The Art of Critique

The Art of Critique


The Vocaloid and UTAU community both are creative communities. Meaning critiquing is a huge part of them. VB critiquing, art critiquing, sometimes writing critiquing. It's an important part of our lives here but it's also a problem in that there are people who can't really take a critique well and there are those who just give really poor critiques altogether.

This is what this guide is for. Here, I'm going to give you some tips on critiquing that will hopefully benefit everyone. It'll teach a way of critiquing that will allow you to help the other user improve and it'll also tailor a bit to younger users or users who aren't used to having their work nit-picked so to speak.

1. The Definition and Purpose of "Critique"

Critique - a method of disciplined, systematic analysis of a literary work, to review or analyze critically.

Okay. Really think about that definition for a second there, please. I crossed out literary work because really it can involve artwork or designs, written work, voicebanks, mixing, video effects, etc. But the key words there that I want you to pay attention to are disciplined and critically. Which means in order to give a truly good critique one must find faults in a piece of work and deliver those faults to the author in a civil manner.

No where does it say that a critique should be a personal assault on the author or their work. If you think when someone critiques your work, or when you're giving a critique yourself, that you are being attacked or should attack, please think again. Because that is not the purpose. It should NEVER be the purpose.

The purpose of a critique is to help someone improve and get better by pointing out their faults and telling them how to improve next time. Not to put them down and make them feel like they're the scum of the earth.

If you don't care either way about helping someone improve or if your main goal is to seem better than the critique-ee and put people down; giving a critique shouldn't be on your to do list. Likewise, if you just want to hear praise and don't care one way or the other about improving? You should refrain from asking for a critique.

2. The Sandwich Critique Style

Now, knowing what a critique is about? That's only half the battle. Let me tell you a pretty good method of giving a critique that's been taught to me over and over again. I call it the Sandwich Critique.

It's basically when you you take a piece of work and say something nice about it. Something that you like about it. Everything has something nice about it, right? Say something nice and also include why you like it. Justify that niceness. Then you find a fault about the piece and tell the author how to improve next time. Once you do that, say something nice again. Try not to repeat yourself though. You'll come off as more sincere if you can find two things you like about a piece. If you must repeat something then come up with two reasons as to why you like it. Understand?

You "sandwich" your critique between two nice statements like this:

Nice Statement
Nice Statement

I'll be using my own piece of artwork for an example and I'll color code the nice statements in blue and the critique in red.

So, even though I'm the original artist it's been a loong while since I drew that. We'll pretend I'm talking to younger me(who was in fact kinda fragile to these things). Something I would say to her:

I really like the angle and colors of this picture. It all looks very warm and engaging, especially since everything is going in the same direction(diagonal). However, it looks a bit flat in places. I would suggest using more hues to shade next time instead of darker versions of the base color. Like using oranges in her dress or pinks in her hair to make things seem more vibrant and whole. That said, I also like how you did the clouds and the sunbeams. They add to the warmth and overall happy, enjoyable mood of the picture.

When you place your critique in between two kind statements it makes it seem a little less harsh and painful which I think is the problem with some people. Nobody likes to hear that something they spent hours, maybe even days or months, on is all wrong; and when people point out nothing but flaws it does the confidence no good. I've done this before and have had it done to me in return.

With this method though, the critique is there but you also make the person feel a bit better with those kind and encouraging comments. It makes them feel like their work wasn't all for naught. a real sandwich you are free to add to it. Is there more to your critique that you would like to say? You can still do it. Just don't forget those kind statements.

2a. A Sandwich Without Any Bread

So, you know about the sandwich critique. But what if you can't find ANYTHING nice to say about a piece? I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt here and assume you are not looking for an excuse to be a jerk; that you genuinely have something you want to critique but honestly can't find anything you like about it. Here are my tips to you:

  • Why can't you find something you like about this thing? - Is it because it's just that bad? Or is it because the thing you're looking at or listening to is not your thing? If the answer is the latter...maybe don't give your opinion in the first place. If you don't like apple juice it makes 0 sense to drink apple juice and then exclaim how gross it is. The same can apply here. However, if it's the former please continue to the next tip.
  • It IS in fact that bad. Like beginner level bad and you want to help - Remember we ALL have to start somewhere. If we could snap our fingers and make perfect creative works I wouldn't have typed this up and you wouldn't be reading it. For this situation you want the critique-ee to know they're not a failure. They still have a lot to learn and that's okay. You do, too, honestly. We all do. Your critique could look something like this:
"Hey, you're off to a pretty good start with this."
"I look forward to seeing how you do next time."

