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Learning How to Give and Receive Critique

Hank Green has posted a wonderful and informative video about learning how to give and receive critique. Good feedback is vital for any sort of creator, but not all critique is created equal. The first thing you need to do is learn to separate the chaff from the wheat.

There is a cultural phenomena right now where people think that all opinions hold the same weight. What the late Isaac Asimov referred to as “the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” These people have an expectation that you will accept their criticism with the same gravitas as you would a bona fide expert.

Opinion is Not Critique

I will admit that I struggled with this for a long time. The way I was raised was to listen to people, be kind to them, and hear them out. To not listen to what they had to say was rude. I also abhor confrontation. In spite of this reputation I have for being brusque, blowing off people that don’t know what they’re talking about is uncomfortable for me.

As Hank classifies them, these are the opinions of people who are outright wrong, and people just looking for a reason to be mean. It’s not useful critique because there’s nothing to learn from their remarks. Critique isn’t supposed to be about the creator, it’s supposed to be about the work. This sort of critique sometimes seems like it’s personal, and aimed at the writer or artist or performer. It’s really all about the person issuing the opinion. They’re flexing some degree of power over your emotions, and threatening that they in some way hold influence over your career.

The real bottom line, though, is that most people simply don’t know how to deliver critique. People who have been to art school are taught this. Most writing classes do as well. You know that you need to be constructive and relatively kind. Because your turn will come to be on the receiving end. Most people offering opinions these days not only lack expertise, they have no skin in the game.

And that’s how I’ve learned to ignore most people. I actively solicit the opinions of people I trust to tell me the truth, that also know what they’re talking about. While I still read reviews and other feedback, and pay attention when there is valuable commentary, I have to take everything with a grain of salt.

Learning How to Give and Receive Critique

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2 replies on “Learning How to Give and Receive Critique”

Sadly, schools – at least the ones I attended in the US – do not teach basic logic and philosophy below university level. Most of what I learned about about these was from my father and independent study, I was constantly amazed about how often my instructors got it wrong. Criticism should be about form & process, not about how much you disagree with the artist opinions.

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