Author Topic: About "Critique"  (Read 5098 times)


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About "Critique"
« on: January 18, 2011, 06:04:23 PM »
This is a thread to discuss the value of critique; not just in art, but in all fields of endeavor. Of course, to keep the discussion within certain limits, let's set the boundary at anything related to VN or game creation.

A few months ago, there was this long, heated discussion in the main EVN community about the merits of critique. Furthermore, it's always been the public's impression that the EVN/OELVN community in general is pretty bad at taking critique.

Now in that previous discussion that I mentioned, I pretty much took an anti-critique stand; that is, I was against the type of critique that some people in that thread seemed to be pushing. Based on how I saw it, it was just using "critique" or "I'm trying to help you improve" as a catch-all excuse for rude or otherwise offensive behavior.

That aside, I'm also against harsh critique in general because unless I really trust someone or see him/her as an authority, I'd probably take offense at harsh critique regardless of whether or not any was intended. Now the way I see it, this is exactly how a normal person would feel like. Just because you're into making VNs as a hobby or even as a means of livelihood, I just don't see the need to change the way you think/feel about your craft just because some people suggest "it would help you improve faster." Thing is, what if you don't really want to improve faster, or better, or more properly, or whatever positive adjectives you can think of? What if you just want to do it at your own pace? Does that neccesarily condemn you to a lifetime of mediocrity? - I believe that the answer is an absolute no. You are not condemned to a lifetime of mediocrity just because you refuse to improve the way other people want you to improve. It may seem quite obvious, but it has to be said: it depends on the individual. I personally don't like random people I know nothing about force-feeding me their idea of "helpful critique" down my throat.

Of course, this stuff is probably already a bit redundant at this point, so I've been thinking recently... what about the other side of the coin? How do the pro-harsh-critique people see it? Well, I can't claim to know, but it has hit me recently, that there are times when harsh critique is actually desirable - and this is when the individual himself desires it.

To give a more concrete example, I'll state something from my own experiences. I've been the artist(not exactly a good one, but I have played the part) for quite a few EVN. In my experience as an artist for other people's games, or in working with a group in general, I've always been given free reign as to how I wish to draw stuff. Now this may seem like the ideal situation for someone with my personality, but at times, I feel that it might not be. You see, there were many instances when I felt I could have done the art better for X game after seeing it in the actual VN. Yet, because I was given so much free reign on what and how to draw, I didn't even notice some very critical mistakes that I made while drawing. Now here, is where I would have appreciated some harsh critique. When I draw for other people's games, there are always those times when I get lazy and try to "cheat" my way out of drawing something in particular. In fact, after I've submitted the art to the creator, I would just be waiting for him to point out some obvious flaws in my drawing so I could have some excuse to redraw it, but, since the creators I've worked with weren't exactly artists, they just let some of my flawed drawings slip through and thus, they make their way into the actual game. It's at these times that I feel, "I'm drawing crap, please stop me!"

And that, for my case, is an instance when harsh critique from the persons I'm working with would actually be desirable.


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Re: About "Critique"
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2011, 01:20:18 PM »
Here's my opinion on the matter:

Firstly, there is never any reason to be rude to someone when giving critique. You just upset the person and will never help him because, being upset, he will be unable to appreciate your critique objectively. This I think would be obvious to anyone, though some people don't think about it, or their usual modus operandi is to respond in this sort of way.

Next, we can assume that the person giving the critique has an intention to help the person receiving the critique. Without this, neither person is going to receive any benefit. So the question then, is how to help the person so that the person can improve.

Clearly the person has made a mistake or done something less than optimum, and you need to tell that person. He may not be aware of it, or he may not know how to fix it. Saying, 'that foreshortening is wrong' is not necessarily harsh, but a fact. At this point the person receiving the critique needs to be able to receive the critique. If he's not willing to admit that something is wrong with what he has created, he of course can never fix it because it is already right in his mind. So the person receiving the critique would need to objectively take a look at it to see if this was really something that was incorrect. If the person giving the critique was really trying to help, one expects that it would be the case that the thing pointed out as wrong would in fact need to be improved on. People can also make mistakes in their critique, so it is up to the person receiving the critique to see objectively that this thing needs to be fixed.

Lastly, the critique should be precise and to help the person, it needs to tell him how to fix that exact thing. Without that it is also useless.

Taking all that into account, it is possible to be as 'harsh' as you like while critiquing someone while making a positive impact, and having the person actually get something out of it. I am always willing to have someone else tell me when I am doing something wrong (whatever it is) so that I can fix it. Even if I might get upset at first, I know that if I don't correct something that is wrong, it's going to stay wrong. As such, I also try to point out things to others that can be improved on. I would never merely state an opinion without saying clearly that it was my preference or opinion, but if I clearly see something that isn't right and I know how to fix it, I'm going to do my best to communicate that in order to help the person.


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Re: About "Critique"
« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2011, 04:03:07 PM »
I think "harsh critique" is a difficult, conflicting pair of words to begin with. Harsh kind of implies an emotional load, and critique, preferably, should not be emotionally loaded - at least not the negative part of it. When a negative comment on a creation is emotionally loaded, it's hardly indistinguishable from an indirectly expressed personal insult. And when critique can be mistaken for an insult, even if it may not have been intended as one, the critique writing skills of the reviewer in themselves need some critique...

