It must be great to be a chef, cooking up fresh ingredients, using all the skill and knowledge garnered over the years to produce a plate that, after a few minutes, is devoured by a hungry patron. What an amazing feedback loop! One would only need to look out over the pass and see the mass of satisfied faces to see that if was all worth it.
Feedback is the lifeblood of the artist. They can live on beans and franks for weeks to save for their supplies, or work long into the wee hours of the morning after a bloody hard day, if only they know that, at the end of it all, someone, somewhere appreciated what they did.
After all, who does the artist work for? For whom do they paint? For whom do they write? For whom do they compose? You, silly! That’s who!
We don’t get to see you enjoying our work, unless we’re there behind you, looking over your shoulder, grinning creepily… No. No. We don’t do that. And if we did, surely you would not have the inclination to be as up-front and honest as you (and we) would like you to be.
Why honest? Why not just give 5 stars to the struggling artist and move on? Because it doesn’t help the artist to grow. It gives a false impression that the tripe they dished up was decent. It gives no indication of your true feelings so the next thing you’ll get will be more of the same.
On the flip side, if you drop a 1 star bomb and run off giggling, the artist is left wondering whether they have under-performed, if they even have talent, if they should bother pursuing their dreams.
No feedback is better than dishonest feedback. Honest feedback is best for everyone concerned.
I know that there will be people who argue against this, citing that the more feedback a work gets, good or bad, the better it is for marketing. Well, I’m not talking about marketing or sales or exposure, I’m talking about the artist, their work and their future.
Avoid 5 and 1 stars unless you’re willing to explain your reasoning. If you give something 5 stars, then you’d be in the mood to gush on about it, telling the world just why it’s so great. For one star (and I’ve never actually given a one star) you would have to be intellectually insulted by just how bad the artwork is, and would be more than happy to explain just why it was tosh.
Like it, Hate it, Indifferent about it?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You don’t have to like it. You don’t even have to appreciate it. In fact, many times, you will not have an opinion. Art is a personal thing, both for the artist and for the audience, but not the audience as a whole, oh no, each audience member as an individual.
I’m going to take a punt and say that you, reading this, at not a Reviewer. Do you get paid for your review? Do you need to write for the masses? Do you need to use your years of expert knowledge in the industry to spot the difference between a deus ex machina and a plot voucher? Do people criticise your criticisms?
I didn’t think so.
And this is where I think a crucial rule of feedback is founded: Since feedback is an opinion and an opinion is personal, then it is a reflection on you, the audience member, not the artist.
It’s about what you like and don’t like, how you see the world. It’s about your response to the work in question.
Here, let me explain:
- “Adam Sandler is not funny” is stated as a fact. Since funniness is subjective, it cannot be a fact. He is funny to some people hence this statement is false and not useful.
- “Adam Sandler does not make me laugh” can be a fact. Moreso, it’s not saying that Adam Sandler cannot make anyone laugh, only that he does not make the reviewer laugh. Note that it does not explain why he does not make the reviewer laugh.
- “I don’t appreciate Adam Sandler’s puerile antics, bum, fart and gonad jokes” is getting down to the pointy end. See how it’s not a matter of Adam Sandler being funny or not, it’s whether the reviewer finds him funny.
If you are a fan of puerile humour, then you would be very happy to ignore this review and overlook the negativity. Or perhaps you might find “I love fart jokes, but Adam Sandler takes it too far in his latest…” to be useful.
Not everything is negative, of course. Compare the following:
- “Adam Sandler rocks!” is impersonal and a waste of feedback.
- “Adam Sandler’s slapstick style gets me every time” is personal, but not altogether helpful.
- “Adam Sandler reaches deep into his bag of gags and pulls out some fresh side-splitting slapstick shiners. Oh, and watch out for the three minute farting compilation!” is personal, factual and helpful.
In general: Write feedback from a personal point of view.
He slipped a note halfway through the song. Did your head stop bopping?
She used the word ‘belittle’ too many times on a page. Did you stop flipping pages?
Sometimes we can get hung up on correctness. The artist needs to know about these mistakes and hiccoughs because they do distract and detract from the enjoyment of the work. They can pop you out of the little world that the artist has drawn you into.
The reviewer has a responsibility to get over these things and move on. It’s a fine line. Too many mistakes, too much sloppiness and viewer simply can’t get back into that little bubble and continue to enjoy the work. Fair enough, criticise away, but keep it factual:
“I like the intricate, multi-faceted plot, but Ronson might do well to get an editor to help out with proof-reading.”
Feelings help. If you can describe how it made you feel, and why, all the better. We’re human beings. We look to art to give us sensations, emotions, thought provoking situations.
“This painting makes me uncomfortable, fearful even. Even so, I can’t stop looking at the pained expression of Man in White.”
As a guideline: State what you enjoyed, as well as what you did not and why.
A big note about Enjoyment: One does not need to be made happy to enjoy an artwork. I read the book “Slave” and it made me thoroughly angry, blood running cold. Was it a bad book because of this? Not in the slightest!
Horror books do the same. We don’t read them to be comforted, we read them to be confronted. Think about murder / mysteries. We don’t read them because we enjoy killing, we read them because it speaks to our intellectual mind. One does not listen to the blues for giggles, nor pop for meditation. We’re human, we are bursting with emotions and we’re more than happy for a piece of creativity to release them.
In short: If an artwork evokes a response in you, then it has to be doing something right.
We’re human, after all
Artists are a crazy, mixed up bunch, at the same time arrogant and humble, coming from all walks of life. Some are seasoned. Some have thick skin. Some profess that they couldn’t give two hoots what the world thinks. Phooey!
You know what? Each and every one dreams of being able to look out over the restaurant pass and see a hoard of hungry people happily eating their work. Each one would love to be able to fling their tea-towel over their shoulder and sit down with you while you munch away and ask what you think, good or bad.
If you’ve read a book, listened to a song, seen a video or perused a painting, then you’ve had an other worldly experience where the artist has reached out across space and time, broken geographic and temporal boundaries to share with you their mind.
The least you can do is pass on your compliments to the chef.