Constructive Criticism, Giving and Receiving

I was asked by a scribal friend last week how I would critique another scribe’s scroll. In Calontir we often talk about this and how to do it. 

Critiquing another person’s work is tricky because of the personal pride held by the sharer and the hearer. Some encourage gentleness. Others recommend a quick comment like my Mom ripped off a band-aid.

What is the best way to give constructive criticism or critique another scribe’s work?
I am no expert, but whether I am giving or receiving comments, I try to remember a critique is not criticism. It may include parts that are hard to hear or give, but it shouldn’t bully, humiliate, or embarrass. It should include comments on what is well done and specific suggestions to improve. 

While my daughter would disagree…I often give feedback in a critique sandwich. It includes improvement suggestions within a bun of sincere positive comments. Something like:

Lady Ismeralda, your scroll is beautiful. It looks like a lost page from the Luttrell Psalter. Even your colors are exact. Your black lettering will improve with more repetition. I love the unique grotesques you made from the recipient’s cats. What do you think?

Some critiques go better in private.

I see this as encouraging Ismeralda’s scribal work. It is not degrading. It gives her a specific practice without deploring her background or learning abilities, whatever her age. I see it as constructive

While conversations trade comments, critiques go better when requested. How do you ask when you want help?

I prefer to ask several people their opinion, as each sees my work differently. And they may accomplish the same technique in different ways. 

I enter competitions to receive other’s comments. Asking several people’s opinions gives me options to try. It’s even better when the “critics” are all together along with me and my work. 

When a scribe asks me about their work it helps if they ask about specific concerns. Maybe even pointing to what they mean on their scroll. If you are unsure why things don’t look right to you, that is a fair question also. 

Posting a photo and asking an on-line group such as the SCA Scribes may work. However the art’s image makes giving an opinion difficult or inaccurate. Also, you best information source may not want to comment on a permanent format other’s read. 

Don’t be shocked if comments are different than you expect. Some techniques are tricky. Take a second or third look. Ask how you can improve or what they recommend you try.

A critique is meant to help. Let negative comments roll off. They will evaporate like morning dew. 

I still struggle with critiquing. If your viewpoint disagrees with mine, please, tell me why. I want to know the reason you want to do things differently. You may have found an easier way I don’t know. 

A critique is only as beneficial as you make it. It takes trying the suggestions given. Progress takes your effort.

Think positively. Revel in your skills. Constructive criticism is a useful tool for progress. A learning experience for the giver and receiver.

Categories: Musings

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