7 Ways to Master Art and Design Critiques

“Critiques are an extremely important part of the artistic process,” says Nathan Bond, a New York artist and Parsons School of Design faculty member with more than 20 years of critiquing experience. And because Minted artists say that peer critique is one of the most valuable aspects of the Minted community, we encourage artists to communicate with the community during the submission phase and critique period of Minted challenges.

One of the critical elements of successful critiquing is an environment of respect, trust, and honesty, says Nathan, and thanks to a global community of artists, Minted has built a supportive framework. To better understand the art of creative criticism, we’ve compiled the following expert advice on both giving and receiving criticism.

The Grand Canyon” by Elena Kulikova

1. Empathy Is the Best Policy

Before sharing a critique, Lara McCormick, Head of Design Education at CreativeLive, recommends putting yourself in the artist’s shoes to understand his or her experience and perspective.

“Empathy is known to increase prosocial, helping behaviors,” she says. “Are they just starting their career? New to this medium? Or maybe the artist is colorblind? From a different cultural background? All these things inform our work.”

A Ledge” by Mande

2. Get Clear About Intent

“Stating your intent as the artist will always allow for more successful feedback,” Nathan says.

During the critiquing period in Minted Design Challenges, take time to communicate the goals of your submission. And while critiquing others’ work, think about what the artist is aiming to achieve, says Nathan. “A clearly defined intent allows an individual to discuss art that is not from their specific area of specialty, genre, or aesthetic sensibilities.” If you’re able to discuss whether artists are meeting their intent, you’ll be able to give feedback that’s much more helpful on a practical level versus just discussing an opinion.

3. Ask Specific Questions

Asking interesting questions is one of the best ways to kick off any conversation. When requesting feedback on your work, post questions that will help community members give you constructive criticism. Nathan says you can help guide others’ feedback by asking questions like Is the sense of depth in the piece coming across? Does the color system or value range create the form that I am trying to get across?

“Most artists have a general idea of their major strengths and weaknesses, and often there is a part of the artwork that you are not 100% sure is working,” Nathan says. “Sometimes it’s good to write your own self-critique to help come up with useful questions to ask.”

Lara is such a fan of questions that she recommends providing feedback on others’ work in the form of a question. “You can write, for example, Have you tried reversing the color? or Have you thought about having the content bleed off the page?” she says.

4. Keep Your Vocabulary Simple

Because the Minted community has varying levels of formal training and education, if you’re using art terms that are more advanced to discuss a piece of art by someone who’s just starting, you may end up turning them off to good advice, Nathan says.

Let’s Grow Old Together” by Yuke Li

5. Focus on How and Why

“Don’t say, I like it. Full stop. Always support what you are saying,” Nathan says.

Although it feels good to hear that people like your work, it’s more beneficial to learn why. At the same time, only focusing on what’s not working isn’t the most helpful either. “Critiques are about feedback,” Nathan says. “Critiquing is not an aesthetic evaluation. It is a practical assessment of the success and quality of the work as it tries to meet the intent of the artist.”

6. Avoid Being Prescriptive

When it comes to providing feedback, Nathan recommends not suggesting super-specific changes. For example, don’t say something like, I think you should add a cat in the bottom left corner. Instead, say something along the lines of I feel like the piece might look more balanced with an additional element at the bottom.

“Let the artist make the call as to what should go there, if they agree that something should,” he says. “We all want to maintain creative autonomy over our work, so try to leave room for that.”

7. Don’t Take It Personally

We saved the hardest part for last. “No matter who you are, no matter what type of work you make, there is always going to be someone who doesn’t like your work—and there will always be someone who loves it,” says Nathan, adding that it’s critical for artists to hear all opinions, process them, and decide for themselves if they’re beneficial to the artwork.

Feelings aside, Nathan recommends focusing on how the critiquer talks about your work. “It is very possible to get and give great advice about art even if you don’t particularly ‘like it,’” he says. “Everyone has room to grow as an artist, and the best way to improve is to constantly challenge yourself.”

Pay It Forward. Learn more about how to give and get great peer critiques here.

About the Author: Amy Schroeder, Minted’s Community Content Manager, founded Venus, the magazine about women in the arts and DIY culture, and has written for Etsy, West Elm, and NYLON. Connect on Instagram @thevenuslady.

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Published February 16, 2016 • Become part of the Minted Artist Community. Submit to a Challenge here.

  1. Jane

    Great advice, especially the ‘don’t take it personally’ point. There can always be something positive taken out of a criticism and you should always focus on this and strive to become even better at what you do.