This is only one way to do it but hopefully you get it. Encourage the person...don't discourage them. Basically, your goal is to not only let them know they're fully capable of continuing their creative endeavors but also capable of doing better and getting good at it.

"But they're not off to a good start?"
- You say? Well...yeah they actually are. The fact that they posted the thing in order for you to even have the chance to critique it is a good start on its own when you consider how hard that is for people already AND how many of us have projects that just never ever get done, posted, or even started at all. It IS a start. And it IS a good one.

"I'm not looking forward to seeing anything else from this person" - Is your next gripe? Well, then why did you even give them your opinion? If you don't care what they do with their work then you shouldn't care whether or not they improve and so...critiquing them serves no one. Remember: If you don't like apple juice? Don't drink it and then complain about how gross it is.

3. Kindness =/= Ass-kissing

Saying something nice does NOT mean buttering the author up and making them out to be the best in the world. This is why I said to say why you like something. Please do not do this:

"Oh wow! I like this it's really good!"

"But seriously! Amazing job! It's really good!

The reason being, if your two kind statements are super sugary sweet, your critique may come off as more harsh than it would alone! The author may just feel like, 'Well, geez, if they like it so much why would they say something like that?!" and it may seem like your two kind statements are nothing but bullcrap.
You want to be sincere in your kindness. So find something you genuinely like and give a good reason to back it up.

4. Let Others Know What You Want and What You Have

In this fandom, I really don't like it when someone shoves some mixing in my face and asks for a critique. Well...what am I critiquing? The volume? The effects? The harmonies? The voices? If you don't tell people what you want out of a critique then they can only assume it's a free for all and will critique everything including things you feel you don't need or even want critiqued and in the end you may just get your feelings hurt.

This applies to pretty much everything you might want critiqued here. What is it about your art I'm critiquing? What is it about your design? What is it about your fiction you want critiqued? Tell people so they know what to look for and what to pass on.

You also want to let people know what you have available to you. When I ask about effects I always try to mention what DAW I'm using. Why? Because it'll be my luck that someone with FL Studio or something comes up to help me but what good will that do me if I don't have that program? What good will it do others to suggest effects in drawing programs if you don't have said programs? Understand? The more information shared between the critique-ee and critique-er the better off everyone is.

5. Be a Respectful Critique-ee
So, we know what a critique is, we know how to give a pretty good one, and I've given some tips that'll save everybody some hurt in the long run. But what I've said is mostly for people giving critiques or requesting them. What about after you've requested a critique and gotten it? Or better yet what if someone critiques you out of the blue when you didn't even ask for one? What if the critique isn't so nice? What do you do then?

Here are some tips...more like do's and don'ts for those who are on the receiving end of a critique:

1. Keep your attitude in check - Never respond with a poor or snotty attitude. Even if the critiquer is being a jerk. Being a jerk back will not get anybody anywhere and it'll only end up in a fight breaking out. If someone gives a critique you didn't ask for, kindly thank them for their time and opinions; then walk away. Or if you believe you can't be courteous skip the thanks and just ignore them/let sleeping dogs lay. Not everything needs or deserves a reaction from you.

2. Respect your Audience and their Opinions
- You ever heard of the phrase "You don't have to be a cook to know good food"? Well, like it or not there is some truth to it. Going out to eat, if you're served under-cooked food or food that isn't seasoned well, I'm sure you'd be pissed if the chef came out and told you to deal with it cause clearly you aren't a professional like him, right? What do you know? But just because people might not be as skilled as you in something(or you think they might not be as skilled) doesn't make their critique or opinions invalid.
And you're going to look like a class A jerk if you tell them otherwise. If you didn't ask for a critique, see the previous tip, otherwise at least consider what your audience has to tell you.

3. Don't Ask if You Don't Want it
- Why would you ask for a strawberry ice cream if you really want chocolate? Why would you ask for a critique if you don't want one or aren't prepared to hear it? A good critique is never gunna be exactly what you want to hear. If you aren't prepared to handle hearing people point out your flaws do not ask for one. See tip 1 for if someone comes along anyway. And depending on your work? It happens.

See a pattern here? Be respectful. Even if the critiquer is not....two wrongs don't make a right. In the end...walk away if you can't handle being nice.


The end~! For now...
I hope I was able to help people. Feel free to suggest other ideas; I'm willing to hear them! And any questions or misunderstandings please let me know.
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