Photographs and Criticism

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by michaellinder, Sep 6, 2015.

  1. In the first of his Letters to a Young Poet, Rainier Maria Rilke writes as follows. "You ask if your verses are good. You ask me. You have previously asked others. You send them to journals. You compare them with other poems, and you are troubled when certain editors reject your efforts. Now (as you have permitted me to advise you) I beg you to give all that up. You are looking outwards, and of all things that is what you must now not do. Nobody can advise and help you, nobody. There is only one single means. Go inside yourself. Discover the motive that bids you write; examine whether it sends its roots down to the deepest places of your heart, confess to yourself whether you would have to die if writing were denied you." (Dover edition, 2002, pp. 11-12).
    Is it overly extreme to think that a photographer cannot grow by heeding the critical comments others have provided? How might contemplating one's death if one couldn't engage in photography any longer inform his/her work? And are these related questions?
     
  2. Well it's a bit overwrought, but it's rhetorical and meant to make a point, so that's fine.

    Photography is communication. If a third party can, though criticism, cause the photographer to recognize that they may not be communicating what they think they're communicating, then there's something to learn there. Much like a writing instructor pointing out that a student's choice of vocabulary usage is tone deaf given a particular audience. The advice to ask yourself if you're really saying what you think you're saying (verbally, in prose, or through visual arts, etc) is really a suggestion to examine oneself and what one is saying. But to the extent that the purpose of that expression is to communicate to someone, anyone, outside of the artist's/writer's/photographer's own skull, insightful feedback from outside that same skull can be instructive.

    People who never stray outside their own heads don't get better at communicating to anyone but themselves.
     
  3. IMO, photography is both communication and expression, the latter being a bit more personal and unencumbered by others' understandings and judgments. I'd say Rilke's words pertain more to an artist's or photographer's expressiveness than to his or her ability to communicate. As Matt says, it is a passionate and dogmatic statement, something I give poets, writers, artists great leeway with. But all that does to me is emphasize a point without necessarily my eliminating opposing views. There's something to be said for standing by your work and for reaching within for what you want to say and how you want to say and/or show it. Since we grew up in school where teachers molded us, our parents and families molded us, society's conventions mold us, it's wise to consider and even struggle to find our own voices, and given the way the world works that's often difficult within a society that seems to prefer conformity. Rilke makes an appropriately passionate plea.
    But, being familiar with the critique pages, for example, of PN, I can state that just the opposite kind of approach to criticism is sometimes also warranted. People have a tendency to use "art" as an excuse for divorcing themselves from critique and I think this is as big a mistake as buying into others' opinions too much. There's little worse than hearing the defense of a bad photograph being, "Well, I'm the artist and this is my vision." It's as often a defense mechanism as it is an assertion of an artist's claim to independence and freedom of expression.
    It may be true that the great artists throughout history were able to think solely for themselves and dismiss the critics. There are few of those. Most of us benefit from it, as long as we don't let it undermine our authentic voice. There is a way to accept criticism while still maintaining autonomy. I think many good artists do just that. In that way, their art is both a subjective outpouring and a shared experience.
     
  4. SCL

    SCL

    I'm skipping the esoteric, although Rilke had lots to say in his day which is quite meaningful. The simple answer for me has always been that one should know oneself, and one's own limits well...and then ask others of whom greater or wider knowledge exists. Without knowing one's own limits, it is hard to judge whether the opinion of others is of any value or just BS. I remember a quote from my naval officer training over half a century ago, which always amused me. but was quite helpful, "When in question or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout". The idea, of course, is to secuer the knowledge of others once you have exhausted your internal resources.
     
  5. I suspect that Rilke's being a poet gives him license to speak in hyperbole, at least sometimes. Accordingly, I don't think he was urging his young admirer deliberately to ignore feedback on his work, critical or otherwise. Instead, I think his point, as Fred indicates, is that a process of honest self-examination will fundamentally answer important questions about one's direction, perspective, priorities, and vision.
    The quote in the OP reminds me of something I read while in graduate school. In at least two of his books, Edmund Husserl advocates a method to obtain insight into the ultimate nature of things by bracketing away all assumptions, preconceived notions, etc. Perhaps Rilke read Husserl. Regardless, this is a lesson a photographer can learn.
    And, by the way, I also agree that autonomy and accepting criticism are not mutually exclusive.
     
