seems true. I have received advice that was helpful and unasked for, but as far as I can remember, it was always from someone quite close, who I knew quite well, who's opinion I trusted, and in private.

 

The forum, by nature, is very impersonal, out of the moment, and very public; all qualities not conducive to

nuanced, give and take verbal communication. I have seen this cause problems here and elsewhere. It seems to me, therefore, that we have to be even more careful, in a way, to tread tenderly around the issue of criticism.

 

I would personally be happy with a generalised policy of not offering in depth critique unless it is solicited, or unless it comes about in a gradual, unfolding manner, where it seems clear that it's desired. I doubt that everyone would be happy with that, but perhaps we can come to some concensus.

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While I understand your view Jim, I think I have to disagree with it. I think that almost by definition of a 'forum', there is to be criticism, debate and discussion. I think that if a work is posted for others to see, then we are all free to comment on it. The very act of posting implies a willingness for criticism.

I allow that there is constructive criticism and then there is libel. I think we all know the difference. Those that don't need a lesson in civility and manners and humility. I was participating in a local exhibit once and a fellow participant (a guy who has won more than one blue ribbon locally) said to me "You carve well, but if you'd stop drilling holes in some of your pieces, they'd win more awards". In other words, he never cared to ask first why I put holes in some of them.

 

I know that as a growing artist, I need feedback from others. I trust the intentions and opinions of those here on the forum whose abilities are miles ahead of mine. If someone comments that perhaps a carved contour is not as fluid as it should be on one of my pieces, chances are that I knew it myself and tried to deny it or sneak it by. Criticism strengthens my resolve and makes me want to try harder next time.

Also, with all of us making creations somewhat out of the mainstream, it is important for me to get feedback here, because I can't readily get it in my local community of artists who may be more visually literate with photography or painting, for instance. The forum provides such a community.

 

There is criticism appropriate for different levels of skill. Some on the forum who are just beginning to work on a small scale need 'stick with it' encouragement. As one's skills develop, the criticism can become more specific. It's obvious that the granite viking posted here recently shows great technical skill. I think it is fair criticism to raise the ante to a discussion of whether or not the piece conveys something beyond technical merit.

 

I realize that some have thicker skins than others, and intentions can be mistaken sometimes, but I trust that the comments people make here are not out of malice, but a genuine desire for all of us to achieve our potential.

 

-Doug

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Guest ford hallam

Frankly Jim, I think the idea of being required to withhold ones personal opinions in an apparently open forum smacks of censorship.

 

I think Doug has stated the case perfectly. He is also absolutely correct that we must be aware of the various stages people are at and tailor our responses accordingly.

 

If my critique of the viking warrior has precipitated this concern then I would have to counter that as the piece in question was offered to this community, not by the artist but but by yourself as something you apparently admired, you are presenting your values to many newcomers to this area of endeavour. I merely felt that I had an equal right to express my views on the piece. Had the artist himself presented his work I would no doubt have said something reasonably pleasant. In my view, and as Doug said, we must up the ante when dealing with professional work and I would argue that in the case of public works we may even have a moral duty to engage critically with work of this sort.

 

In my opinion, if you aspire to be a professional artist and be taken seriously by your peers in your artistic community then you had better be prepared to take the rough with the smooth when it comes to feedback. If it's not honest critique that people want when they post images for the whole world to see, then what is their motivation? to receive some condescending and meaningless ( not to mention dishonest and misleading ) pat on the head? That is what my 5 year old gets, my 14 year old is beginning to deal with a somewhat more probing critique, albeit couched in supportive and positive terms.

 

Personally, I consider it impolite and uncivil not to give honest and considered feedback. I'm not suggesting that we need to be cruel, a balanced and hopefully well intentioned response would, I hope, also include praise and comments on the positive and successful aspects of any piece.

 

or; we could follow my mothers dictum; " if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything"

I don't suppose there is any reluctance to hearing positive critique.

Personally, I feel there isn't enough direct and honest critique on this forum. I do hope it doesn't merely become a mutual appreciation society.

 

again, just my opinion.

