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On Criticism

by Lee Duane FitzSimmons

There are proper rules for giving criticism that should always be followed. These rules are written in stone and should always be followed without exception. The harsh dogmatic nature of the last two sentences is necessary in order to express the vast importance of the following information. Artistic individuals are very special people, and the creative process is often a very fragile flower that can be easily destroyed if it is crushed under the weight of a comment from a loose tongue that does not know how to give criticism in a correct manner. Even when given with good intentions, the effects of poorly given criticism can be overwhelmingly devastating and can often destroy the ambitions of a sensitive artist. This statement is especially true if an artist is emotionally unstable.

The first commandment is written in stone. It is the dogmatic rule that firmly asserts that only positive criticism should ever be offered to any artist if the artist has not asked specifically for negative criticism. Even when a piece of art is absolutely atrocious, there should be some positive aspect of this piece that can be emphasized if commentary about this work is needed for any sort of situation that might occur. It should also be remembered that silence or too long a pause in making a comment will often be perceived as a negative comment; therefore, positive aspects of an artistic work should be immediately identified and presented as soon as possible in order to reaffirm the confidence of the artist.

The Reprimand by Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (1852)

The second commandment states that the only time that any sort of negative criticism is allowed is when negative criticism is specifically desired by the artist. If a creative individual opens this door, one should always be careful before stepping through because irreparable damage could still be done. Giving negative criticism to an artist is a very dangerous thing. If it cannot be avoided, then only the mildest of negative remarks should be given. However, if the artist points out some of the more blatant flaws in her/his work and asks for comments about these particular shortcomings, then more harsh criticism might be appropriate. Strong negative criticism should almost always be given with lots of detail, so the artist may more fully benefit from this criticism.

If an artist has asked for negative criticism and has also pointed out the flaws in a specific work, then the probability that the artist is capable of thinking about her/his work in a more objective sense is increased tremendously. Such artists are usually capable of taking strong negative criticism and using it to make vital improvements to a work. This is why the amount of specific detail in negative criticism needs to be overly abundant in order to increase the chances that the artist can find substantive items that might actually serve as guides for improvement.

Therefore, one should only mention positive things about any work, and when negative comments are specifically desired, they should only be asserted with high levels of caution.

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