Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Guest Post-Gibson Twist- A Critique on Critique

Becca's note: I loaded this post into the system while I was on the road, pasting it straight from the email, so the original upload had a lot of HTML markup. Now that I'm better able to edit and correct, I am reposting this guest post in its intended form, without annoying markup. My apologies.

Gibson Twist is the author of Pictures of You and Our Time in Eden  and occasional bouts of rhetoric under the Tweety handle @GibsonTwist. He has never driven a car.


Admittedly, my view of the internet isn't a complete one. I don't spend much time watching videos or following news sites, nor do I read a multitude of blogs. It's not that I think they're beneath me or a waste of time, they're just not my thing. One thing I do know about the Internet, though, is that there is no shortage of critics. Everywhere I go online, there is a running commentary of how terrible everything is. Hardly does there seem to exist anything online, be it creative,informative, or opinion, that someone hasn't decried, often vitriolically so.

Where this becomes most problematic, in my mind at least, is in young artists and writers reaching out for feedback on their work. It is a great and necessary thing to seek independent examination as we develop our craft, especially among comickers who have precious few authoritative resources, even fewer outside the accepted mainstream genres. They are the ones who are in the direst need of sincere and informed opinions on their work, and are too often met with ill-intended scorn.

To my memory, I have never asked for a public criticism of my work. I choose specific people I think will provide detailed and informed opinions. That said,posting a webcomic as I do, I am the recipient of a good deal of public criticism. Much is positive, some is negative, and the more preferable is a balance of the two. While I've been able to glean helpful insight into how toimprove what I do, there is no question that no small amount of it lacks helpful intent or effect.

In fact, there is considerable criticism of my work posted on blogs and so-called review sites dedicated to explaining in varying levels of detail how it is among the worst sequential art to hit a computer screen. Many comickers, and those in any other genre of creativity, have had the same experience and continue to do.

This is usually pretty good for a laugh, but in truth, it's indicative of an element of critical culture online that seeks more to elevate the reviewer by tearing down the material, a result of the unprofessional deeming themselves authoritative. This seeps everywhere in varying degrees, not always identifiable as simple derision. While any artist who presents their work for public assessment should be prepared for all the responses that come to them,it's often overlooked that not all of the advice that comes back will be constructive, qualified, or even valid.

You know the procedure. You've posted an example of your work, be it artwork,writing, or pages of sequential art, on one of the wide army of art-sites and forums spanning the internet. Maybe you've asked for feedback, maybe you haven't, but with no doubt, feedback you will get. The one true thing about the internet is, somewhere, someone is waiting to tell you what you've done wrong.There is informed feedback from professionals and other amateurs, offering even and measured review of what the artist is doing right or wrong.  There is also undulated praise. There is also vicious lamb-basting.

We hear a lot about how artists should accept the criticism put to them, and while this is true, there is an arrogance of some offering critique that their opinion is golden. The subjective nature of feedback is overlooked, and no one ever teaches us (most of us, at least) how to examine it. Really, we need to review our review.

The purpose of reviewing work isn't to show you how to do comics right, it's to show you how to do your comic better. To do this, your critics need to be able to understand the project, to be able to relate to what you want to do, the story you're trying to tell and how you want to tell it, and delineate how to get you there more effectively.

It would be nice if anyone with a keyboard had this ability, but they don't. Many do, to be sure, but most don't. There is gold among the rocks that are unsolicited or generically-requested feedback, and it should never be ignored,but it should all be taken with a measure of skepticism and consideration. None of it should be taken as fact.

Your best option for feedback will always be from those you seek specifically,artists and writers or even readers whose work and views you not only respect but are compatible with where you want to take your own material. Find those who understand your vision of comics, even those familiar with your work already. It's a much more laborious path than spreading the net wide, but what you get back from it will be more specific, more in-depth, and in most cases more valuable.

Think of critique as an interviewing process. Look over the candidates, both sought and unsolicitied, reject what is clearly invalid, assess what remains, and make your short list. Consider how it relates to your work, sort out what you think will make your project better, and only then begin to apply it. As you continue, be aware that some of this won't improve your style the way you thought it would, and make adjustments and omissions where it's appropriate.

But,of course, take all of this with a grain of salt.