Ford

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Guest katfen

Jim,

 

I appreciate your difficulty with criticism. It is something each of us has to address in a way that fits best for the individual. I agree that the forum is public, impersonal, and out of the moment. My understanding of 'art' is that it is a public domain once one ventures forth into the public sphere with one's work. That being said, criticism is very much a part of that. It's really about how one chooses to perceive the situation, how one feels about oneself, one's work, etc. In other words, a rainy day could be depressing to one person and beautiful to another, depending on the individual's perceptions, the beliefs they hold about themselves, and their place in the world.

 

As you've said, the forum is a very public place, hence, a situation where one may anticipate criticism. It would be naive to think that any of us have control, or can have control over others' criticism. I think your suggestion is extreme and inappropriate for a public forum such as this. Personally, I have been disappointed in the past with receiving very little criticism when I post a piece. I rather enjoy the challenge and think it crucial to one's growth process, both personal and creative. I think censoring in the manner you suggest results in further distillation of a forum that is already overwhelming in it's 'niceyness', a.k.a. LDS (which I'm not elaborating on, in order not to tread on anyone's toes). This is one of the very reasons I no longer post with any frequency.

 

Kathleen

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I'm a frequent visitor to two general art forums. One, by far the larger, pretty much follows the philosophy of Thumper's mother (and Ford's)-- if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all. They do have a sub-forum for serious critiques, but in the many other sub-forums it's expected that anybody who posts any work will just get kudos for it.

 

The other forum is much smaller and primarily inhabited by oil painters. The level of quality in the work of the older hands at this place is very high indeed. Some of it is just staggering.

 

Far as I know, only one other sculptor aside from me has ever posted anything there. I mostly lurk. Of course painting on a flat support is quite different than painting on a 3D form. But it's still a great place for learning about the ins and outs of oils-- mediums, glazing, values, chroma and so on.

 

On one of the happier days of my life, I posted my gilded hawk head study there and the site owner thought enough of it to enquire about the price. He didn't buy it, but it was still a major feather, so to speak, in my cap that he would even consider it. He is one helluva painter and extremely knowledgable about all kinds of art. It was a major affirmation for me.

 

For "flat artists" as bird carvers sometimes call them (mostly because they're jealous of wildlife painters who can command much higher prices than they can), posting work at that forum requires some nerve, because you are gonna get critiqued with no holds barred regardless of whether you ask for it.

 

I've followed the progress of several painters there who took that chance, over a period of several years. All of them, without exception, have become much better painters. And even more importantly, better artists. The owner of the site is considered little less than the devil himself by many people at the other forum, but the plain fact of the matter is that he and several other members of his site have done a tremendous job of educating less experienced painters. Many have said that they've learned more in six months at this forum than they did in four years at art school.

 

At the other forum, I've likewise followed the progress of several bird carvers. Once they got past the pure novice stage, they settled into a rut from which they have yet to emerge.

 

Every time they post work, they get a resounding chorus of empty kudos from people who really don't know much about bird carving (there are less than a dozen bird carvers out of several thousand members), and it seems that's all they want. I no longer post any critiques when a bird carving shows up in the sculpture or wildlife art forums. Even my best intentioned and most constructive critiques-- and I know how to give one, having judged at the Ward World Championship of Wildfowl Carving-- resulted in defensiveness and resentment one too many times.

 

When I finally get around to dusting off my stash of boxwood and trying my hand at some work that's really more appropriate for this forum than the kind of work I do now, I hope people will critique it honestly. I will want to know what I'm doing wrong as well as what I'm doing right, and how I can do better, from those who know a lot more about it than I do.

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Guest ford hallam

perhaps Musket, your description of a sub-forum could work in this context. Although I wonder then, what the value, if any, feedback on the "safe" forum would have. I mean, if it's understood that you would only get positive replies you'd have to be seriously delusional (or in kindergarten) to be satisfied with that. :D

 

Your description of the potential benefits of being able to utilise good critique is exactly what I think we should be promoting. Also illuminating is your account of people getting past the initial stages only to then stagnate. A rut is just a grave with the ends kicked out. ;)

 

I think that perhaps we should have a vote on the issue, lets find out what the membership would find most useful. If this is a democratic forum ( in the original Greek sense ) then lets hear what would be of most value or use to the most people.