  6. Rilke's young poet was troubled by rejections from certain editors, compared his own poems with the published work of other poets, asked of others and now of Rilke "Are my versus good?"
    I take that as a broad question from a young person feeling vulnerable about the worth of their best effort in poetry. It's a tough question to answer. I saw an interview with James Gardner who said of one of his first auditions that he received cutting criticism. He said that intentionally cruel criticism wounded him, he was extremely shy. Gardner said he was able to shake that criticism off, but could see where another young person might not have shaken it off. So I see Gardner as saying that some criticism can root down to the deepest places of the heart. I think Rilke was advising just such a young person in whom Rilke wouldn't want criticism to root that far down. In comparison to Rilke's poetic license, a retired literature professor answered the same question from a student by handing him a book of matches. Who knows? Maybe Rilke wanted to hand his young poet a book of matches, but from a different temperament went the extra mile.
    I find I'm less sensitive to criticism than I was as a youth.
     
  7. Can anyone here name one critique that helped them after they applied it and made their image even better than THEY envisioned?
    And if it wasn't a vision that would normally have entered their mind or was naturally part of their POV, then how is a critique helpful in sustaining consistency across an entire body of work? There's tips and then there's critiques.
    A critique based on an examination of one image isn't necessarily applicable to the rest of a photographer's work unless it's a more broad type of critique.
    How does someone critique another photographers work unless they know what that photographer was thinking about deep down inside? Can a critique get a photographer look deeper inside their methods they use to source how they see and interpret what they photograph?
    I don't know how another person would know what another photographer was thinking by looking at their photographs.
     
  8. Tim, are all of these questions rhetorical? If not, what's your overall point? Your last statement?
     
  9. Can anyone here name one critique that helped them after they applied it and made their image even better than THEY envisioned?​
    Yes. Well, it doesn't have a name, per se. But I've experienced many series of good critiques, in endeavors ranging from my writing of Philosophy to my playing the piano to my making photos.
    And if it wasn't a vision that would normally have entered their mind or was naturally part of their POV, then how is a critique helpful in sustaining consistency across an entire body of work? There's tips and then there's critiques.​
    The good critiques I've had weren't a matter of tips, though I've received some good tips in my life as well. And most of the good critiques were precisely a matter of helping me to allow for a vision that would normally have entered my mind but that I wasn't yet accessing or accessing fully enough for me. It wasn't about telling me what that vision is or should be. It was about enabling me (sometimes pushing me) to follow through and pursue those visions. It is often about helping someone to get in touch with their vision, not to see something in the critic's way.
    A critique based on an examination of one image isn't necessarily applicable to the rest of a photographer's work unless it's a more broad type of critique.​
    Most helpful critiques I've received haven't been based simply on one image even if a particular critique applies mostly to one image. I wouldn't put as much stock in what someone said who was going only by one of my photos, though I'd still give them a listen. If something rings true to me, it rings true.
    How does someone critique another photographers work unless they know what that photographer was thinking about deep down inside?​
    First, they would recognize that a photo and a critique of a photo are about much more than what the photographer is thinking deep down inside. The good critiques I've had have addressed vision, commitment, style, strength, technique, etc. Many are begun by questioning rather than direction. Most are a matter of stimulating a dialogue, sometimes simply offering inspiration rather than specific instruction or detailed recommendations. They are a matter of getting me to look and open up to myself, to invite or push me to an awareness of my own work and whether I feel thoroughly absorbed or not.
    I don't know how another person would know what another photographer was thinking by looking at their photographs.​
    Again, it's really not so much about what another photographer is thinking. It's about what he's expressing, which has to do with feelings, symbols, signs, visual language, style references, and all sorts of non-literal communication. It's always a question how much we really know about another person, whether photographer or not. And what signs and gestures and behavior and words and actions we use to assess what others may be thinking or feeling. It's not a science. But, since communication does take place and since, IMO, we're not solipsistic creatures, some degree of awareness about others seems to me part of life. Sometimes, I get it by the way another walks into a room, sometimes by what he says, sometimes by how she acts toward her husband, sometimes by her art or photos. My impressions aren't always right. I get insights into people in varying degrees at different times from different sorts of information. One's photos are on a spectrum of insightful matter about oneself.
     
