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Tips to Critque on DA by GoblinQueeen Tips to Critque on DA by GoblinQueeen
It seemed to me that more and more so lately, I'm noticing disharmony between artists here on dev relating to the critique system. I don't think it's that artists don't want honest critques, I think it stems more from miscommunication and perhaps not everyone understanding how to give a helpful critque. In any case, I didn't think it would hurt to throw this guide together and just maybe, it might help improve communication between each other.

Now, I don't want to sound preachy, either. These are just thoughts and techniques I have found work well for me. Like any other tutorial, you may find some work for you and some don't. Just take from it what you like and leave the rest behind ;)

*Edit 3/13/05: re *tigrin 's suggestion, I went back and added some general and brief definitions for the formal elements.


Critique. It’s one of those words that society has taken into one of the most negative connotations, and yet, it’s not meant to be a negative at all. In the art world, the idea of a critique is to examine the formal elements of a particular piece of art. It has absolutely nothing to do with passing judgment or assessing its validity, it is just a way to look beyond the obvious. It is an invaluable process within the artistic community and the responsibility to handle it properly should not be taken lightly.

Now, personally, I was introduced to the process at a very young age. Back in grade school, we had a woman that would come in once a month and we would go over several pieces and review the formal elements involved. Of course, my level of understanding at that age was not what it is now, but still, I knew the basics and if asked, how to approach a proper critique.

It has come to my attention that many people were not likewise exposed and are relatively new to the concept of critiquing the works of others. There seems to be a bit of high tension lately as some people are presenting things in a less than tactful way, upsetting artists, and in turn, getting upset and thinking that the artist does not want an honest critique. Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I know for myself personally that is not the case. I do want an honest critique, but I also appreciate one done properly that shows respect for the work at the same time as examining it.

As many people do not understand the difference between those two concepts and many have not yet been exposed to the proper way to give a critique, I thought a little guide might be helpful. This is especially important here on devArt as if you are going to participate in the critiquing/commenting process, it’s best to do so with a full understanding of what is and is not considered good form.

First and foremost, the formal elements of art I mentioned include but are not limited

Theme – the idea, emotion, or motif behind the piece.

Expression – how the theme is carried out in a piece on a technical level. What elements are employed to express the theme and how well does it read.

Line – how lines are used in the piece, both in the literal lines you can see and in the implied ones created by objects and directional movement.

Color – how color is used, including, but not limited to the tonal palate (warm tones like reds, oranges, browns versus cool tones like blues and greens), use of contrast and complimentary, and also how the color has been used to render and draw focus.

Form – how the artist has used rendering techniques to create a dimensional feel and how those forms then register and relate to each other.

Repetition – how shapes, colors, and lines can be repeated throughout a piece to create unity, pattern, balance, and/or rhythm.

Composition – how the different elements of the piece are arranged to give and specific effect or mood. The actual staging of a piece.

Balance – a more surreal term, does the piece feel balanced and well grounded where it is? Are the objects centered, or all to one side? Does one side seem to feel more pull than another?

Direction – somewhat related to balance, how the elements combine to create a pull to a common point in space.

Movement – similar to energy, but also including literal movement within a piece. How alive a piece feels, both for abstract and representational works.

Energy – the dynamics of a piece. Do the different elements like color, line, and pattern create a calm state or a more energetic one.

Rhythm – how elements like pattern, repetition, and flow work together to create an overall unified feel.

Flow – how the eye moves around the piece and how well the different elements relate to each other.

Focus – how the artist has used to formal elements to guide the viewer to a main subject area.

Depth of Field – how the literal focus has been adjusted to create depth in the piece, i.e., objects at a closer range are more/less in focus than those at a distance.

Emotion – also related to theme, but the emotional level or idea in a piece. Also the emotional response it elicits from the viewer.

Symbolism – elements of the piece that involve a subtext beyond their outward appearance. They are what they appear to be at first glance, but they may also be representational of an idea, a person, or an emotion.

Iconography – a type of symbolism related to specific images or objects the viewer should use to understand a piece. For instance, placing a heart over a person’s head would be an iconographic reference to love.

How an artist has chosen to use these elements should be the central issue, not whether or not you care for the particular subject, style, etc… What follows are some tips on how to keep that focus.

