Critique Vs. Criticism, and How to Handle It

Awhile back, Gibson Twist, creator of the webcomic Pictures of You wrote a guest post for me about receiving criticism and accepting critique.  I think now is a fantastic opportunity to revisit the topic with my own thoughts, specifically about who is qualified to give criticism, and when an artist should ignore it.  I'll go ahead and state that, as an artist, you have the freedom use your discretion, and any piece of advice or criticism may be ignored.  I should also point out that 'critique' and 'criticism' are not synonymous, although they seem to be used as such.

Both words imply that critical thinking and analysis went into the final output, but there are vast differences between the two.  In order to get a good idea of exactly what the differences were, I Googled "criticism vs. critique" and found two results that I feel hit the nail on the head.   Italics are mine for emphasis.

A critique is a detailed evaluation of something. The formal way to request one is “give me your critique,” though people often say informally “critique this"—meaning “evaluate it thoroughly.” But "critique” as a verb is not synonymous with “criticize” and should not be routinely substituted for it. “Josh critiqued my backhand” means Josh evaluated your tennis technique but not necessarily that he found it lacking. “Josh criticized my backhand” means that he had a low opinion of it.


The Difference Between Critique and Criticism

  • The Difference between Critique and Criticism
  • Criticism finds fault/Critique looks at structure
  • Criticism looks for what's lacking/Critique finds what's working
  • Criticism condemns what it doesn't understand/Critique asks for clarification
  • Criticism is spoken with a cruel wit and sarcastic tongue/Critique's voice is kind, honest, and objective
  • Criticism is negative/Critique is positive (even about what isn't working)
  • Criticism is vague and general/Critique is concrete and specific
  • Criticism has no sense of humor/Critique insists on laughter, too
  • Criticism looks for flaws in the writer as well as the writing/Critique addresses only what is on the page

 Original souce: Writing Alone, Writing Together; A Guide for Writers and Writing Groups by Judy Reeves
Found on:

Basicially, criticism tears an artist down, critique helps the artist to become stronger.  As artists, we should always be happy to receive valid critique, even when it's painful.

In regards to criticism, if it is unfair, untrue, or outdated, you have the right to defend yourself and your work.  It is my recommendation that you do so politely.  You don't have to quietly take untrue criticism, but you should be able to defend yourself and provide examples.  While I try to accept both critique and criticism gracefully, I am far more likely to welcome solicited critique over unsolicited criticism.  On the Internet, it seems as though the common man feels he is an expert on subjects he may know little about, and I have every right to discard his unasked-for advice on topics I am an expert about.  I also have the right to correct this person, but I need to bear in mind that my goal is education, not shaming.

Unfortunately, it seems like the common sentiment in regards to artists, critique, and criticism, is that we should not only be graceful in accepting unsolicited opinion from unproven sources, but that we should be quick to utilize it.  Sometimes we are able to turn criticism into critique by asking for clarification, demonstrating a willingness and open mindedness towards improvement, but sometimes it is not worth the effort, or the other party is unable to give actual feedback.  Recently I was criticized for being unable to take criticism by a man who's never met me.  When I asked him to provide me with a critique of my work, he admitted that he wasn't trained to do such.  I suppose I must agree with him, I don't take criticism, as defined by the above, very well, particularly criticism from someone unfamiliar with my work.  I do however, welcome actual critique, particularly when the source is valid and educated.  And should my work ever merit it, I would enjoy critical analysis.

When given criticism or critique from an untrusted source (as in, not a friend, peer, professor, parent, or boss), there are several things to take into consideration.

