The Good Critic's Guide:
I have noticed that many critics on DA tend to leave rather harsh and sometimes subjective critiques on the pages of the artists being critiqued. Their rationale for doing so is based on the concept that 'we shouldn't molly-coddle each other and instead "tell it like it is"'. However this type of critique reflects poorly on one who is critiquing as opposed to the one who is being critiqued and I will explain why throughout the course of this guide. In essence I hope to use this resource as a way of teaching potential critics how to properly focus their abilities and direct their critiques in a manner that will allow them to be rated as a good critic.
Note: Before reading on, take note that this guide is only for literary works as I have no experience judging visual art and therefore cannot create a rating scale for those.
II. The Purpose of a Critique:
The first question that we must ask ourselves is this: "Why does an individual want to be critiqued?" The answer to that question should be fairly obvious, "because the artist wishes to receive feedback and suggestions for improvement." However, unless a piece is truly absolutely dreadful – perhaps at the level of troll pasta, is there really any reason that we should be harsh with them? Is it not possible to create a purely objective critique that assesses technique and leaves out any personal feelings? I believe that this possibility is definitely something that we can make a reality, but only if we understand the subject.
III. Beginning Your Journey As A Critic:
Before you even write the first words in a critique, you must understand the criteria that will earn you an instant failure (and thus result in your work being legally and fairly rejected):
1. Inflammatory Comments: This needs no elaboration, if it's flaming, douse it and throw it out.
2. Spam: Similarly you can throw out spam
3. Not Objective: This is the one criteria that many individuals completely miss when doing a critique. A critique has absolutely NOTHING to do with your opinion on the subject matter nor should the concept of the 'I' be present at all during the critique (i.e. it must not be subjective in any way). What this means is that, if you're writing a sentence that sounds similar to: "I feel that this isn't good because…"; "I would have done following because…"; "It just doesn't sit well with me" Then you've done it wrong already. 'I' should only be used as a part of a demonstration: 'I have a piece that can show you how to properly apply the technique, see the third stanza and watch how the rhythm flows from one line to another.' Remember, a subjective point of view is a reason for an instant rejection and you do not have a right to contest it.
Now that we've understood these criteria, let's move on to the rating system as a whole.
IV. Rating - Overview
Stars are very important to any artist. Anyone producing a work that has to be rated, would love to get more stars. While the subsequent sections will go through each type of rating, this section deals specifically with what an artist should/should not do, based on the overall star count received.
1 Star – If you receive an overall one-star rating, then ninety-five percent of the time you can confidently throw it out as useless spam/inflammatory comments and/or for bias and lack of objectivity. There is never a reason for an artist to accept a one-star rating or to show their thanks for such a rating. The only time that such a rating should be accepted is:
1. You honestly think your work is terrible
2. The critic is highly ranked and respected with either numerous awards to his name or has a genuinely strong background to his work.
3. The critique comes from an established company with a strong ratings background and trusted knowledge.
With factors two and three it is up to the artist to investigate the critic and determine on the balance of probabilities if they are truly good, or if they just hate for the sake of hating.
2 to 3 stars - If you receive a rating between two to three stars, then you are not required to accept the critique. Instead, defend your work and where possible counter the points that the critic raised. Most of the time, critics will say that 'X is lacking and that you need more X'. The question to ask is:
1. Has the critic practiced what they preach? I.e. can they show proof where they demonstrate the use of their recommendation?
2. If they cannot offer proof, on what basis are they suggesting that you should follow them?
3. Are they established/successful enough to be giving that level of advice (assuming that they have not demonstrated that they practice what they preach)
4. View their other critiques; under what circumstances do they give a higher rating? Does it show bias toward your particular style or technique?
I personally make it a rule never to tell someone to do something I haven't tried myself. If I tell someone that x works better than y, it will be because I've tried both x and y methods and found x to be better.
Remember that most 2 to 3 star ratings often contain very subjective statements. In these circumstances the key thing to do is to educate the critic about the fact that a subjective opinion is not allowed and they should rate you on an objective scale and are politely invited to redo the rating based on this.