  10. Tim, are all of these questions rhetorical? If not, what's your overall point? Your last statement?​
    Michael, if you have the insight on spotting rhetorical questions I'm pretty sure you're quick on the uptake at figuring out their true purpose which is to get folks to think.
    But my first question wasn't rhetorical and you still didn't answer it. What? You don't feel like thinking? Oh,wait, it's Labor Day weekend. I forgot.
     
  11. Yes. Well, it doesn't have a name, per se. But I've experienced many series of good critiques, in endeavors ranging from my writing of Philosophy to my playing the piano to my making photos.​
    Fred, for someone who is a prolific writer and good communicator I'm surprised you didn't answer my first question by stating what that critique was that helped you. I was asking for specifics.
    This is what makes communicating through writing in the Philosophy Of Photography forum so laborious. Folks formulate answers that aren't in the question in order to focus or redirect more on how knowledgeable they are in something thinly related to the original question.
     
  12. Tim, your mistake is in thinking the critiques were specific. I went on at length about how the critiques proceeded in order to show you how unspecific they were, yet still helpful. As you didn't understand that, instead you chose to respond offensively. You might consider not that your question wasn't answered but that your question made so many assumptions about the subject that aren't the case that you didn't realize that the grammar of the answer is simply world's apart from the misguided assumptions of the question. Reread my answers above. You'll find a lot has been addressed about critique, though not within your limited framework of understanding it. I would have been doing all of us a disservice to answer your questions as asked, because they were speaking a language that simply doesn't apply. Someday, when you're lucky enough to be open to receiving a genuinely felt critique by someone who knows you and your work, you will have your own experiences and won't have to doubt the experiences and sincerely-felt responses of others. Go back and read my answers again, forcing yourself to believe I was sincere in my response, which I was. You may still not get anything out of the responses, but at least you will have given it a shot.
     
  13. I didn't make a mistake, Fred. I asked you for a specific critique someone gave you on one or several of your photographs. If you can't be specific then you can't answer my question.
    A critique involves someone saying words to you. What were those words that were directed toward your photograph or photographs.
    I'm not talking about inspirational sing song exchanges that causes some kind of comrades in arms connection with the other person attempting to talk about or describe someone's work to the other person. I'm asking for a literal, concrete criticism.
     
  14. I'm asking for a literal, concrete criticism.​
    I know you are. And that's your mistake. What I was saying is that the various mentors I've had in various disciplines have purposely been neither literal nor concrete, and that's the way they've accomplished the thing you've been asking about. You seem to want to know how someone can help you create a vision that wouldn't have normally entered your mind, suggesting that a critique like that would undermine one's autonomy. If you weren't so blind to what I've been saying, you'd realize I agree with you on that point. A critique that would help you create a vision that wouldn't have normally entered your mind might very well be a critique that oversteps its bounds and does one a disservice. So what I've said is that my critics and mentors have actually helped me create a vision that WOULD enter my mind and all they did was help push me to either take it further or hone it or commit to it. By asking good questions, they've gotten ME to provide answers and directions. I'm not going to offer something like, "they told me to make it darker or more contrasty" or "they told me the subject wasn't interesting" or "they told me to use color instead of black and white" or "they told me to give it a more pastel feel." It's a process and not a matter of these words or those.

    Your prejudice and narrowness are showing when you say "I'm not talking about inspirational sing song exchanges . . ." I know you want literal and concrete and you want to demean non-literal and less tangible exchanges. Fine if you want to do that. But you're not going to get me to do it. It's not the way I work or relate photographically. Sure, I've had people concretely tell me about over-exposure and what photographers and filmmakers to look at if I want to see good examples of day for night work. But the more important kinds of critique are not like that and I'm not about to recount personal and private discussions ver batim that are going to then be characterized by a Doubting Thomas as "sing song exchanges." Why in the world would I set myself up for such abuse?
     
