Saturday, December 03, 2005

Pondering Val's post..

Val posted an entry on "Feedback vs Criticism" (Sat. Dec. 3) that interests me.

She says, "But we then got to thinking about asking for other people's opinions to firm up one's own thoughts about work in progress."

This kind of interplay of genuine support and ideas is quite important; however, Val also notes that sometimes what we get is false praise. Hmmmm.

Aren't most of us bothered by this? Not that I want anyone to tell me they don't like it, unless I specifically ask. Even then, I'd rather have suggestions (assuming it is still a work in progress and not a finished piece). What would you do? Do you think ___ should be ____?

The following bit was what I commented on Val's blog:

"I think everyone has these thoughts. Sometimes we want help; sometimes we don't. When I asked for help on "Asian Blues," I got what I was looking for. I did not want to know if people liked it or not (I didn't like it), but could it be saved, and if so, what might help...

Most of the comments affirmed my own thoughts, but some ideas offered me a fresh perspective. Both were useful because sometimes I'm uncertain and need a more experienced nudge and sometimes my thinking becomes circumscribed and refuses to admit new ways of looking at things."

The topic was so good, I had too much to say and wanted to think about it some more.

My personal feeling is that if you don't like it in general, and you haven't been asked for constructive criticism, do your best to avoid much comment. If you have to say something, there must be something you like and can point out. If you have been asked for suggestions, then the "what if..." or "have you thought about..." approach should put helpful options out there.

Sometimes I have opinions about a piece that I'm looking at (love the color combination, the way a design element makes sense to me, a technique that is effective) and sometimes, I just don't. Don't know why the piece doesn't appeal and may be just too lazy to try to reason it through if it doesn't jump out at me. Also, I'm extremely inexperienced in both art and quilting so if the impact isn't positive, I may not know why.

When I reached the point of total frustration with "Asian Blues" (I wanted to use those fabrics) and asked for suggestions, the responses motivated me to keep working, completely change the design but keep some of the elements, and eventually complete a piece that is special to me because of what I learned. One thing learned was not to let myself get locked in to a concept.

Val says, " Yet as a teacher I have to give feedback on students work and it has to be painfully honest. I always try to make it constructive criticism and not just a bald statement of fact. Good critiques can be instant learning curves and provide the impetus for a big step forward. Sugary or no comment at all just keeps one in the cosy warmth of the place you are at. "

Teachers have an obligation to challenge and guide through constructive criticism. Val's statement about "Sugary or no comment" is not an acceptable option for a teacher whose job it is to help students improve and does so by applying her knowledge and experience. A sugary comment/no comment response is a cheat to the student.

What if, however, the relationship is not student/teacher? How far do you think people should go in commenting on the work of another? And should you refrain from giving even constructive criticism unless asked?

If you decide to discuss this on your own blog, and I hope you will, please leave a comment so we can visit.


  1. Jen, I think the issue with critique comes from the fact that most quiltmakers don't come from an art school or class background. We are all used to everyone telling us how wonderful everything we make is because we are nurturers. However, if you had ever had the art school/class experience, you would see everything from a different perspective. Critique is for learning and more often than not you learn more from the critique of other students work than you do from your own....not invested in the piece you can see what the instructor is moving toward. Just MHO.

  2. Jen, I wrote a lengthy (probably too lenghty) commnent on Valeri's post.

  3. hmm now you've got me thinking...I'll have to check Vals post out but my first reaction from my own experience facilitating art exploration is that if I can't find anything positive to say I ask for the student themselves to analyse their own work....from that there usually comes a line of thought or questioning that can be developed.

    grr blogger is making me post anonymous...but this is Helen Suzanne anyhows :)

  4. You ask 'should you refrain from giving even constructive criticism unless asked?' My answer would be - it depends if you are moved to do so. I think that there should be something about the work, or your relationship with the maker which prompts a constructive comment, whether positive or negative, because then I think the critique will be more considered - have meant more to you, and thus probably worth more to the recipient.

    I have left a comment on Val's blog, and strangely enough wrote something that touches obliquely on the subject on my own blog before I started reading anyone else this morning.

  5. This is a very interesting topic Jen. When I took over our quilt group I tried to introduce a bit of discussion into the Show and Tell but it didn't go down at all well, in fact one person told me she only wanted oohs and aahs regardless of how good or bad her work. That seemed to be the popular feeling. So I would say Gabrielle has hit on the truth there.
    So to the question should we comment I might now say no, unless I'm asked. Some people can get terribly hurt feelings so I would have to know whether or not critique was truly asked for. I guess it also depends on the type of group involved.


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