 

Another possibility would be for professionals ( ie; those who make a living from their creative work ) and those who had more serious ambitions ( as opposed to those who pursued their art as a hobby or pastime ) to have an icon of sorts on their posts to mark them out as being "up for it", so to speak. :(

 

And before I get letters of complaint, I was in no way demeaning or diminishing those who are amateurs or part-timers etc. I'm simply suggesting that we could make a conscious choice as to whether we invited honest critique or not. It might follow then that if you were not looking for that kind of response then your posts would be similarly restrained. Naturally that option would be open to anyone, whatever their "status".

 

Miniature art forms are marginalised in the art world. A big part of the reason, I suspect, may be the absence of any consensus amongst ourselves as to what constitutes quality. Are we prepared to take ourselves seriously? and thrash these issues out or will our work remain only self-referentially valid and unchallenged?

 

Lets hear some more voices on this issue, please. I think it is really one of the most vital ( both meanings :) ) matters we've discussed here.

 

Ford

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Opinions please. Is it time to add another forum topic, like the Who's Who, or Tutorials? Would it be called The Critics' Corner(plural ownership as we all are critics in one way or another, or Critique ... A forum for more critical discussion ...

 

Any suggestions about title and description before a new forum area is placed? Some sort of warning perhaps about the degree of scrutiny, observation and constructive criticism which might take place? A place apart from the pat on the back complimenting commentary from New Work or Show & Tell, a place where serious but not destructive or offensive (does this make it too mild?) assesments may be offered.

 

Opinions please.

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Guest ford hallam

How about;

 

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here. :D

 

or

 

The arena....perhaps too gladiatorial. ;)

 

 

serious but not destructive or offensive (does this make it too mild?) assesments

 

exactly Janel. Good critique should'nt be rude or destructive, nor personal for that matter.

 

I do think that we should have some guidelines posted as to how we ought to conduct ourselves in this proposed area. I have had a little look around on the net and there are a few useful suggestions on other art critique sites which we could adopt.

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Ford, the "safe" forum is huge and has several dozen subforums for art in various media and subject matter. The majority of posters are hobbyists and amateurs (in the best sense of that word-- perhaps "afficianados" would be a better choice). Some of them do work as high in quality as many professionals. Most do not. Many are novices, most are intermediates, and site policy seems to be that encouragement is more important than critique. It's, well, a touchy-feely sort of site in many respects. But those who really do want an honest critique can get it.

 

The other forum is tiny by comparison and focused almost exclusively on a single media and its associated disciplines, and for the most part on representational painting (though non-representational is far from dissed there... it isn't the type of site where the members seem to believe that painting died when Bouguereau put down his brush for the last time). It's expected from day one that anybody who joins is serious about improving, and is there to learn unless they are already so advanced that their primary role is to help others learn.

 

I've never seen a single instance of anyone objecting to an honest critique there.

 

Janel, have there been many instances of people taking offense to critiques here? I would think that the relatively small size of this forum, and the sincere desire of just about every newbie who comes along to do his or her best, would make a subforum for honest critiques unnecessary. I can't speak for others, but I'm my own harshest critic anyway.

 

Which is all I'll have to say about it until I do dust off the boxwood. :rolleyes:

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Hi Musket,

 

You have piqued my curiosity about the forums you allude to in the above messages. I am curious about them. Are you willing to send the url to me or even post them here? It could be educational.

 

Hmmm, instances of people taking offense to critiques... That is not an easy one to answer, but I think in general most critiques have been supportive or thoughtfully presented when something could help make something better. I think that there is not much in the way of real critiques occurring here.

 

I did a brief search yesterday and found a couple of sites that present a format to follow when constructing a critique.

http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/content/3338//

http://www.bhsu.edu/

http://www.brigantine.atlnet.org/

 

The art of creating a critique is a complex act. The process goes way beyond simply offering one's personal response, it gives a framework to use that helps to organize facts and thoughts, and to make intelligent and educated statements about a work of art.

 

Are we daring enough to actually ask, receive and respond and grow from honest... a-ha, here is the difference... critique vs. criticism. They are different.

 

I often wonder about what some may really think about the pieces I present, and what might the criticisms may be vs. the critique of the work as a whole. Criticism to me, in some ways means, the offering of where a weakness exists that could have been done better, and a suggestion for how to improve. It is that criticism which will cause one to improve technique, skill with composition or use of materials, among other elements involved with producing the objects we make. By the time we post images, there is not much chance of changing the object, so one would hope for approval at that point, but the critique would be constructive for future works.

