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The Art of Criticism

The Art of Critcism

This article has been updated as of 2/26/18: 

If you Google the term "Criticism" in the dictionary, you will see two distinct definition offerings: 

crit·i·cism; noun:
  1. 1.
    the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.
  2. 2.
    the analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work.

The truth of the matter is that by today’s standards, these two close-but-distant definitions tend to blur into each other depending on where you are experiencing them. These two statements actually identify the two conflicitng forms of criticism we see in not only our everyday lives, but in the arts: Subjective (1) and Objective (2). 

This article aims to analyze this gap between the two definitions of criticism to help artists assess and address the difference between constructive and destructive criticism.

Artistically speaking, criticism is not intended to be destructive. In fact, the practice of criticism and delivering critiques can be a positive and refined skill that has been invaluable to creatives throughout the ages. Here are the two major forms of “productive” criticism:

Objective Criticism:

Objective criticism can be a more formal style of dialogue. It is typically the tone of choice in social art gatherings, as it is intended to be a polite and constructive discussion meant for unified and palatable tastes. Objective criticism is most often found in classroom environments and in select online artist groups, where everyone is working towards developing themselves through peer communication and review.  

Objective criticism is meant to be devoid of personal relevance and taste, and should address a piece of work with a purely unbiased approach. 

Most objective criticism addresses work in its literal terms, addressing what successes are reached or missed in its execution. When viewing a piece of art, the things to take into account can be a works’ measurements (size, height, length, etc.), the process, how it is presented, the style of presentation, the content; all of these things are and can be addressed in an objective style.

This form of criticism is arguably the hardest kind to procure from individuals (and the general public, for that matter), only because truly objective criticism tends to come from dialogue that is devoid of ego, personality and attachment. Sadly, a casual observer does not always cater towards that style of discussion, or may not have any experience or comfort discussing things in this fashion.

The biggest hurdle of objective criticism is keeping the work and your personal feelings separate, especially in an age where online communication is so readily focused on personal reactions and emotions towards something. This oftentimes leads to things like “Implied Narrative”, in which a viewer decides to relate to a work from a completely personal and unique stance, and in the process ends up clouding whatever intended message or content that the original work may have intended to achieve. This practice isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but can be discouraging if there is a goal for the artist to get general thoughts from a piece of work.

  • A great way to hone this skill is to look at a piece of artwork and ask yourself these kinds of questions: 
  • ”How big is this piece of work? How long does it look like this took to make? What kinds of ideas is the artist trying to get across, if any, by using these methods?” 
  • ”Can I tell what materials this piece was made with? If I can, does it look intentional? Is this meant to look realistic or graphic?” 

  • “Does the way the work being presented compliment/strengthen the work itself? Might there be more nuanced aspects of this piece that I am missing by viewing it online rather than in person?”

  • ”Can I see a message or language being used in this work that I can derive using ONLY information from the piece itself? Is it successful?”
  • ”Could I get more information or value from the work by reading about it or speaking to the artist?”


These are all great ways to discuss artwork with other people objectively.

Next Level Discussion:

Objective criticism can also be thought of as deconstruction, which is not only applicable with viewing artwork, but also a great method of taking in media. Being able to stop and think about things like “Who created this? What are their credentials? Is there a purpose or statement in this work that I should be feeling, and was it intentional? Am I meant to draw my own conclusions from this piece or am I being shown something from a specific point of view?”

Subjective Critique

Subjective Criticism:

Subjective criticism is feedback that is based solely on personal experiences and preferences. This type of criticism is far more prevalent these days, and at its worst, can be seen as the source of many a fear and concern for artists (looking at you, every comment section on the internet). One could argue that through objective criticism we grow, through subjective criticism we thrive.

In today’s world, subjective criticism can not only be a useful tool (when applied properly), but can serve as a barometer for the marketability of your work. If someone subjectively likes your work, you know that they will be more inclined to purchase it and support your endeavors.

The major challenge in dealing with subjective criticism, especially online, is that there will be the extreme opinions regarding your work. Either someone will truly enjoy your work or really dislike it. Handling this kind of criticism is best done when you honestly and openly know yourself that artwork is a matter of taste. This is a tough lesson, but the more involved you get in communication about your work, the more you will be able to hone your emotions and feelings regarding this type of dialogue.

One of the most important lessons one can learn as an artist is the ability to identify and process criticism in all its forms and use it to a personal benefit. Being able to have the confidence to stand behind your work when faced with poor criticism (or bullying masked under the guise of critique) is important. Being able to pull value from a scathing, blunt and borderline demeaning critique is also equally important.

Sometimes, even looking at subjective criticism objectively can yield positive results. Keep in mind these inquiries and declarations–

”This person is seeing something in my work that I am not seeing. Is this because of the viewer’s take on my work, or is my message not coming through correctly?”

“This is not constructive feedback; this person simply just does not like my work. That is okay, it just doesn’t appeal to them, and I cannot control how they react to it. I, however, can control how I react to their criticism.”

”This person not only understands and really likes my work, but it seems that it really resonates with them. I should let them know it is for sale.”

Know that when you create, if you plan on creating work as a career, that it is important to listen to not only the voices of those who react to your work, but to always listen to yourself first.

With our ability to communicate with people around the world at the tips of our fingers, it is an exciting challenge and experience to be able to discuss your work (or others’) to a point of mutual benefit.

Ultimately, an artist should be able to gather information and feedback both objectively and subjectively to build a stronger relationship with their audience and further grow creatively.

Hopefully this article will help a little bit along that journey.

If you have some criticism of your own about this article, feel free to comment and let us know! If you liked it and it helped, share it to let the other creative people in your world see it! Be sure to check in for more exclusive content for artists (and the artistic process) here @