This, I believe, is one important thing that seems to be ignored by many: writing critique is a skill in itself, not neccessarily tied to artistic talent or how many bad things you can force yourself to find in something. Just because one can spot mistakes in an artistic work doesn't make them a critic, and much less a good one. Though what counts as good critique can vary depending on the situation, it should always be helpful, well-written, benevolent in tone, observant and perceptive, and identify both the strengths and the weaknesses of a creation (if the critic finds any and unless the creator has specifically asked for one and not the other).

Lastly, the critique should be precise and to help the person, it needs to tell him how to fix that exact thing. Without that it is also useless.
I'd say the question of whether or not the critic should take a holistic approach depends on the situation. In general, if we're talking about a work in progress (say, a sketch that an artist posts), then a detailed approach to individual faults is necessary and helpful, since they are looking for ways to improve that certain creation. On the other hand, when commenting on complete and large works (like a finished VN), looking for positives and negatives of the creation as a whole instead of pinpointing exact things may be better. This is because it'll help the creator set their course for new projects and see the big picture of their skills, which is often more demanding than recognising the individual faults, especially so for the creator him/herself.

Tangentially related to this, I also believe that overestimating the creator's skill and intelligence is much better than underestimating it. What I mean by this is that when you first spot a fault in a work, it's better to explain it rather briefly than write paragraphs upon paragraphs elaborating why what they did was wrong. In the end, creators are often at least partially conscious of their own mistakes - after all, they got to their current level because they are capable of recognising and correcting them. If they haven't already recognised the fault, they should be able to identify it with ease when it is mentioned, and if they can't, they can always ask. Assuming that they need the longest possible explanation makes the critic look like they don't trust in the creator's potential, skill and intelligence, which isn't much of a compliment.

Another very important thing that comes to my mind is that critique should aspire to do what Teacup aspires to do as a community:
Quote from: The Teacup Values
to enhance productivity and creativity by supporting the makers and helping them materialize what they want.
The last part is vital. Good critique should understand the artists motivations and write from that point of view. If a painting is abstract and the critic likes their art concrete, the critic should not try to force their personal preferences on the artist, but to appreciate the creator's intentions and write of the painting as how it has succeeded as what it was meant to be rather than how the critic or the general public would prefer it.

All in all, good critique is the most supportive and inspiring form of feedback an artist can get, while bad and mediocre critique can be hurtful and demotivating. Like all other forms of writing, critique isn't inherently helpful or detrimental, but can be made either through the skill and effort of its writer.
A piece of eternal wisdom: "Viking-chan isn't a viking-chan without her beard!"
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Re: About "Critique"
« Reply #3 on: January 20, 2011, 10:24:25 PM »
Those of you who know me know that I like to critque something as a *here's what I think works and why, here's what I feel doesn't work, and why". I don't see a reason to blast someone's work simply on the grounds of *I didn't like it*. If something doesn't work for me, I want to tell the person making it why it doesn't work for me. Graphics? sound? (musician...sounds are important!), the story? the syntax? When I critique somehing I try to point out everything that worked for me, and what didn't, in a way to help the author improve. What does a comment of *Your work stinks!!* prove anyway? It means either that the person making the comment didn't like it, or found fault with it...but a catchall of *work stinks* doesn't say anything to the author. Same is true for *your work is amazing!!*...OK, HOW is it amazing? I'm been told that authors much prefer feedback on the pros and cons than just a *work stinks/work is amazing* type, because all that really does is either damage or stroke the ego of the author without telling them WHY.

I sometimes call myself a critic, but that's because I want to help people improve. I do NOT approve of harsh critique, unless its a case of *ummmmmmm I really feel that your art is lousy because of XXXXX* because all that really does is inflame people. I feel it's much better to give a *here's what I think works, here's what I think doesn't* type of critique over anything else.


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Re: About "Critique"
« Reply #4 on: March 25, 2011, 03:12:22 AM »
I'm coming in on this discussion super late (orz), but I'd like to toss my own thoughts into the pot anyway, especially as this is really the only place I can do it. >.>;;

When I first released Ripples (the very first one), I got a lot of positive feedback, and it made me very happy. In fact, it was exactly the sort of encouragement I needed to keep going and making more visual novels. If I had gotten harsh (or even merely blunt) critique (like "Her eyes aren't the same size, the story cuts off too abruptly, and the music isn't memorable"), I would have given up making VNs then and there. Does that mean I'm a little wussy? Yeah, probably. But I write because I enjoy the act of creation. Having people critique what I create (especially at such an early stage in my writing) would have taken away the enjoyment factor. I don't want to be judged, I just want to tell stories. These days, I'm very open to critique, even "harsh" critique. As I do sell some of my writing, I understand that I need to write something that audiences will enjoy, and thus reader opinion is very important. I'm selling a product, therefore I will try to move in the direction that most pleases the audience. A harsh critique can be helpful in pointing out changes I should implement or things to keep in mind for the future. If someone is being too nice, then I might not change. I like honest opinions, even if they are very negative. I've learned to filter through the responses to pick out genuinely useful feedback from the general grousing or complaining, so it's not a bother to me anymore. But really, harsh critique at the beginning would have stunted my growth more than helped it. I would have been too scared to write anything, and I wouldn't have dared to take any chances.