  15. Fred, what if someone said your photo or photos creeped them out?
    Is that a criticism or someone expressing how they feel deep inside about your photos?
     
  16. Someone told me one of my photos had a purplish tint in one shadow area. I hadn't noticed that when I originally posted it. They were right. Correcting that made the photo better or at least different. I'm still undecided which look is better; it depends on how I feel at the moment. The point I'm making is why do critiques or "tips" have to be so deep? Many just relate to craft. I'm more careful now about tints when I process. That's something I learned from viewers.
    Also, as Matt said, photographs communicate to others. If I'm trying to send a message with my photo, getting feedback as to what they see and feel let's me know if I'm succeeding. The truth is photos are our attempt to sell. A feeling, a concept, an idea. Feedback is therefore important unless we're the only ones only looking at our work. The concept quoted seems like that - a little narcissistic. Also, it takes courage to open yourself to critique and to listen to others without getting defensive. Maybe Rilke was sensitive to comment so he advised others to isolate in their own work as well. We often listen to "famous" people and think what they say is the holy grail when all it is is what their personal beliefs are that don't necessarily work for you. Including my post here. Well, I'm also not famous.
     
  17. “Sometimes photographers mistake emotion for what makes a great street photograph.”
    He (Winogrand) never developed film right after shooting it. He deliberately waited a year or two, so he would have virtually no memory of the act of taking an individual photograph.
    This, he claimed made it easier for him to approach his contact sheets more critically. “If I was in a good mood when I was shooting one day, then developed the film right away,” he told us, I might choose a picture because I remember how good I felt when I took it, not necessarily because it was a great shot.
    You make better choices if you approach your contact sheets cold, separating the editing from the picture taking as much as possible.”
    From this article... http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2012/08/20/10-things-garry-winogrand-can-teach-you-about-street-photography/​
    Someone posted that article in a LuLa discussion. Never heard of the guy but I knew exactly what he was talking about in that quoted material and I feel it applies not just in street photography at least in how I work.
    If someone was critiquing me or Winogrand's work and didn't know those kinds of decisions were made within the process of the final image being critiqued, I don't see how anyone can know enough about the person deep inside to offer meaningful critique since it's being sourced from a completely different path of arrival. This is how I understand Rilke's quote. If one doesn't want or is motivated enough by what and how they're doing as if they would die if it was denied them, then critiquing is just a signal going out on a different frequency of desire.
     
  18. Fred, what if someone said your photo or photos creeped them out?
    Is that a criticism or someone expressing how they feel deep inside about your photos?​
    It's someone expressing how they feel when viewing one of my photos. It might very well not be meant as a critique but I could take it as one. For instance, if I didn't intend for it to be in any way creepy and that thought had never occurred to me but when they said it to me I had a sort of "aha" moment and saw it for the first time as creepy, I could take it in a critical way, negatively or positively. I might simply see the photo differently, and a good critique can help in doing that. I might very well leave it as is with a greater understanding of its potential emotional impact. Or, I might say I now see the creepiness in it and want to get rid of that. Without needing anyone to tell me how to make it not creepy, I might figure that out on my own now that I've been helped to see the photo differently from how I had been seeing it up to that point.
    The kinds of conversations I've had that I'm talking about don't tend toward specific adjectives like that, at least unsolicited. So, a mentor might look at the photo and rather than volunteer that it makes him feel creepy, he might ask what I was feeling or what I thought it expressed. If I say, I wanted it to be kind of creepy and make the viewer uncomfortable or even afraid, he might then ask me how that particular shadow over there fits into that. That might force me to think more about the shadow and wonder if it's creepy enough. If I ask if it's creepy enough I'd probably get the kind of answer like "Well, what do you think?" He might point me to movie directors as different as Hitchcock and Wes Craven and David Lynch for different visual languages of creepiness, not because my photo reminds him of any of them and not because he thinks I should mimic any of them, but just to give me a sense of the variety of ways in which creepiness can be communicated, thereby helping me determine whether or not my own photo has something of the sort. But even using the word "creepy" might not cut it in some situations. Because many times it's not a specific adjective I'm going for. It's a less literal and more metaphorical vision I'm after. Then we might just talk about elements that seem not to cohere with the rest and whether or not I want that lack of coherence or whether I'd prefer more coherence. He wouldn't be suggesting I lean one way or the other, just that I consider that aspect. My piano mentor might tell me he's hearing a strong left hand rhythm that almost dominates the right-hand melody, not to judge that good or bad but to reflect back to me what I might not be objective enough to notice. It would then be up to me to determine whether that's the kind of interpretation and emphasis I want to be giving the music. Rarely am I told to make the nose brighter or pronounce the F-sharp with more force or make sure not to take a deterministic stand in philosophy. Most of those types of comments would be out of a lack of patience and a lack of desire on the part of the mentor to allow me to discover what it is that I want. Sometimes it's just easier for a teacher to be blunt like that, but it can very much stifle the student. More nuance is generally required for effective criticism. I'm not talking about newspaper criticism here. I'm talking about the authentic guidance of a mentor, which I find more valuable than quick and more facile critique.
     
