It's come to my attention gradually and over time that one of the social graces that we're not being taught is criticism - both how to offer criticism and how to accept it. It's a problem in real life, too, not just online, so I thought I'd bring my experience in the field to bear and provide some advice.
- Be honest - no point in doing this if you're going to lie to flatter or insult.
- Be sure - You know what you're talking about. Don't cloak it in false modesty (or legitimate insecurity). You're offering what you know to help someone improve their work.
- Give alternatives - A definite must. Saying "This is a problem; fix it" is much less helpful than saying "This is a problem; here's how you might fix it," which is in turn less helpful than saying "This is a problem; here are three ways that you might fix it,"
- Be positive and reassuring - if there's no room for improvement, if the offering is beyond hope, there's no point in critiquing. It doesn't do any good then. Note that this is not "provide only sunshine and cotton candy." The point of criticism is to point out problems and help people fix them, but that doesn't mean that you have to (or even should) be unduly harsh in your statements.
- Offer (and distinguish) both objective and subjective commentary - know the difference between a critical problem that must be fixed (audio levels, poor video quality, long boring passages where nothing is happening in-game) and a personal issue (don't like the LPer's voice, jokes are unfunny, and so forth) and describe them as such when you criticize. Be aware that subjective issues may change from person to person, and that that doesn't mean that you should never comment on them.
- Remember that it's about the work, not the artist - "This writing is stupid" is miles away from "This writer is stupid." Some of the most intelligent people I know, and some of the most accomplished, have made some of the biggest gaffes, errors and screw-ups in their works. Even if a creator continually makes the same errors over and over again, they are individual errors in individual works and should be treated as such.
- Be thankful - someone has taken their time to look over your work, and more than at a mere casual glance, at a level deeper than simple background noise. Whether you like what the other person has to say or not, the first words of your reply should be "Thank you." (and mean it, too, you bastards)
- Be honest - If you can see the reason for a given piece of advice, but disagree, say so (and why), and at least acknowledge that the advice exists and that another intelligence has examined your creative output. If you can see the reason for a given piece of advice and you agree with it, say so (and why), then do it; this is artistic honesty.
- Be confident - You have created. That's beautiful in and of itself, even if the work isn't. Trust that what you have done has some merit to it. Don't allow yourself to be intimidated into doing something that you don't feel you should. There are boatloads of experience here on all sorts of topics; don't let yourself and your voice get steamrolled.
- Try - this goes in with being honest and being confident. If you're wondering about a piece of advice given to you, and you disagree with it but you're not entirely sure why, or you suspect that it might not work for you... give it a go. At least have the honesty to give someone else's time positive value by taking on their suggestion and giving it a good, solid test run.
- Be aware of your perspective - it's hard to see problems in your own work. Trust me, I know. When someone else points out a flaw, often it can come as a surprise. Be ready to shed your subjectivity and look at the criticism from outside yourself; not everything you make will be a flawless gem lovingly drawn from the brilliant mine that is your imagination. If it was, you wouldn't need criticism in the first place.
- Remember that it's about the work, not the artist - "This writing is stupid" is miles away from "This writer is stupid." Once you release your work to the criticism of others, it's going to receive some notes that you don't like. These are not personal attacks, they are commentary on the work itself. Be gracious, thankful, honest, confident and open in your reply, even if the criticism seems (or is) brutal. If your response is harsh - no matter how warranted you think it might be - the next replies will get personal very quickly, and that's how fights start.
Things not to say when receiving criticism:
- "... but I like doing it this way."
This phrase is utterly indefensible. It says to a critic that "Your advice is valid and well taken in all things except that I'm going to ignore it completely on a whim." If you're going to ignore or contradict the advice given you by someone who knows more than you, at least have a reason (an actual reason) ready.
- "That's not the way (other artist) does it!"
Look, if you had asked "How do I make my work more like PewDiePie's," you might have got an answer ("make a deal with Satan exchanging any hint of artistic integrity for the book One Million And One Inappropriate Jokes"). Holding up another artist's work as a reason to invalidate a criticism is basically saying that your intent isn't to become better, but to become derivative. Besides which, the art world - all art worlds - would be extremely boring places if everyone spent their creative time trying to be someone else.
- "That's just your opinion."
Yes, and you asked for it. Literally, I mean. If you've asked for feedback, and someone has offered their opinion, accept it even if it is just opinion. Worse still when it's applied to an objective standard (i.e. on this forum, a well-founded distaste for camcorder LPs) as opposed to a subjective comment.
- "But this gets me views."
Look. If you value public approval over quality of work, you're in the wrong bloody place. As is plainly visible by the quality of television programs, movies and pop music over the past few years, how good something is is not correlated in any way to how popular it is.
Any further ideas? I'll add to the OP if people want.