1) A critique is not just about what is ‘wrong’ with a piece. This is an unfortunate misunderstanding that I have seen perpetrated all too often. Simply pointing out each and every thing you consider to be a flaw in a piece of art is not a good critique. A good critique is balanced and addresses many if not all of the formal elements, expressing both good and bad, what you feel works, and what doesn’t. This may seem to be an overly ‘pc’ approach to some, but if you focus on the negative, the person you are trying to help is likely to tune you out without taking in your meaning which accomplishes nothing for either of you. Remember, this is something the person has likely poured hours of work into and understandably, they may be rather attached to it and if all you have to say is negative and they see some good, they may discredit your perfectly valid points. A balanced evaluation is the best and most proper approach. Try to address the elements you think were carried out well in addition to the one’s you felt maybe could use some work.

2) Remember to leave your personal tastes behind. If you are going to evaluate a piece of art, you have to be able to approach it from a totally neutral perspective. If you don’t care for a particular genre or style, to give a good critique, that needs to be left out of it. That is not to say you are not entitled to that opinion, but I’m sure the artist is well aware that there are those that will not care for the style/genre of their work and there is no need to say so again. As mentioned before, you want the person to be receptive to what you have to say and if you start out with an obvious prejudice, they will likely discredit anything else you may have written. Again, this is of no help to anyone and defeats the purpose of the critique.

3) Be constructive with your criticisms. Unfortunately, this is a very ambiguous area. How do you say something bad in a good way? Well, to start out with, saying something is ‘ugly,’ ‘annoying,’ and/or ‘bad’ is not constructive. It gives the artist nothing to help them improve. Again, your ultimate goal is to help the person you are lending your time to and if all you do is slander their hard work, they are unlikely to listen. If per say you find something lacking in a piece, it is far better to try to focus on why you find it lacking and express it that way. Saying a color feels a bit too bright is far more helpful than saying it is ugly or wrong. By focusing on the source of your gut instinct, you are both helping the artist because it is much harder if not impossible for them to try to guess why you had a certain reaction.

4) Similarly, do try to be honest. It’s all well and good to be polite, but also not to the point where you are being untruthful. Don’t hold back your opinion, just try to keep in mind how you would like it expressed to you if it was your own artwork being commented on.

5) Also important specifically here on devART is the level of critique the person has indicated they desire. Obviously, if they say ‘do not critique,’ they do not want it critiqued for many possible reasons. If they ask for an ‘advanced critique,’ then fire away, but still keep in mind that you want to be respectful in doing so. More ambiguous is the ‘critique welcome’ option. Keep in mind, this is the only middle ground deviantART has set up. While the person is not asking you to refrain from a more in-depth look at the work, they are also not specifically requesting it, so try to keep that in mind.

6) Use maturity and tact in your comments. Of course, this may fluctuate depending on the age of the artist that produced the work, but if you are evaluating a serious nude, then it is not generally good form to make jokes about body parts, etc. Understandably, one of the most natural responses in people when they are nervous or uncomfortable about something is to make a joke, but think first about whether it is appropriate or not. If not, it might be better to say nothing.

7) Saying nothing is perfectly alright. If you really just don’t like a genre like anime, or abstract expressionism, or portraiture and do not think you can comment without those prejudices influencing you, it is perfectly alright to say nothing at all about the piece. To have an opinion does not mean it has to be expressed at every opportunity. As mentioned before, the artist already knows that there are those that do not share their same interests. Simply telling them again with no consideration for the formal elements of the work does not help them at all and isn’t the end goal to help the artist?

8) Be prepared that the artist may not agree with you. That does not mean that they do not respect your opinion, but just as you do not necessarily agree with the choices they made, they might not agree with yours. In the end, art is very subjective and each person will have their own taste. You can offer a suggestion, but don’t take it personally if the artist decides against it. It is not that they are unwilling to hear criticism, they just don’t happen to agree with that particular suggestion. Remember, all you are offering is an opinion. It may be an opinion shared by many, but in the end, it is only an opinion and the artist is the one with the end say.

9) Do not try to pass judgment on the ‘validity’ of someone’s chosen means of expression. There many different forms of art out there, some I like and some I don’t, but if it is of no harm to others, then I have no right to say what is and isn’t ‘art.’ Someone else might choose a different means of expression than I would, but that does not make those feelings they are expressing any less valid.

