Monday, July 22, 2013

Critical Feedback - The best way to lose friends?

This post is going to sound a little stuck-up on my part. Why? Because I’m going to talk about people that paint who aren't very good. I am not talking about any one in particular, this is a generalization brought about through forum reading and interaction with other people… Now that I've done the disclaimer, let’s head to the heart of the matter. What do you do when someone posts a miniature and asks for feedback when said miniature is terrible to behold? Do you rip it apart? Do you focus on what they've done well? Do you lie and say it looks pretty good? Do you just not comment?

Yes... It looks great... 
I’m someone who likes feedback when I post stuff, critical feedback is even better. Especially when it highlights exactly what I've shanked, and possible new ideas or a different approach I should have tried or can try next time. Now, I don’t count my work as great, I count it as table-top, maybe highish table-top, but far removed from lots and lots and lots of painters who I really look up to, and have been nice enough to help me out with advice and really good critical feedback from time to time… However it has become clear to me that some people who state they want feedback don’t want an honest appraisal of their work, they want to be told they haven’t wasted their time painting, they also want to be told that their work is great.

My first miniature... Drybrush away!
So knowing this what to do? Lie, tell the truth and earn scorn or ignore the post? I've done all three; I've told the bitter truth in an attempt to provide critical feedback which earned me contempt and even got me banned from a forum, I've lied through my teeth and told the person they’re work was really good, but maybe they wanted to focus on “small issues”, while this didn't earn me contempt (except from myself), it did leave someone with an over-inflated sense of their own ability, and right now all I do is ignore the question. It’s too much hassle and has very little chance of ending well (Both for them and me).

I look at this and cringe... But I painted it, so that's OK...

So what do you when you’re asked?


  1. I usually choose the worst thing they did and suggest a way to do it better, then suggest practice is the only way to get better..... and ignore the fact I am an indifferent painter at best :)

    1. So you would focus on the negative? I agree that nine times out of ten the best fall back is 'Practice' though ^_^

  2. LOL Vent, yep that is a real tough one.
    As a psychologist I can't help but look at this though a scientist's eye. I'm not great painter myself so usually I don't have much to pass on, but I do supervise many students and it can be hard not to destroy people that don't realise how bad their work is.

    So… here is a good paper on giving feedback:

    Because it is long and I don't expect anyone to look at it, here is the sum up:

    It comes down to supplying information about what the 'learner' is doing, rather than simply praise or criticism. Let's face it, praise or criticism teaches us nothing.

    Take care in how you present feedback. This isn't just not being mean. Try and avoid "This is how you should do it." types of responses. Again it is about giving them access to information about their own performance and teaching them how to use it rather than controlling what or how they do something. – that is kind of tough, I don't always get it right.

    Research has found that Feedback is most effective when it directly addresses the learner's advancement toward a goal. So this is when it is useful to just focus on one aspect. ie if they are talking about their dry brushing then that is there goal, so don't give them feedback on other aspects of the model.

    Lastly, on your point about not giving feedback the above paper states this in their conclusion:
    "It is important to note, however, that under particular circumstances, instruction is more effective than feedback. Feedback can only build on something; it is of little use when there is no initial learning or surface information"
    So yes in some circumstances there is no feedback that can be given because the person doesn't have any painting skills what so ever!

    I hope this helps, and in itself was informative.
    In some cases it is just imposable not to upset some egos, but if you have tried to be helpful it is their failing not yours.

    1. Excellent points. I like the differentiation between feedback and instruction. That is a good thing to remember. Cheers ^_^

  3. i think that the best way is to appreciate what's good and gently give suggestions on what's bad, but always being humble: none has the right to feel superior just because is able to do a better job!

    1. I'm all for humility, but that's a good question; should some of us have a right to feel superior about their work? What about people who win a crystal brush award? Surely they can feel superior? ^_^