  19. If you didn't intend your image to look creepy or even knew what that looked like in general you wouldn't know how to reproduce it because you aren't aware of it. It's not in you. It's seen in your work by someone else which makes their interpretation of your image their creation in their own mind.
    You make images for yourself, to please yourself and/or to express yourself. Creepiness is not your intention. The viewer can't possibly know what your version of creepiness looks like except they only see their version in your work as it stands.
    This person would not be good at giving tips to you because they are on a different wavelength of understanding of your work that you are not aware or else you'ld know that your work is creepy. There's no point in instructing you toward that goal because you don't recognize that viewer's definition of creepiness when it's seen in your work by someone else.
    At best you would find a "different" creepiness that most likely wouldn't register with that person who initially misinterpreted the intentions behind your work. At this point the image belongs to the viewer and he isn't going to criticize himself. You see a different image. Critiques are then pointless.
     
  20. “If I was in a good mood when I was shooting one day, then developed the film right away,” he told us, I might choose a picture because I remember how good I felt when I took it, not necessarily because it was a great shot." —Winogrand
    If someone was critiquing me or Winogrand's work and didn't know those kinds of decisions were made within the process of the final image being critiqued, I don't see how anyone can know enough about the person deep inside to offer meaningful critique since it's being sourced from a completely different path of arrival. —Tim​
    It seems to me Winogrand's quote responds to your followup thought. What he's saying is that the process and his feelings at the time are not so much the relevant issue. The photo is the relevant issue. Meaningful critique is given about the photo itself and is often much less about trying to guess or know what was in the mind of the photographer or how or even why he got his result. It's an assessment of the photo.

    In my case, it's often been an attempt to get me to self-assess the photo, but it's about the photo and not so much about how I felt when I took it or what particular process I used to arrive at the result. It's getting me to take a long, hard look at that result. To that end, not only does the critic not need to know what's deep down inside my mind but knowing it might get in his way of focusing on the photo rather than on me, my mind, or my method.

    Winogrand has always emphasized the photo and what it looks like.
     
  21. You make images for yourself, to please yourself and/or to express yourself.​
    That's a very incomplete assessment of why I make photos. Much of my reason for making photos is to share.
    This person would not be good at giving tips to you because they are on a different wavelength of understanding of your work that you are not aware or else you'ld know that your work is creepy. There's no point in instructing you toward that goal because you don't recognize that viewer's definition of creepiness when it's seen in your work by someone else.
    At best you would find a "different" creepiness that most likely wouldn't register with that person who initially misinterpreted the intentions behind your work. At this point the image belongs to the viewer and he isn't going to criticize himself. You see a different image. Critiques are then pointless.​
    Tim, this may be how you are in the world, how you see things, how you relate to others. I'm sensing you feel we are all solipsistic and isolated from others in terms of photographic sharing, and that you feel communication and empathy are impossible or at least impossible through photography. Maybe I'm misreading you, but that's how it comes across. You've set up photographic empathy and understanding as an impossibility if you truly believe there's no common ground of a visual language and symbolism of creepiness. I don't feel that way. And I don't know that you need to struggle against others' understanding or experience of critique as much as stick to what you want out of photography and describe your own experiences when you feel like sharing.
     