10) Try to look at the age and level of the artist. On devART, there are many different ages and skill levels. The scale ranges from professionals to amateurs to hobbyists. You may want to be a bit less harsh with a 12 year old or someone that is just doing art for fun than with an aspiring professional that is trying to hone their skills to break into the field.

11) Be willing to put your money where your mouth is. It is not a necessity, but a very nice addition if you can see that the person offering suggestions understands what they are talking about and can demonstrate it in their own work. As I said, this is not a necessity, but I’ve always found I’m far more receptive to taking suggestions from professors and other artists whose work I respect. It shows that they understand what they are saying on both a theoretical and practical level.

12) Do not, I repeat do not use the critique/comment area for promoting your own work. That is extremely bad form. That’s like coming into someone else’s gallery show with fliers for your own or coming to someone’s wedding and trying to upstage the bride, it’s just not done. Mentioning that you have dealt with a similar theme/character and even comparing and contrasting the two is generally accepted, but to use the space to link up your own work is very disrespectful. Obviously, if the artist is interested (and I would hope they are as I’m always interested in seeing how different artists have approached the same subject), they can come over and find it in your gallery, but it is impolite to impose.

13) If you are going to ask a question, be respectful of the artist’s time and read the description first. Nine times out of ten, the question has already been answered there. After all, they were nice enough to take the time to provide all of the information you might need to properly understand a particular piece, if you ignore it, then you are showing disrespect for that original time spent and the time they now must spend answering it again.

Now, in the end, these are only suggestion to help both you and the person who you are critiquing. Just like with a critique, you might agree with some or none of these and ultimately, how you approach it is up to you. These are just my own observations and things I have found help me from both ends in terms of understanding where someone else is coming from in offering a critique and helping them understand where I’m coming from when I am offering one. Maybe these tips will prove useful for you and maybe they won’t, but it’s something to think about in anycase.
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Daily Deviation

Given 2005-03-14
We've all seen those 'how to comment and critique' tips and tutorials around here have we not? I found this one exceptionally good, so good i actually read it all the way which i normally wouldn't. *GoblinQueeen's approach is very down to earth, yet artsy and motivates me to look at deviations in a new way. I wish I wrote this. Tips to Critque on DA ( Suggested by Mechanicalchaser-Sca and Featured by suzi9mm )
Daesya Featured By Owner Feb 21, 2016   Digital Artist
Agreed. The negative connotation of the term is too often misleading
thayCVB Featured By Owner Oct 14, 2015   Digital Artist

A lot of bitches should read these marvelous tips if they want to be taken seriously and not kicked in the butt. Good job!
BorrZeeRokkr Featured By Owner Jul 27, 2013
I really enjoyed reading this whole tutorial because I don't often spend my time on the 'making part' of the art, nor criticizing, - one of the reasons I didn't post any deviation so far - but I'd like to do both whenever I'm in the mood for it.

I've learned much from all the points you made throughout the whole tutorial, there are things I already knew but needed to clarify or not, and so on.

Also, not only your work but all the feedback people have been giving through commenting is as helpful for you as it is for me. It is expected that the whole critiques subject would be too wide for one to just explain all of it into one tutorial, and through commenting many deviants have been covering all the possibly missing parts, which makes me extremely glad.

Thank you, Goblin Queen, and every other commenting deviants here.
chibzinator Featured By Owner Jun 9, 2013
Just wanted to say thank you. I'm not much of an artist, and sometimes all I can say is that I like or dislike some work, without being able to really back it up with more coherent reasons. This is very helpful.
NoNekBone Featured By Owner May 30, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Pure genius. Thanks goblin queen. Now, if i ever give a critique i won't leave with my foot in my mouth and the artists foot up my behind. This is a must read!
gracedwithoutfear Featured By Owner May 4, 2013
gqs discussion of the elements of art is a wonderful synopsis. Her discussion on focus sets a tone of practical discipline and etiquette.
LitteSongbird Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2012  Student Traditional Artist
This is super helpful!
NightlyTerror Featured By Owner May 14, 2011  Student General Artist
SOme bitches need to learn what your talking about
kenwedaneli Featured By Owner Mar 5, 2011  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Great!, it is exceptionally good, i put a permanent link on my journal to this, is a "must read" for everyone!
Crysenley Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
I'm glad I randomly decided to take the time to read this! These are such helpful tips!:D So many times I see horribly pointless critiques, I just may link to this whenever think it'll benefit the person.:aww:

