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Author Topic: The difficulty of an honest critique  (Read 13953 times)
howiesmith
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« Reply #40 on: December 16, 2006, 11:49:36 AM »
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Criticism. I think it's an impossible concept if one wants to think of it in terms of 'teaching'. For a start, it demands an arrogance from the critic that might be quite misplaced - lots of emperors are pretty damn naked - and I think that from the recipient's point of view, there should not be a search or request for criticism in the first place. Why? Because I think that if you have the desire to make a statement, then you should just go ahead and make it, regardless.

Nobody can tell you (in truth, rather than simply by articulation) how your art should have been done - that's just ridiculous: you are the author and that should be an end to it, the only justification required. (Of course, if we are talking commerce, then that's another ball game, and the client's always right even when he's wrong.)

Photography is one of the few things in life where simple, mechanical/optical/electrical/chemical(?) rules can be learned in a very short time and then put into practice in pusuit of whatever turns one on. The rest is opinion and his is as good as hers, yours as mine. In other words, technique is as personal as vision, its just the way things are.

This holds for fine art painting too: the guy who does blocks of solid colour was probably at the same art school as the one who paints photographically accurate pictures - it's just how they play. All the technical knowledge in the world doesn't necessarily have to be on display at all times...

What on earth can anyone expect from criticism, other than a pat on the back or a kick in the teeth? Constructive advice comes down to how the critic imagines he'd have done it, that's all, back to where we came in.

Ciao - Rob C
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The critiques that I am most familiar with were at school.  There I payed to be told by the instructors what I needed to do to get better.  In effect, I granted them a license to be arrogant and dictatorial.

"[H]ow they play" was decided by the instructor and I had granted him the right to say my stuff was crap, even if I didn't agree.  That is why the photogrpaher was not allowed to defend his work and did not participate in the critique of his work unless asked a question.  At the end, the photographer was allowed to ask questions to better understand what was said, but not to deefend his work or question the authority of anyone who made comments.  "This is crap."  OK  "what could I do to make it better?"  OK  "No it isn't."  Not allowed.

"Constructive advice comes down to how the critic imagines he'd have done it, that's all, back to where we came in."  Probably true.  However, a good art critic can review work he does/does not like and give an honest review of how well a piece does what it should.  I don't have to like Ansel Adams' photos to recognize the value or how well it is executed.
« Last Edit: December 16, 2006, 01:27:23 PM by howiesmith » Logged
Rob C
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« Reply #41 on: December 16, 2006, 04:09:46 PM »
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I take all your points, Howie, but it still boils down to whether or not you believe that somebody else knows better than you do what you were trying to do.

I have to admit that there is room for instruction (as distinct from criticism) in matters such as technical competence - I think that was implied in my post - but one imagines that by the time people are posting their stuff online or otherwise submitting it for viewing that they will long have reached the point where they know what they are doing, where they want to go and how to get there. So, in that context at least, asking for criticism is more or less redundant: you have the tools, know how to use them, so what else can another person do for you? In my opinion, not a lot; they certainly can't teach you how to be an artist. That, I'm afraid, is in your genes or it isn't.

Ciao - Rob C
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howiesmith
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« Reply #42 on: December 16, 2006, 07:17:52 PM »
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I take all your points, Howie, but it still boils down to whether or not you believe that somebody else knows better than you do what you were trying to do.

I have to admit that there is room for instruction (as distinct from criticism) in matters such as technical competence - I think that was implied in my post - but one imagines that by the time people are posting their stuff online or otherwise submitting it for viewing that they will long have reached the point where they know what they are doing, where they want to go and how to get there. So, in that context at least, asking for criticism is more or less redundant: you have the tools, know how to use them, so what else can another person do for you? In my opinion, not a lot; they certainly can't teach you how to be an artist. That, I'm afraid, is in your genes or it isn't.

Ciao - Rob C
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True.  But then I wouldn't ask what you think if I didn't care.  I think many folks do that and then get angry when you tell them and it isn't waht they want to hear.  I used to work with a guy who said never ask how you are doing because soemone will tell you.  I am also amazed at how often someone else does have a better way of doing what I want to do.

I don't agree with artistry being genetic.  There is a lot that can be learned, both by the genetically gifted and challenged.  No, I will never be another Ansel Adams.  But I can be taught a lot about how to be.  I know I will never know so much that I cannot be taught something more.

I have the tools and still have plenty to learn about using them.

I learned from critiques.  I also learned that just becasue someone said the image should be thus and such, I didn't have to do that.  But I learned from the "why" that person thought that, not that they thought it.  I learn nothing from "That's crap." or "That's lovely."  It was the why that helped.  (I also learned not to submit a print that was not the best I could do at that time.)
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Rob C
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« Reply #43 on: December 17, 2006, 05:45:54 AM »
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Howie

I suppose that the bottom line is that different people do things in different ways. I accept you getting something from others inputs whilst not being able to admit (honestly) to having had that experience for myself. It might well be that I had early experiences which taught me better than to trust outside opinion - I can't tell you for sure other than that I remember one such from my very brief membership of a camera club - I have always had very clear ideas of what I want to do and how to do it (I have often lacked the means, however, but that's something very else!). Possibly, too, being a pro it was never something that one could do without all the baggage of the competition getting to know about what one was doing and for whom.

