Why I dislike unsolicited critique

A few weeks back I responded to a Facebook post where the person was going to provide unsolicited critique as though it was something that the artist should feel grateful for. They explained who they were going to go after and how they saw this helping the artist.

As an artist, I wish I could shout out to these people to PLEASE STOP.

I'm not saying that art critique is bad. It is not. Art critique and feedback is vital to development, and as an artist one of the best things you can learn is how to take critiques and feedback and use them to improve. Any artist that has been to art college goes through years of having their work pulled apart by lecturers and peers.

However there is a time and place for this.

Artists post art for various reasons. Artists paint for different reasons. For some it's a vocation, an emotional release, a job, a way of expressing and reacting to something. But art is not made for the sole purpose of having some random person on the internet to pull apart, however well their intentions are.

What is an unsolicited critique?

Unsolicited feedback or critique is when you judge the artwork publicly and offer your personal advice on the art. It may be as simple as 'you should have painted the dress red' or it could be a much more critical analysis of anatomical issues, or rendering issues.

Generally it does not provide information on how the artist can fix the problem and is often given by someone that may not be an artist. That being said, critique from anyone, regardless of their background can be valid. It's just that most artists know the 'code' for when and where it's appropriate to offer feedback such as critique forums or private groups.

It's not an opinion such as 'I don't like ponies in paintings'.

I used the example of going on a date with someone, and telling your date what is wrong with their clothes or hairstyle. It's often uncomfortable for the date, made without all the information at hand, and casts the person giving the feedback in a bad light.

Why wouldn't an artist want to hear what I have to say?

  • Some work is just a sketch. It will never go any further. It's a brain dump, a scribble, a fleeting thought, a bit of fun. Would you like every single thing you do analysed?
  • Sometimes artists just post it as a record of this is what I am working on.
  • A lot of art is directed by a client. By critiquing the art, you may be critiquing and criticising a client - who may be a company, or may be someone just like you. That portrait may be of a character that has lived with them since they were a kid and you've just told them indirectly that their ideas are crap.
  • Some work is cheap, it's done in a rush because of client deadlines or budgets. It is done. There will be no more fixing. The artist has moved on. It may have been painted 6 months ago and the artist has improved since then. The amount of times I've had people commenting on artwork I painted 15 years ago as though I painted it today is amazing.
  • Sometimes the artist knows what's wrong and doesn't need an additional voice telling them what they already know and are planning to fix later. Many of us are perfectionists and highly critical of our own work.
  • Some days the artist is just having a crap day and you pointing out their flaws, however nicely, may make them want to stop painting. Many artists struggle with mental health issues. Comments that you think are unimportant or throw away may have devastating effects on the artist's mental health.
  • Some artists are not mature enough to deal with critique and feedback. Your comments may fall on deaf ears, or more likely be taken as an attack.

Why am I really offering unsolicited critique?

Ask yourself what is the purpose of your critique and why you feel you need to give it, and publicly. Is it because you really see promise and want to help them improve, or is there another reason? 

Most artists like to assume you really think you are trying to be helpful, but the sad thing is, that if you ever want to work with the artist or engage with them in the future, by offering the unsolicited advice, you may inadvertently burn your bridges. Artists generally don't like to work with people that are overly critical because they'll unlikely be able to ever please them.

What should I do if I want to offer feedback?

Ask the artist first! 

Ask! Ask! Ask!

Some artists are cool with it, many artists find it rude and off-putting. Some may tell you to join a critique forum and post your feedback while the art is in progress. Some artists offer opportunities to provide feedback by posting WIP shots or asking for advice. Changes are much easier to make at that stage than once it's fully painted.

If the artist says 'no', respect them for their reasons. You have to remember at the other end of the internet is a person with feelings. It doesn't matter if they've been painting for 50 years or 6 months, 

What is my opinion?

I don't like it. I find it extremely rude. If you provide me unsolicited advice you'll likely be ignored, possibly even blocked. I won't get into an argument with you. If I want feedback I ask for it. I have to be in the right head-space for it. My clients I expect feedback from. That's part of the collaboration process. 

I'm fine if you want to ask me questions as why I chose to paint a certain subject or make a certain artistic choice. But I am really, really self-critical. I see flaws in every single painting I do. I know what needs to be done. But sometimes I am over a painting and just want it out the door so I can move onto something new.

What's your thoughts?