How many times have you tried to give helpful feedback on someone’s work, only to end up hurting their feelings? How many times have your feelings been hurt by someone else’s feedback? Creative feedback is always a difficult, personal thing for artists to approach. It can seem like giving or receiving feedback isn’t even worth your time. Well guys, it IS worth it. You just have to do it the right way.
The obvious reason that creative feedback is useful for artists? It gives artists an outside perspective from someone who wasn’t deeply involved in the creation of their piece. This perspective is SO valuable because it’s similar to the perspective of an audience member, but comes with all of the knowledge and experience of a fellow artist. The less obvious reason that creative feedback is useful? It will teach you how to speak about your work. Out loud, to anyone. When you’re challenged to recall the decisions you made when creating, or when you’re trying to determine your thoughts on another artist’s work, everybody has an opportunity to learn how to create stronger works.
Accomplishing both of those goals through creative feedback is actually rather simple. Artists must remove their personal feelings. Both the feedback giver and the feedback receiver are guilty of shading their words with personal feelings. There is a concrete reason this happens, and it is a result of how we talk about the work. Often, feedback becomes personal because we don’t know how to separate between the artist’s skill and the specific choices they made on the piece.
As peers, we have to remember what we bring to the table. We are not teachers or mentors, so we likely have no place in commenting on skill or technical execution. The reason we are giving feedback is to use our outside perspectives and experiences to help make another artist’s piece stronger. With the focus on strengthening the piece, a good feedback-giver should do this:
- Ask about the artist’s intention. The first thing a feedback-giver should do is ask the artist what their intention was with the piece. What did they want the audience to feel? What was the storyline? Artists who are showing their piece need to ‘know their stuff’ – they have to be able to understand and articulate EXACTLY what their intention was and what steps they took to express that in their work.
- Talk about strengths and weaknesses. All of the feedback and critique given needs be directed toward how strong or how weak the artist’s intention resounded in the work. AND why it did/didn’t. If you believe the storyline was strong in one moment, explain why. If you believe that it was weak in another moment, explain why. It can benefit both parties to talk about HOW the artist created those weak or strong moments. This demonstrates to the artist and the feedback-giver exactly which creative processes were successful in crafting certain moments and which weren’t.
- Offer suggestions. When you notice a weaker moment in a piece, it is important to offer a suggestion about how to make that moment stronger. The suggestion should always be based on why that moment was weak. Be specific here, and offer your suggestions with an acceptance that the artist may decide to disregard your idea. And that’s totally fine. As feedback-giver, you are offering the artist another point of view. Your point of view is not the only answer, but it may open creative doors.
Following these steps will help to take the hurt feelings OUT of creative feedback, but it doesn’t fully solve the problem. Artists ALWAYS need to be cognisant of the language they use when giving feedback, and should keep in mind that the goal is to help another artist make their work stronger.