On that other matter, of why other people did things as they did, it wouldn't have been something that would have interested me much; there are infinite ways of doing anything and I find that it is more than enough to concentrate on my own ways or notions. It isn't just a matter of self-belief, but for sure, without that by the ton you couldn't contemplate a life in this industry or, if you did, it couldn't last.

Ciao - Rob C
« Last Edit: December 17, 2006, 05:51:16 AM by Rob C » Logged

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« Reply #44 on: December 17, 2006, 06:43:06 AM »
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I take all your points, Howie, but it still boils down to whether or not you believe that somebody else knows better than you do what you were trying to do.

 ...but one imagines that by the time people are posting their stuff online or otherwise submitting it for viewing that they will long have reached the point where they know what they are doing, where they want to go and how to get there. So, in that context at least, asking for criticism is more or less redundant: you have the tools, know how to use them, so what else can another person do for you? In my opinion, not a lot; they certainly can't teach you how to be an artist. That, I'm afraid, is in your genes or it isn't.

Ciao - Rob C
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Another way of explaining how one's views can be very valid.
I'll use music to make point clearer.
I've just made a Drum and Bass track. I ask a musician friend whether or not he likes it. He offes comments or the technical side and the melody much about the track as he's a folk musician and dislikes modern dance music. I ask a drum and base DJ what he thinks and he says yeah it's OK, but for me it may need a bit of tweaking here and there to work in a club. He is someone the music is aimed at and if he doesn't like it then you know it has failed, though even within genres tasts vary. If the folk musician likes it, then you know you have a real winner. Just like when abtract painting appeals to someone who normally likes figurative painting. Something is good if it appeals to those who like that sort of thing. It is exceptional if it appeals to those outside of that group's taste/target audience.

As for in your genes or not, part of being able to be artistic is sometimes learning how to bring that part of you out. I never did art at school as I couldn't draw. But when I was 17 I got a camera and discovered I was indeed creative. Even so I still had to learn how best to be creative. Though I have to admit to being self taught. But when I've done some design work, sometimes a bit of feedback can be useful. Does the design work? Same with photos, some people may not be so keen. You take that image crop it slightly differently and reframe it and suddenly it's a lot bettter.
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howiesmith
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« Reply #45 on: December 17, 2006, 08:36:20 AM »
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It might well be that I had early experiences which taught me better than to trust outside opinion

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No need to just trusr others ideas or opinionr.  Check them out.

Someone says they like the image with a different crop.  Well, crop it that way and see if you agree.  If you do, no harm and you may have learned soemthing.  If you don't, no harm and you may have learned something.  Looks like no harm and a learning opportunity either way.  You don't have to just change the crop and accept it.

I try to accept very little or nothing without first checking it.  The web is filled with stuff offered by "experts" with no basis other than "I said so" or "I think so" or "It is my experience."  How valid is their experience, compared to yours or what you can/have verified?  What makes them an expert?

There are those that believe the earth is flat.  That just doesn't fit my experience even though they can sometime present their observations that help them believe.   Look at your back yard, they could be right.  Maps are "pictures" of the earth, and it appears flat.  Doesn't hurt to check it out yourself before you say yes or no.  You may learn something nre or confirm what you already know.

In school, I heard f=ma.  Checked it in the lab.  Looks pretty good.
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ivan muller
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« Reply #46 on: December 22, 2006, 12:18:53 AM »
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Hi
speaking of photography crits. I find it depends who its coming from. every photograph i take, in my mother in laws eyes are brilliant and wonderfull and superb etc etc. that doesnt help and really doesnt make me feel good. I discount it. But an honest crit from some ones whos work I respect and admire that I feel will be constructive no matter how negative. Reading crits on this site I allways try to find the websites of the critics to better judge their words. Howie would love to see your work!
thanks Ivan
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Chris_T
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« Reply #47 on: December 29, 2006, 08:32:58 AM »
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Anyone truly interested in the subject of critiques should read Criticizing Photographs, An Introduction to Understanding Images Fourth Edition, Terry Barrett, McGraw Hill, 2006.  One issue he deals with is the "intentional fallacy" - which takes the position of questioning that the artist actually knows his/her intent.
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I read the third edition of this book, and heartily recommend it to any serious photographers or photo critics.

Barret teaches photo/art criticism at Ohio State U, and reading this book is like attending his class (without homework assignments!). While the book focuses on how to critique (or appreciate) photographs, I learn a great deal about how to evaluate and present my work. IOW, I can now put myself in the shoes of the viewers and the critics. It helps tremendously for my upcoming exhibit in selecting and sequencing my prints to convey my intent.
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