 

A question for the forum members, should there be a separate, new forum area dedicated to formal critique, with the critiquing process established in the format presented by the above web sites?

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Janel, the two forums are WetCanvas! and The Cennini Forum.

 

WetCanvas!

 

Cennini Forum

 

Yes that's pretty much the way to offer a constructive critique. Find something good to talk about-- there almost always is-- then deal with what could be better, and close with some encouragement.

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Guest ford hallam

Our newest member, Mark has suggested the most obvious and easiest solution in this whole "to critique or not to critique" question. If you are looking for, or open to critique then simply say so when you post your work. If not, then indicate that you are posting merely for viewing. Simple really. :)

 

It would probably still be a good idea to have those guidelines about how to actually write a reasonable and useful response though. :(

 

Ford

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Dear all,

I have been following this debate with great interest, thus far choosing to remain quiet. I feel it is time for me to express my opinion, as a member of this forum.

 

A few points first.

I visit the forum daily in search of inspiration, a break from the more banal aspects of my work, answers, questions, and most of all, honest discussions. I typically enjoy the maturity and poignant (and occasional) immaturity of the posts, and am very impressed by the level of discourse. In it, I find a collection of individuals that bring a lot to the table, from wide enough backgrounds to keep it interesting, but similar enough sensibilities (and sensitivities) to keep it 'tidy'.

 

As far as the functions of fora are concerned, I have thought long and hard (well, considering :() and in all the definitions of the word I could come up with, the key elements are "public", "open", "discussion', and "expression". Secondarily, perhaps, "instructive" and "educational" also come to mind.

 

Having said these things, I believe that posting in a public forum means that the post is open to discussion and analysis (=critique). It means the member posting work, opinions, facts, and 'facts' accepts that they are put forth to other members to look at, read, consider, and, ultimately perhaps, provide a retort or opinion to. In my view (which means open to debate etc), disallowing, in one manner or another, honest and considerate replies is nothing sort of censorship.

This is all with the proviso that this is a PUBLIC forum. If it is decided and accepted that this is a forum owned by a group of individuals (and there is nothing wrong with that), then all rules are decided by these individuals and you may stop reading this post.

 

I mentioned honest and considerate postings. Honesty seems to me to be not only of interest, but of the essence in these matters. It is the duty of the members here to express their views and avoid the pats in the head as Ford has stated earlier. In fact both Ford and Doug have already done a really good job outlining the importance of honesty (and for that they both get a pat in the head :)). As a friend of mine told me recently about this issue "given the nature of internet forums and the possibilities of such careful and considerate discussions about art, i think it would be a shame to cut that short by making sure that all that can be said is praise and honor" and that "they should all be proud to have created such a haven to exchange ideas". This is precisely why I hang out here.

 

Now to practical issues.

A 'subforum of honesty' does not get my vote. I do not accept brushing things under a carpet.

Mark's solution (welcome to the forum, Mark) of allowing members to indicate whether their work is open for critique DOES receive my vote, though I suspect we won't see a lot of those.

In terms of laying down the rules of engagement, so to speak, it seems to me that this forum's members are more than capable of 'regulating' themselves (no cheap shots about potty-training here please) and that 6500 posts into its life there have been but minor misunderstandings. In that, I vote we let things roll and deal with issues as they come along.

 

 

These are my views and I appreciate the existence of a framework I can express them in.

 

Tassos

 

ps. Ford I like the new, classical avatar.

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Guest DFogg

I think the tone and tenor of a discussion is most important to a forum. Because we lack the physical presence there is often the tendency to let emotions rule, it reminds me of how folks behave in vehicles. I don't think we should limit discussion or criticism as long as it is constructive and informative.

 

There is room for encouragement as well as thoughtful appraisal. We have not been subject to the critics as crafts people in the way that artists are, though privately we are often very critical of others work. I know that I always benefit from honest and informed critique and deeply resent unkind and thoughtless comments.

 

It will be a difficult task, but perhaps in the end the reason we gather here is to learn from our peers. We are often so close to our work that fresh eyes can see what we can not. So I am inclined toward free and open discussion and to work through the rough spots.