  22. OP - "How might contemplating one's death if one couldn't engage in photography any longer inform his/her work?"
    I don't think Rilke was advising his young poet to ignore criticism, tips, critiques of his poems. Instead Rilke was telling the young poet that he was looking to others for an answer to the question "Are my versus good?" Rilke describes the young poet as having met rejection of his work by an editor, by journals, and that he had been asking others the same question he asked of Rilke. The young poet was asking if his own versus met the artistic standard for publication he worked to meet or exceed. Submitting versus for publication is the young poet asking "Are my versus good enough for publication?"
    Rilke then writes: stop asking others if your versus are good. Instead he implores the young poet to self-examine and not to test his versus on others for the limited purpose of wanting someone to tell him the versus are good. The test Rilke offers the young poet is to test himself. He begs the young poet to ask himself if he would die if writing poems were denied him. In other words, is the young poet more motivated by the reward of getting published than motivated by an inner necessity to write poems, that need's denial a death sentence because denying a need essential for life is a death sentence. At first blush that may seem a highly romanticized view of the artist.
    But Vivian Maier comes to mind as one who may have photographed solely motivated by inner necessity. Or an Emily Dickinson. There are those at the other end of the spectrum.
    So I consider that when I was photographing coyotes to get a good nature shot I hadn't really explored my own motivation. As I got to know the coyotes over several years I drifted toward documenting the various pieces of their behaviors and got a better understanding of their lives. I got an understanding of how all their behaviors knitted into a whole, their behaviors all working in concert. When I looked at my dogs, most canine behaviors are there, but they don't knit into their intended whole. At some point I wasn't thinking if my coyote pictures were 'good'. I was more interested in what I was learning from the experience of photographing them.
     
  23. First of all, "Letters to a Young Poet" is a fantastic read and one that I think is required of all creative people. In fact I was re-reading this classic just last week on a round trip flight.
    Now then as I'm running out the door I'll have to come back to read peoples replies above, but for now I will say that I think critiques have very little value, at least generally speaking. Regarding photography one can point out a flaw in another persons picture that is of a technical nature or something in composition. I used to be pretty sloppy about my backgrounds so I would frequently get poles growing out of peoples heads and such. These are simple things to point out but an observant photographer will immediately see such flaws in their work after the fact.
    A critique of anything else is a slippery slope. For example if one is a street photographer, he/she cannot go back a re-take a photograph that was met with less then enthusiastic critique. Plus, we all have our bias as to what makes an effective photograph. Some people may like photographer A and others may not. So generally speaking, I find little value in such things as portfolio reviews, workshops with famous photographers and want-to-be-famous photographers and so on.
     
  24. We all can learn from others. Regardless of the field. No man is an island. The finest musicians, prodigies, study and practice with others who instruct them on their work. Even Mike Tyson needed Cus D'Amato.
     