4 to 5 stars - A four or five star rating is a very strong rating and most of the time you should accept it and it would be strange/unfair if you didn't. However, before accepting the rating, have a look at the comment; consider the advice given and how useful it really is. Rave ratings are always good, but you also want to ensure that you have a positive relationship with the critic. If the comment is too negative or seems suspiciously derogatory despite the high rating, then you should reject it on good faith and ask them why they said such things despite the higher rating.
Now that I've gone through the overall ratings, I shall now demonstrate how to properly assess and use each rating criteria.
V. Rating – Vision
Most of the harsher critics that I know of, actually have little to no idea of what "Vision" means. If one took the time to read the FAQ section on deviant art, the definitions are stated rather explicitly. This is a copy-pasted definition:
"Vision – Does the artwork present or reflect a point of view, theme or idea?"
Now most people find this definition to be a little too open and thus I'll write a more specific definition that I believe should be applied. However, the critic should exercise professional judgement in determining which definition to apply (either mine or the DA standard):
Chen's Definition - "Vision represents the artist's ability to demonstrate his/her perception of the scenario/setting used in the art-piece. An artist can do this by staying true to the character and demonstrating the feelings of the character through the character's eyes, without personal or outside influence (unless the character possesses similar traits to the author). Similarly the author can show vision by staying close to the original theme and/or the original idea without deviations that are unrelated to the core theme."
Example of an artistic deviation:
Softly, softly, locked the door,
Quietly, quietly, on the floor,
Whisper, whisper, so he won't hear,
The midnight man – he must be near!
Will I be free or left to die.
Is this the coward I am inside?
In the example shown above, we see that the artist has deviated from the horror theme and the perspective of the poem (it was 3rd person then jumps to 1st). This is considered an artistic deviation and should not impact upon vision. The rating scale that I apply in such situations is demonstrated below:
1 star – No clear theme or idea, just a mish-mash or collage that WAS NOT INTENDED (some mish-mashes are intended like abstract art and therefore should be graded differently)
2 star – Some underlying idea is present, but most of the piece is noisy/unrelated.
3 star – A clear idea/perspective is presented, but the execution is poor and the artist deviates a little.
4 star – A clear idea/theme is presented and artist does not deviate, but does not demonstrate anything special.
5 star – A clear idea/theme is presented, artist goes above and beyond the common perspective reaching into something different without deviating from the core.
VI. Rating – Originality
This is the rating that gets a lot of people down. Automatically these days, critics seem to rate you low on originality. Why? The standard answer is as follows: 'Ith been done befuuur like ermahgerd!'
Now then, let's examine the deviant art definition of originality:
"Originality – Is the artwork fresh or new in its style, execution or approach? Is it something you haven't seen before in its particular genre? Does it surprise you?"
Based on this definition, a new technical style, a new method of execution (even on the same theme) should rate highly on originality. For the purpose of simplifying things however, I'll offer the Chen definition of originality.
Chen's Definition - "Originality reflects NOT upon the theme presented, which may already have been written hundreds of times before, but rather upon the artist's way of presenting something. One should judge each piece based on how similar it is to pieces that you've seen before. If it is less than thirty percent similar, then it should be counted as a wholly original piece."
In order to demonstrate this, I shall now show two simple stanzas:
As a glimmer of light shines through the door,
The war in the shadows begins.
Though your hands are numb and your feet are lead,
The fire burns within…
Oh light that shines through the my solitary window,
Piercing the depth of my very soul.
You numb my hands with - your pious light,
Stoking the fire of the morning that comes…
With both of these examples it is easy to see that they are original ideas, even though similar wording is used. Let's add a third example that has the same theme as the first:
A blade is drawn in the quiet shadows,
As adrenalin stifles my inner scream.
A glimmer of gold is what leads me to it,
The golden throne of my obsessive dream…
Now, if you examine example 1 and 3 you'll see, very little wording is used that is similar. However the core theme is the same, a war in the shadows and the fear of the executor. Does this mean that example 3 which came after example 1 is unoriginal? No, of course not! Remember that just because something has been done before, doesn't make the idea unoriginal. You might find it boring but the artist might be presenting his/her own personal/original take on the subject matter, and that should count toward a higher rating. As I did before, here is the scale:
1 star – There are about 4 to 5 pieces that are similar (remember the 30% benchmark) to the artists work. It is therefore something wholly unoriginal.
