Pro tips for how to give and get better feedback on your work.
One of the most important ways to improve as an artist is by having your work critiqued. Sometimes you have no choice: as a student, you’re critiqued by your tutor; as an employee, by your creative director. At other times, you’ll seek out a critique. Either way, it’s a great way to get insight into how to improve.
There’s just one problem. We’re all human and no one likes to be criticised. “Working as an illustrator and concept artist, you always dread the moment where you show the work,” admits Loïc Zimmermann, who’s an art director at MPC and a teacher at Gnomon. “We all want the tap on the back.”
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But hiding would be a big mistake. “Peer feedback for both personal and professional work is invaluable, because everyone loses perspective on their own work – both in general and on each piece as they work on it,” says Drew Whitmore, a principal artist at Atomhawk. “Getting that outside context gives you a route to seeing your work with clearer eyes.”
Loïc agrees. “Learning to accept criticism will make you a better artist; you just have to learn not to take it personally,” he stresses. “Nobody’s going to hire someone who throws a tantrum each time points are raised, however talented they are.”
Roberto Pitturru’s Laser Battle, as art directed by Sarah Robinson. She advises that, “being too aggressive when getting a crit may not get you more work”
So what can you to do if critiques make you overemotional? In that case, you actually need to get critiqued more often, Drew suggests. “If you’re too precious about your artwork and don’t get a lot of feedback, that feedback is going to hurt if it’s something you feel strongly about,” he reasons. “You have to build up those calluses.”
See the crit for what it is
It’s also important to take a step back and empathise with the person giving the critique. “Getting a rough crit can feel like a personal attack, simply because you’d put so much of your time, energy, and emotion into creating the work,” says US artist Daniel Warren.
“But if someone cares enough to give you a well thought-out critique in the first place, then it means they’re invested in your improvement and care enough to help you grow. So see this for what it is: help from a person who’s probably dealing with the same things that you are.”
In short, while a critique can often feel like criticism, they’re not the same thing. Criticism is often purely based on subjective, personal opinion – whether someone likes your work or not. In contrast, a critique should be purely objective and address one central question: does the piece achieve what the artist has set out to create?
“Lots of artists tend to mix up criticism with an opinion on the quality of their work and their value as an artist,” says French art director and freelancer Pascal Blanché. “But a critique isn’t about you. It’s a process that aims to improve the final version of your art. Once you recognise this, you can start to help and guide the person who is critiquing your work by discussing the issue and keeping an open mind.”