  25. Possibly Charles has a point about the quote not being about ignoring critiques, but about asking them, or more specifically, asking the question "is this work good". While I am not directly interested in dissecting Rilke's words (though the quote makes a fine topic start no doubt), it's a very valid point. Are critiques at all about whether a work is good, or not?
    I'd say it is the wrong question to ask; asking for a valuation of a personal expression is asking to benchmark something against.... uhm, yeah, what? Sure, in poetry pointing out grammar errors or spelling mistakes; pointing out obvious technical problems in photography - useful and sometimes necessary, but I think most critiques go a step beyond that.
    The lack of benchmark doesn't make critiques useless, though. At least not for me (no I am not going to give specific details). Hearing or reading how somebody else perceives my images, without necessarily knowing my background or motives, helps me a lot to reflect if my photos, left on their own devices, do communicate what I think (or hope) they should. If I take the viewer by the hand and tell him what to see, he'll probably see what I told him to see.
    Now, sure, taste and preferences play a role in such critiques. But that doesn't make what is written useless, it just gives it a context - and maybe the context make you reject it, but at least you've thought about it. It also requires who receives the critiques to not be too protective, or defensive, when things do not work out as hoped. And sometimes a bit of elephant skin, and careful levels of ignoring. None of which strike me as particularly bad things.
    It's a different level of critique anyway, one that doesn't require the viewer to have any specific knowledge about photography, just means to express his/her impressions and share those. I do listen to those, and they sure do help me grow. Not in the sense, as Marc implies, to 'go back and do that shot proper again', but rather to be more aware next time.
    If I'd only look inside myself and work from within myself, ultimately, I'd be my limit, and my growth would be defined by what I know, like, love and cherish; odds that's Id'stray into unfamiliar terrorty or try things I know nothing about would be low(-ish). But others urging to explore that new ground... it may just be that nudge needed.
    And even as a viewer of my own work, I would be limited by what I told myself to see. Instead, now I find people telling me stuff I never really noticed, and some of that can be awfully revealing.
     
  26. An experience which all musicians working in "popular" genres have had:
    Punter (after concert): Can you take constructive criticism?
    Musician: Well, yeah, okay, go ahead.
    Punter: You were s**t!
    The role of criticism: as a complete beginner, and indeed during the early stages of a career, an artist can do well to listen to advice, particularly of a technical nature. It will, however, not be long before he/she notices that opinions regarding the same piece of work can vary extremely widely. He/she will hopefully go on to understand that this variation is directly related to the level of competence and knowledge of the person giving the advice.
    In short, the only advice worth having is from people who know what they're talking about. The camera club ace is an expert on winning club competitions but is likely to know nothing about being a professional. Photojournalists, even those with international reputations, will most probably have no understanding or knowledge of art photography. Even internationally famous practitioners of art photography may well lack the verbal skills or indeed the willingness to offer advice to those on the way up. Sadly, those who lack effective technique as critics tend to believe that extreme harshness is the way to go. The most revealing criticism I have was from a gentleman called Francis Hodgson, now apparently a distinguished professor, at the time associated with the Photonica agency, as was I. FH was able to tell me instantly what my intentions were with my surreal colour portfolio, which was both gratifying and disconcerting.
    The criticism I valued most was from someone who sat with me on the board of an arts association, who had a high level of general awareness of art but no particular interest in photography, who told me that I was clearly interested in making photographs without any preconceptions of what a photograph should or should not look like, which I took as confirmation that I had been largely successful in freeing my mind of the baggage acquired during my previous 40 years' photographic activity!
    The actor and playwright Noel Coward once said something like "You should always trust your creative instincts above everything else. If, however, your taste does not coincide with thar of the public, you should leave the profession without delay." For amateur enthusiasts, who have no thought of making money from their photography, only the first sentence applies, and I would wholeheartedly recommend that they take this to heart.
     
  27. Phil's distinction between the different types of critiques is very valid, I think. It seems we're talking the different ends of that spectrum here - indeed the teacher-student type of critique telling one how the shot should have been done is quite different (and serves a different purpose) than somebody trying to read intention, message and how that person responds to that.
    The teacher-like advice I usually read and forget about, as too many people apply fixed ideas, "rules" and some idealised idea of how a foto should be. It's not the kind of critiques I meant earlier, and also usually not the kind of critiques I receive here on my photos.
     