2 to 3 stars – There are 2 to 3 pieces that are similar (> 30%) to the artist's work. Therefore it is somewhat unoriginal.
4 stars – There is 1 piece I've seen that is similar (again >30%) to the artist's work. Therefore it is original but perhaps not completely.
5 stars – There is nothing that is similar to the artist's work. It is therefore considered to be completely original.
Remember when assessing according to this scale you must take into account technical presentation in order to assess the 30% similarity benchmark. If the works have differing rhyme schemes, differing poetic styles and perspectives then it should be less than 30% similar.
VII. Rating – Technique
Again this is something that receives low ratings and that can't be helped as most modern poets are unfamiliar with older poetic devices. Before discussing this issue however, I would like to display the DA defintion:
"Technique - Was the artwork skilfully created? Does the artist exhibit advanced knowledge of the medium and/or bring special focus to the craft of the medium used."
Again, this definition cannot be applied to everything and leaves so much open to interpretation that I'd like to offer a more in depth Chen definition.
Chen's Definition - "Technique refers to the artists execution of his work and the consistency of his execution. It should also be based on any notes the author has left in the description regarding potential deviations from the technique based on artistic choice. Where a specific technique has been stated, the critic must judge based on the criteria. Where no technique is stated, exercise professional judgement after taking into account the age, skill and general style of the author from previous works."
Technique is not something that needs examples, but rather it requires a good judging scale. Therefore, I'll get right into the scaling system:
1 star – The author demonstrates no technique and/or structure in his/her works. This is not intended for artistic purposes and it is clear to see that the author is just writing something that looks like a wall of text. Based on that, we can determine there is no technique.
2 star – Author demonstrates some basic structure either through the use of a semi-fluent rhythmic scheme or some form of rhyme, but the work still appears very rough and with no clear form. This is not intended for artistic purposes and the author is simply not applying proper technique for the execution of his or her poem.
3 star – Author shows some use of technique, but it is not applied consistently throughout the piece and this was not intended by the author.
4 star – Author shows some technical skill and demonstrates that they can apply it. If the technique is not applied consistently, the author has stated why and made this clear in the author's description section of the deviation.
5 star rating – Author shows the use of a proper technique (either of his own or of a traditional standard). He applies the technique consistently and states clearly a reason for the change if any is found (it must be artistic and purposefully intended).
VIII. Rating – Impact
This last criterion should not be defined at all, because it is a raw feeling. However, the problem stems from the fact that this raw feeling is, by its very nature, a subjective criterion. Hence it would be nearly impossible to asses this in an objective manner. Based on this conclusion I will instead make a recommendation.
We are individuals with very different backgrounds, gore would be very traumatic to an individual who leads a shielded life where they have seen very little of it, yet to the individual who has lead a life amongst the rougher edges of society, knife wounds, gunshot wounds, these would mean relatively little to the individual (it is not shocking and thus carries less impact). Therefore, when assessing the criteria of impact, I feel that we should attempt to take into account the feelings of the general public and the majority of individuals. It might also be prudent to delay your critiques until you get some sense of what the commentators and public are feeling about the piece. This is the most ideal way of objectively rating 'Impact', however I must acknowledge on the grounds of fairness that the critic has a right to subjectively judge 'Impact' based upon its impact on them as an individual.
IX. Closing Comments:
Becoming a critic is a relatively easy undertaking, you need only click a button in order to become one. Being a GOOD critic however, takes both effort and time on your part to understand the nature of your work and the impact that you will have on the authors you critique. No one can learn a completely different style in a single day and if you were to claim that you are capable of such a thing, then by all means display your talent worldwide, if however you acknowledge the fact that you cannot do such a thing, then it is reasonable to expect that others have the same difficulty. Help them improve in a step-by-step manner and build up your relationship with them. Yes, your duty is review their work and point out errors, but it need not be done in a manner that is callous or harsh. Instead, a professional crisp critique with just a hint of friendliness and without arrogance is quite possibly the ideal kind of critique to write and it becomes a pleasure for the individual writing and for the individual/individuals reading.
If you wish to become known in this world, let it be for the positive things you've done, rather than for a display of animosity and arrogance toward others.
-Chen Yuan Wen, 24th November 2012