So here it is. The moment of truth. The meat of all the bones we’ve chewed on the last few weeks. It’s in light of everything that we’ve talked about, the principles that we’ve learned, the intentions that we’ve set, that we now look at the approach of critique. This is an old approach, that is covered in art schools, museum tours, scholarly books, book clubs, and anywhere else an evaluation of someone’s creativity is discussed.
Remember, we all want critique, feedback or constructive criticism. No matter what you call it the goal is to get better, learn and improve in our craft.
So there tend to be a few ways that people respond to a work and call critique. There is the what I’m going to call the “Facebook critique”. “WOW, Great capture”, “that’s beautiful, you should go pro”, “love it” and on and on I could go. If you post on social media you’re more than familiar with these comments. The truth is that these folks are just letting you know that they saw you on their feed while on the way to Aunt Bea’s. This might make you feel good. Having a million likes on a photo would look great; it’s just not helpful. It offers nothing for you to grapple with and ponder or challenge you to get better.
Next, there are those that are going to offer advice or direction. Let’s call this “critique disguised”. They often sound like this, “this is good but I would have shot a little to the left”. Again, this is just not useful in any way. They don’t know if there was a 5,000 foot drop to the left. There is no explanation as to why they would shoot there. Nor is there an explanation to why they are suggesting it. They offer an approach without discussing the why’s and how’s and specifics.
This is where the conversation comes in. This is the meat right here. It’s these questions, that come because of the critical thinking we talked about in the last article. These will initiate the conversation that comes with those questions that will challenge us, force us to grow, outside our comfort zone. They will ask us to challenge what we did and why?
How do we do this? Firstly, look at the work and see what you see. A literal description of the work at hand. Is it a seashell. Then recognize that. This shell is the subject. A mountain and lake, it’s a landscape. An older couple, it’s a portrait of some sort. Colors reflected in the water, it is an abstract. You get the idea.
Next, scrutinize the work, this might be a little bit of a harsh word. Because, it implies dissection, analysis, and intense examination. But that’s okay, It’s a good thing. Study it, explore it, consider what’s in front of you. Start with the intangible qualities. Where is, your eye drawn? Is it to the subject? Is there something distracting your eye? Look for proportion, lines, balance, forms, texture, shapes, patterns, repetition, rhythm, movement within the composition. Do you see these elements? What do they bring to the image?
Move on to the technical aspects photography. Exposure, DOF, rules of composition, like the rule of thirds, or the golden mean. Look at contrast, colors, saturation, luminance, color, and vibrance. Consider the shadows and highlights, are there details there? Should there be? Consider what choices the photographer might have made within the frame. Does it communicate a thought, idea, feeling, concept? The entire premise about critical thinking was to ask questions. So, ask away.
Now it’s time to come up with an evaluation, an opinion to take a position. Take the answers to everything you took away from the above process and form a fair, logical, cohesive evaluation. Come up with gentle comments of encouragement, improvement and open-ended questions, in preparation for the conversation that’s to take place. Focus on the artist’s intention and be helpful, informative and encouraging.
Then engage the artist. Talk through your thoughts, and see if what you are thinking helps or hinders the creator of the work that you are critiquing. It’s not a problem if after discussing your ideas that you come to understand your idea couldn’t have been implemented. Acknowledge that and move on. If you are trying to share a photoshop technique offer to sit down with the person and show them or do a skype session to show them. Ask permission to download their picture and process it and then repost it to show them what you’re talking about. It’s in the showing and trying that we will improve, and grow.
There is an added benefit of working through this process with people. That is we break through the barriers the were between us and build trust and interest in each other’s work. We come to understand what this particular artist’s work is like, what their style is like, and personal preferences. We become confidants and trusted sounding boards.