Critique: A Tool Not A Weapon

Critique: A Tool Not A Weapon

  • On October 16, 2015

Critique: A Tool Not A Weapon

How to Offer and Receive Constructive Critique

Properly wielded, constructive critique can be one of our most powerful tools for growth as artists.

As with any tool, there are important rules for use – rules that are designed to render positive results and protect the user from harm (say from an artist who has been pushed over the edge). 



Follow these guidelines to give and receive excellent critique:

Be Honest but Constructive


  • First off, let’s establish the purpose of critique. Critique is a tool for growth, not a weapon. If your goal in offering (solicited) critique is anything other than helping that artist grow, hold your tongue.
  • Focus on the work, not the person. We hold our art close to our hearts because that’s where it comes from, so be compassionate while still offering your honest opinion. This includes honesty with yourself- about your reactions to the work and your intention in sharing those reactions. And remember: an opinion is exactly that – an opinion.
  • Using the passive voice to communicate can help a critique sound more compassionate – even when direct. This makes the feedback focus on the artwork rather than the artist. For example: “Why was the road crossed by the chicken?”


Be Specific and Don’t Make Assumptions

  • Identify key problem areas, why they are problematic, and specific ways to improve them. Instead of saying “I think your painting feels dead” try “I think it would help the overall life of the piece if the brushwork in the landscape had more speed to provide a sense of movement in the grass.”
  • Comment only on things which the person can do something about rather than those that are outside of their control. Any project has a number of possible solutions; commenting on how a sculpture would have better addressed this issue rather than a print doesn’t help the printmaker see her work in a new light or improve her process.
  • We experience artwork with our whole selves; meaning we bring our pasts, personal preferences, biases and assumptions to any given critique. Try to check these at the door and understand what the artist was trying to do or say. We can really only measure artwork against the artist’s intention– everything else is peripheral.


Be Supportive but Authentic 

  • In addition to exploring opportunities for growth, mention what you appreciate in the work. Be genuine. As artists, our BS meter generally reads pretty well so don’t try to get away with a passing compliment that isn’t heartfelt.
  • If the critique is going to be insightful, valuable, and specific, the acknowledgments should be as well. As all children know, if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.



Want more pointers? Check out these resources:


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“I think that’s what art is: art is communication made in the hope that interesting miscommunications will arise.” 
-Misha Glouberman