  28. Agreed, Charles and Wouter. If I ask each of you whether my photographs are good, your responses may vary. You might state that the answer depends on one's understanding of the concept of goodness as it applies to photography. You might fire back with, "Why is this so important?" Or you might state that the answer depends on whether I would accept a simple and possibly worthless "yes" or "no." In my humble opinion, none of these responses are very helpful to a photographer trying to grow. Complicating matters is the fact that the term "grow" is ambiguous. Some photographers need to learn more about shooting techniques. Some want to improve in making their landscape images appear more dramatic. Others want to progress aesthetically and to make photographs that are more unique. And so on, and so forth . . .
    Ultimately, it helps us to remember that Rilke by trade primarily wrote poetry. Even his prose work utilizes typical poetic devices - metaphor, simile, etc. To me, his advice to the young poet was put somewhat hyperbolically. To construe it literally is rather absurd.
    Finally, I'd like to address Tim's initial post on this thread. It turns on distinguishing between critiquing a single image and critiquing the photographer's entire body of work. In my opinion, the distinction is invalid. The term "critique" is misused when applied to a body of work; the appropriate term is "analysis."
     
  29. Ultimately, it helps us to remember that Rilke by trade primarily wrote poetry. Even his prose work utilizes typical poetic devices - metaphor, simile, etc.​
    Very nicely put. It might help clarify what I've been saying to put it in these terms. A good critique is, in some sense, poetic. It doesn't have to be a literal reading of the work or a literal suggestion box. It can use metaphor and other literary devices, and the good ones often do. I've often considered metaphor to be an effectively empathetic language.
     
  30. Finally, I'd like to address Tim's initial post on this thread. It turns on distinguishing between critiquing a single image and critiquing the photographer's entire body of work. In my opinion, the distinction is invalid. The term "critique" is misused when applied to a body of work; the appropriate term is "analysis."​
    Michael, you might suggest different terms to use for a commentary on a single photo and a commentary on a body of work but that doesn't mean distinguishing between commenting on a single image and commenting on a body of work is invalid. There's an important difference to offering guidance on a single image or a whole body of work and there's a third case, which is offering guidance on a single image while taking into account where the body of work is leading.
     
  31. Fred, it seems my logic is going in the same direction as my memory - south. Hopefully, though, my ability to learn is still intact.
    My observation didn't take into consideration that there's a huge gap between the distinction in question and the conclusion that the distinction is invalid. And I also didn't consider the third case you mentioned.
     
  32. Jumping in rather late... .
    In the arts critical discussion is essential and each medium has its own canon . I found that to be especially true when asked to co-jury art or look at student portfolios. In photography for example, jurors coming out of journalism, advertising or fine art look for different things. I might go nuts about some “arty” picture that would be immediately tossed in the reject pile by everyone else and have had to persuasively defend my choice. In turn, I would have to reluctantly accept a worn-out subject done spectacularly correct.

    Think about literary genre. “Literature” and “Poetry” have their own shelves. They are “seriously creative. I have a mental niche for my serious work and another for the stuff that is less serious. Serious work comes out of deeper, never to be resolved feelings I want to express with art. A crit of feelings is more in the realm of psychiatry. You just have to make art. I have found I enjoy doing both equally well. If someone gets it even a little that is nice. I look forward to discussing the approachable serious work with a trusted artist friend.

    I was often dismayed that my non-photographer artist friends knew so little about photography. Most were art instructors with MFA’s! I have always said that modern era painting started with, and owes everything to photography. Don’t expect much of a useful crit from anyone who hasn’t thoroughly studied the canon. There are a lot of good art crit books but you must have someone to discuss them with.

    BTW: Never buy a book with “Creative” in the title
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  33. In my training as an Architect I was forced to present and defend my ideas and their presentation to critique by fellow students, instructors, Architects, and the world at large. It was demanded of me that I be able to defend my ideas and their presentation, while simultaneously being able to learn from the criticisms and opinions of the critics. This pedagogy demands a healthy dose of self-confidence, and a sturdy ego to survive. What it taught me is that it takes discipline and curiosity to build a creative mind. Those who refuse to learn from others deny themselves knowledge they could otherwise apply to their art. Still, the quote from Rilke makes a useful foil, in that each of us must ultimately decide who we are as an artist, Architect, poet, or photographer. Even the greatest artists evolved over time, developed new techniques, followed trends, and refused to remain static. So, that is today's lesson, boys and girls...
     
  34. Very Nice information.
     

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