wolffoetowtech Featured By Owner Aug 6, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
thank you this is going in my learning center
promdressesol Featured By Owner Jul 4, 2010
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LiLkawaiibunny Featured By Owner Apr 13, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
This is great! ^^
It's so helpful! ^^
This really helps with Design aswell! XD
Thanks for sharing! =D
guagna Featured By Owner Feb 19, 2010  Student Writer
featured: [link] and [link]

TheArtributor Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
You could just say, in giving the critique, "It's not personal, it's poetic." But, then, who's gonna say that?

All joking aside, I must agree with most everyone here, that this is required reading for alot of deviants. Everything is given an apt definition. Thanks for taking the crit outta critique. Or something like that.
tardis101 Featured By Owner Dec 25, 2009  Hobbyist Digital Artist
woow thank you, this has showed me how cloed minded and naive i was being! I honestly thought that critique was (constructively) helping the artist to see what they could imprve, i didnt think doing it had so much deapth! At least i know now so if i ever do critique a piece, i wont hurt anybodys feelings! thank you!
Vexbeast Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2009
I have two particular problems with this deviation.

Firstly, the points are all made with well-thought out examples. Skim-reading this is very difficult. This would be easily solved by bolding the first sentence of each of the numbered paragraphs and each name of a formal element.

The second thing that bothers me is slightly pedantic on my part, but from a literal view still important.

I feel that the tutorial would also benefit from a quick notation of the literal meanings of the words 'criticism' and 'critique'. I find the colloquial use of the words degrades the argument against poor criticism.
Amazing-Toaster Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2009   Artisan Crafter
myonlygaara Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2009
um well i need to know how do you put your pics on deviantart?(i am so sorry if you mentioned this in your tutorial i did not read it it is to much to READ!!!)
Lil-IBeatSephy Featured By Owner Nov 28, 2009
Right up at the top of the screen to the left there is a little arrow next to your username. Click it, and a bunch of options will come down, the first being "Submit a Deviation".

icecheetah Featured By Owner Sep 29, 2009
Adding so I can read in the morning.
Aberleigh Featured By Owner Sep 26, 2009  Student Digital Artist
Thank you for this ^^ And including definitions since it always irritates me when someone uses a word in the wrong context
Azzitay Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2009  Student General Artist
Damn great phrased.

Nothing to critique here =P
TwistedHearts Featured By Owner Jul 21, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
This is very helpful and well-written! I hope others take the time to read it fully as I have because it's very informative. I thought I knew how to properly critique, but now I know how to do it even better :D. If that makes any sense, of course :giggle:.
Thank you very much for taking the time to write everything out :heart:.
emmil Featured By Owner Jul 21, 2009  Professional Digital Artist
Inspired stamp: [link] :D

Thank for writing this! Couldn't say it better with my own words! ^^

- Emmilia.
GoblinQueeen Featured By Owner Aug 2, 2009
lol, very cool :)
owdof Featured By Owner Jun 18, 2009
THANK YOU soooo much for taking the time to actually write this for people. (: I'm sure it will help others better themselves when giving critique, as it has helped me further understand the grounds on which I can, or cannot cross. Too many a time do I come across badly written critique that is solely based on the persons personal interests, such as: "It needs to be more ecchi/nude/etc."