 

I wish I had time for more carving because I truly enjoy it and have learned much from you gentle folks.

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Thoughtful comments all.

 

Our newest member, Mark has suggested the most obvious and easiest solution in this whole "to critique or not to critique" question. If you are looking for, or open to critique then simply say so when you post your work. If not, then indicate that you are posting merely for viewing. Simple really. :)

 

It would probably still be a good idea to have those guidelines about how to actually write a reasonable and useful response though. :(

 

Ford

 

This makes sense to me, and does sound remarkably like what I had in mind in the first post above. Not sure why it raised such a fuss then, or am I missing something.

 

From above: "I would personally be happy with a generalised policy of not offering in depth critique unless it is solicited, or unless it comes about in a gradual, unfolding manner, where it seems clear that it's desired."

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Jim and all.

I am glad it seems we are coming to an agreement here.

One thing I'd like to make sure we are clear about is whether it's opt-in or opt-out.

Should members state that criticism is welcome or unnecessary?

Personally I vote for the latter.

 

-t

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I have added a new topic - Critiquing Guidelines. Lengthy, informative and I hope, helpful. I am not the author of any of them, and hope that I have added enough attribution to the authors of the information.

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This is will probably be lengthy and will probably sound like I am running for major of my home town but here goes.

If the simplicity of my first suggestion doesn't fly then here is the more complex, adult version.

The ability for an artist to post work without fear of criticism should be fundmental to this forum. I have infringed on that right and have regrets for it. Artist will not post work or opinions if they feel they are placing themselves in the firing line. There does need to be a "feel good area" for carvers both inexperienced and professional to post their work or to show work they admire. If not the forum will suffer and becomes less open to the free flow of ideas and ends up just being a place to exchange "safe" information. The fact that there are 300 members and so few posts must mean something.

There also must be an area for the more brave at heart to post their work for critique. I for one will be posting pictures of a peice just for critique in the coming days. The forum already has a "Show and Tell gallery...the safe place. As suggested a seperate gallery for peices to be offered up for critique makes sense. You post your work there and you know what to expect. This is called personal accountability. As your mother said.."if you get your feelings hurt, don't come crying to me."

As far as guidelines, there should be as few as possible. Human decency, artistic consideration and professional courtesy should be enough in this community. The one guideline I would suggest is this...Constructive Criticism is just that...Constructive! If a percieved weakness or flaw is brought up then a solution should be offered as well. In this way the critic is required to validate his or her criticism and in doing so has put themselves in harms way as much as the artist.

Forums by nature are communities of like minded individuals that are self regulated by the give and take of its members. I am certain that a critique in this forum would regulate itself. A critique given that was destructive, overly harsh or insensitive would be met with outrage of some degree. Of course this will happen on occasion- that is called "lively debate" but the community will correct it. Excessive guidelines lead to censorship or to politically correct dialogues both of which render the system impotent. Placing work on the platform for critique has never been for the insecure or faint of heart....and never will be!

The critique gallery would in all likelhood be the most visited when in use but would probably be the least used. I do not know many artist that feel the compulsive need to have their work dissected in a public format on a regular basis.

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Again, I'm "late to the party", but I'll offer this quick thought.

If any of us show and sell our work, the critique comes from whether or not someone is willing to plunk down some cold hard cash for the piece. It could be a reason as simple as overpricing the piece if it's "good" but doesn't sell, but in a free market environment, the wheat and chaff seperate pretty quickly. As to taste, any work is subjective, but as to quality, I believe there is a level of achievement to be attained. "Paying your dues", I think it's called. Even on this forum, a very effective "critique" is a "no reply".

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I think critisism is good. As long as its not nasty or personal. As a professional i.e one whos sole income is from my art work, critisism is a constant companion. From the "do you sell this stuff? to the "For the love of god Mary, why do you want that junk?" I think I have heard them all said about my work. Does it worry me? Should it worry anybody?. Not really. As long as you selling your work you doing something right. And in the short time I have been a member, this forum is most well mannered.

I have been a non posting member of Wet Canvas for a while and thier crits are very good for me because I learn lots from those crits. If someone posts asking for a crit, that should be enough.

Cheers Hans

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