  • Is this artist trying to tear me down, or make me appear as less?
  • Do they have my best intentions at heart?
  • Is there a desire to see me improve, or rectify mistakes?
  • Are solutions offered for problems given?
  • Are we in competition?
  • Does this person have the qualifications to provide me with critique or criticism?
  • Are these thoughts relevant to my eventual goal?
  • Is this an older project, and I've already corrected these mistakes in my more recent work?
  • Why are they criticising or critiquing my work in the first place?
  • Have they included links to examples of their own work?
  • Is this person actually familiar with the body of my work, or reacting to a single piece presented out of context?
If the commentor does not meet the above criteria, feel free to dismiss the critique or criticism.  With well meaning, but irrelevant critique, I usually thank the commentor for his or her time, and tell the person I'll keep their suggestions in mind.  Even if something isn't relevant at the moment, it may be useful later on, and I'm always grateful that someone cares enough about my work to offer suggestions about it's improvement.  I'll often save online critiques as a Word document and review it later, and I always write down in-person critiques for later review.  These can be prove relevant even years later.


Due to a bit of critique over on my Twitter regarding my misuse and mis-definition of both Criticism and Critique, I used my favorite dictionary,, as it's what most people have easy access to.  It's my understanding that the first definition, or first two definitions, are the most common usage of a particular word.

crit·i·cism  [krit-uh-siz-uhm]  Show IPA
the act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.
the act of passing severe judgment; censure; faultfinding.
the act or art of analyzing and evaluating or judging the quality of a literary or artistic work, musical performance, art exhibit, dramatic production, etc.
a critical comment, article, or essay; critique.
any of various methods of studying texts or documents for the purpose of dating or reconstructing them, evaluating their authenticity, analyzing their content or style, etc.: historical criticism; literary criticism.

cri·tique  [kri-teek]  Show IPA noun, verb, cri·tiqued, cri·ti·quing.
an article or essay criticizing a literary or other work; detailed evaluation; review.
a criticism or critical comment on some problem, subject, etc.
the art or practice of criticism.
verb (used with object)
to review or analyze critically.
1695–1705;  < French  < Greek kritikḗ  the art of criticism, noun use of feminine of kritikós  critical, skilled in judging; replacing critic
Can be confused: critic, criticism, critique.

In my experience with both comics and fiction writing, a critique is given while the work is still 'live', the artist is still working on the piece and can make corrections, no books have been published.  A 'criticism' is given after the work has 'died', and is no longer in progress and cannot easily be fixed.  Some artists do choose to heed criticism given after the work has been published and make revisions for later editions, but that may not be evident to the audience for awhile.  When writing this post, I wrote it for artists who are currently working on comics or art, not published artists receiving criticism.  In many cases, criticism is used anonymously with 'critical analysis'.   For the purposes of this post, I will treat them as separate things.

Critical Analysis

Noun 1. critical analysis - an appraisal based on careful analytical evaluation
critical appraisal
appraisal, assessment - the classification of someone or something with respect to its worth
criticism, critique - a serious examination and judgment of something; "constructive criticism is always appreciated"
Based on WordNet 3.0, Farlex clipart collection. © 2003-2012 Princeton University, Farlex Inc.

So for the purposes of this post, 'criticism', 'critique', and 'critical analysis' or not at all synonymous.  Both 'critical analysis' (what good critics provide) and 'critique' are generally performed based on standards and common expectations, particularly critical analysis.  Criticism and critique can both be influenced strongly by bias, and may often be inapplicable or not in keeping with the artist's goals for their work.  For example, the criticism that my art is not good enough for mainstream comics may be true, but isn't really applicable, as I do children's comics.

It has been suggested that myself and other artists malign critics for their critique, criticism, and critical analysis.  This may be the case, particularly when the critic doesn't have the chops to accurately provide analysis of the comic criticized, does not follow any sort of precedent for the analysis of comics, and has no understanding of the conventions commonly associated with comics (conventions as in comic vocabulary, not conventions as in gatherings).  It's definitely the case when they cannot back up their claims, misquote us, or misrepresent our work.  In general, I have little beef with critics, and often find their work to be beneficial when purchasing new works, but I don't take their word to be the end all-be all.  Comics as a whole have endured a lot of poor criticism in the past given by writers who know nothing about comics and have little interest in learning about them, but I have high hopes that as comics become consumed by a larger audience, comic analysis will come from sources schooled in the language and art of sequential storytelling.


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