'critique' like those bothers me very much, especially when the artist didnt even mean for the picture to look perverted in any way. I really must thank you again for taking the time. (: I just hope the whole community could read this and actually THINK about their critique. xD
Refri Featured By Owner May 26, 2009  Professional General Artist
Wow. This is helpfull, thankyou very much for this "tutorial" and I know you want to help many people to do a appropriate critique. :hug:
HowlingTimberWolf Featured By Owner May 3, 2009
Thank you so much for posting this. I'm definately reading this carefully and saving it for future reference.
Drawn-Imagination Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2009  Professional Digital Artist
I'm faving this as, I feel I should take my time to read it properly, however from what I have read already this is highly informative and extremely helpful tutorial. Thankyou, maybe when I finish my uni project (very soon) I'll post work and you could critique it for me so I can start improving my work. :heart: I can't fave anymore of your work because I like all of it for different reasons. So keep it up and I'll keep watching.
GoblinQueeen Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2009
just let me know when it's posted, though I can't promise to be quick ;)
Drawn-Imagination Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2009  Professional Digital Artist
no problem and thankyou very much :)
TheOnlyWarman Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2009  Professional General Artist
this is amazing I would love you critiquing my work anytime :D
bugsymoron Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2009
Very useful - well put together, clear and concise=):clap:
AztKfullHD89 Featured By Owner Feb 12, 2009
I don't have the time to read all this xD but i'll fave it to read it later, this seems interesting.
rextheone Featured By Owner Feb 9, 2009  Professional Digital Artist
tuffie Featured By Owner Feb 5, 2009
Thank you for this.
A good point to mention is that commenting on the positive is not good only to make someone be more receptive to critique. It's also important to point on what's good so that the artist can see it, can learn where their strengths lie and what they are doing right. Praise for the good also promotes a Pavlovian response and helps them repeat the good next time.
Getting and giving critique is an important skill and I'm glad someone dealt with it in such a useful, comprehensive guide :)
leaf-feather Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2009
i has question, (i only got about 3/5ths of the way through before i got antsy and skipped to the end-sorry-so u might have already mentioned this) is there a more positive word you could use instead of 'but'? for a sentence like this one -> I really like your use of colour and shadow, but i feel that the neck is a bit to long.
GoblinQueeen Featured By Owner Jan 31, 2009
Good question, 'but' is a very negative word, it implies that whatever comes next cancels out whatever came before it. In the example you gave, the shading and proportion are not directly related, so it might be best to separate the thoughts completely. Let the complement stand on its own, just "I really like the use of color and shadow." Then let the next thought stand on its own, "The proportion might need a little adjustment, mainly just around the neck."
leaf-feather Featured By Owner Feb 3, 2009
kay, thanks
SarahIsAlmostUseless Featured By Owner Jan 21, 2009  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I'm horrible at doing critiques... I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings or be mis-understood.
This will be helpful XD
yeahgirl11 Featured By Owner Jan 6, 2009  Student Traditional Artist
Very nice tutorial. Thank you for taking the time to write this out!

This club is dedicated to critique, and has a very nice, non-competitive, atmosphere. I've found it helpful, as many of the members are excellent at critiqing in the very way you've spoken about in this tutorial. Check it out if you're interested.
Inu-freak Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2008  Student General Artist
Very good Tutorial. I honestly didn't learn how to critique oers works untill this past semester in college. In our beginning art class, we'd post up that week's homework, and we'd say to each artist what we liked about the piece, and what we thought they could've spent a little more time on or what they can improve on. This way they walk away seeing how far they've come, and how far they still need to go. You could also tell which students took the critique seriously the next week.
rainbowangst101 Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2008  Hobbyist General Artist
Good stuff. Critique is such a scary subject for some people. :3
ClumzyVaporeon Featured By Owner Nov 2, 2008
I found this to be very informing! I have tried my best to give a good amount of critique and friendly suggestions.
<3 but yeah, we share the same ideas on alot of this stuff! :0 this is so amazing... really! : 0
You must give AWESOME comments! >3
Madd-Maxx Featured By Owner Sep 24, 2008
Very well done, this is almost exactly what I was looking for when I looked up critiqueing. You cover the elements of art very well, (albeit in a very condensed way) and I liked your emphasis on objectivity and manners. I, for one, avoid conversations about abstrsact expressionism for this reason. (I can be very ..."expressive")
Some examples of "good" and "bad" critiques would have been good for clarity, it was kind of like a math teacher telling me about the pythagorean theorum without having a triangle there.
GoblinQueeen Featured By Owner Sep 24, 2008
lol, good point
carmiecarmela Featured By Owner Sep 14, 2008
so long
daanton Featured By Owner Aug 18, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I guess the lesson is: critique first before reporting for "violation of x"...
AquaBlue10 Featured By Owner Aug 3, 2008
very well written. so very long....
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