You may have heard...
From the most novice to the most accomplished, dA is home to artists of all types and skills. This mish-mash of talent, experience, knowledge, and eagerness to learn creates a beautiful opportunity for mentorships between those who are learning and those who are willing to lend their time and patience to a burgeoning new artist or writer. But forming those relationships can be daunting for those looking for help and unfulfilling for those offering that help.
This is the first of a two part article series that aims to address a few key points of miscommunication that seem to be common between those willing to offer critique and constructive commentary and those seeking feedback. You may have heard that the critique community on deviantART "sucks" or "doesn't exist", but I'll humbly beg to disagree. I've been an active participant in the critique community of dA for going on five years, and I can tell you that it has never been a dormant or non-existant part of this website. Just a severely misunderstood one.
What is Critique?
In the simplest terms, critique is feedback meant to help a writer or artist improve in their craft. It often contains criticism of a specific aspect of the art ("the hands seem unrealistic") as well as specific feedback about how to improve ("you might want to look at some photographs of hands in the pose you're going for as reference"). Online critiques have the added benefit of being able to provide links to further resources for the artist to read or study.
Critique is never aimed at a person. It should not include critical statements about the artist's personality, race, religion, sexuality, gender, etc. It should focus solely on the piece of art in question. If you run across comments that are derogatoy or inflammatory toward a particular deviant, it should be reported to deviantART. FAQ #238: How do I report people for abuse, harassment, or another issue I think is a problem?
Critique is the most valuable resource a learning artist can seek. We do not learn or grow if we never ask for help. So, let's talk about how to do just that.
For those looking for feedback:
So, you've uploaded your deviation. The masses will soon see your work and recognize your need for improvement. The comments should start flowing any minute now!
....not so much. Getting useful critique on a website as huge as deviantART takes a little work. The people who tend to leave good critique tend to be in high demand, so it also takes a little patience. But it is worth the time and effort, and these simple steps may help you on your way to getting great feedback:
Use Your Artist Comment
The artist comment is that little description box under your deviation. When you're uploading your deviation to deviantART, use that box to ask for feedback. And be specific about the kind of feedback you want. For example, if you're a photographer you may ask about focus, post-processesing, composition, or contrast. If you're a writer, you might ask about word choice, line-breaks, sentence structure, or character motivation.
If there's an area of your work that you already know you need to improve, ask for specific ideas about how to go about it. If there are areas you're not sure are working, ask for feedback about that. Give your potential critics a launching pad from which to begin their comments. It will give you better, more focused information as well as ensure that your critic knows you're serious about getting in-depth feedback.
Unless you already have a good following of active commenters, you're not likely to get your work noticed just by leaving it in your own personal gallery. DeviantART implemented the groups platform specifically to help the community get their work noticed. Many groups offer feedback or have folders specifically for deviants who want feedback. After you've made sure your artist comment includes some specific feedback requests, submit your deviation to a few of those groups. Here are just a few to get you started:
I really cannot stress this enough. On deviantART, you get what you give. If you want to receive comments one the fastest ways is to give them. Now there are some pretty big roadblocks that a lot of deviants run into when they start thinking about commenting (many of which will be addressed in part 2 of this article). The most common is feeling that you have nothing of value to offer.
This is categorically untrue. Even if you don't have something constuctive to say, sometimes showing your appreciation or stating why you thought something was really great is just as important as leaving tips for improvement. I think MadHat11D6 put it best:
I've had days where I felt a bit hopeless in the improvement area. Reassurance and compliments are often as important as stark honesty.
Keep in mind that if you expect to receive good feedback, you should pobably be leaving a little more detailed comments than "oh my god, this is so good!!" Take your feedback seriously. Say something more along the lines of: "I really connected with your main character because you avoided using typical cliches for women in the 1800s. Good work!" If you can explain why you liked or didn't like something, you are leaving invaluable feedback for that deviant - whether it is criticism or praise.
Additionally, think about where you are leaving your feedback. If you are simply commenting on random things, your chances of getting good feedback in return are relatively low. Go into those groups we talked about before and leave comments on those deviations. Use your energy in places that have a high chance of a return on your investment.
At long last! Someone has taken the time to leave a detailed comment or critique on your work. Fireworks are entirely appropriate at this moment. All your hard work has paid off! You have some solid advice for improvement just sitting there in your inbox. There are so many things to do at this point, but the absolute no-no of all no-no's is to do nothing.
Deviants who don't respond to comments within a reasonable amount of time don't get critique from the people who actually like giving critique. As C-A-Harland says:
...if a deviation has received a few comments over a period of time, and the author [or artist] hasn't bothered to reply to any of them, even to say thank you, I won't bother. If the artist isn't taking the time to read their feedback, why bother leaving any?
Whether you agree with everything your critic has to say or not, taking a moment to say thank you is important. Someone took a portion of his or her day to attempt to help you in your progress as an artist. That is huge, and you should be grateful. After that, you can get down to specifics. There are lots of guides on deviantART already about how to respond to critique (see the artist comment for thumbs) but a few important points to note here:
Be respectful in your reply. Sometimes critique can bruise your ego, especially if someone is critical of skill you have worked hard to improve already. Take a moment to step back and be objective. If you think your critic is correct, you may want to ask for more specific advice or resources to continue growing in that area.
It is okay to ask for clarification. If your critic made a statement or used a term you don't understand, ask about it. As my grandpa used to say, the only stupid question is the one that never gets asked.
Remember to say thank you. Seriously. Just make sure you do that.
While critique and comments are absolutely an amazing resource for any artist, there are lots of other ways to improve on deviantART. You can start by browsing the Tutorials Gallery and keeping an eye on improvement related groups like projecteducate and browsing for groups related to tutorial and resource gathering.
You can also read critiques left on other people's work for pointers about how you might improve your own. Browse the recent critiques to get started. (I usually look for the critiques with star ratings less than five for the actual useful feedback.) You can also follow the CVs for the resources gallery, Elandria, CelticStrm-Stock and PirateLotus-Stock, to stay up to date on all things improvement.
Your growth as an artist is ultimately your responsibility. Getting good feedback is one of the great elements of this website, but it doesn't happen magically. If you want good comments, you have to put in the work to get them. Hopefully this little guide will help those who are serious about getting feedback find their niche in the critique community of deviantART. I'll leave you with a great summation from LockedBox:
The main thing to take away from deviantart, I think, is that if you want feedback you really have to solicit it. Join groups, make forum threads, organise feedback trades and swaps, actively ask for feedback in your description, and if there's something specific that bothers you be sure to specify. You can get a lot out of this place if you go looking for it.
If you have questions or other points of advice, please do leave a comment!