Deep Thoughts

The Art And Dilemma Of Critique

I’m fairly engaged in social media, so I see a lot of plastic models on display each day. Some are in various stages of assembly, painting, or weathering. Many have been finished, the builder showing shots of their now completed work.

Of course, the quality of the builds varies. Everything from the youngster building their first model with a parent to a seasoned professional showing what’s new. Quite often the paint and weathering are exquisite, showing great attention to every detail, with each bit of color, chipping and stain carefully and thoughtfully applied. And some are… not so quite so exquisite. 🙂

Still, I always try to look at them and see the builders joy coming through. While that well-known pro may have done a great job, I bet that kid had loads of fun, and if it could be quantified, guess who would likely win in that regard? 😉

All the social media outlets make it easy to post our work. The reasons we post vary, certainly. Some folks do so to promote a modeling business. Others simply want to share their work. A few seek congratulations, perhaps. (Who doesn’t like an ego boost?)

A few of those I see often add a brief statement to their post.

C & C Welcome

The statement may differ a bit from that, but the general meaning is the same: comments and critique welcome.

Now, I must admit I cringe a bit when I see that. Asking that of a friend, who is perhaps standing in your model workshop, staring at the model, is one thing. It’s a person you know, in a place you’ve likely spent time together. There is a level of trust involved, and certainly an amount of respect. Asking a close friend for comments and critique is based on a prior history. Each person likely knows very well of the history, skills, and preferences of the other. Consideration of the friend is paramount. the resulting dialogue is usually beneficial, cordial, and offered in a truly friendly fashion.

However….

Online can often be a different world. I’ve always heard that “everyone is someone else’s jerk.” Meaning that no matter how nice you may think you are, someone out in the world will not like you. Perhaps for a reason, perhaps for no reason at all. Multiply this times the thousands of people who we may interact with, and things can get a bit dicey at times.

So to expand a bit on a previous article I’d written, I wanted to dissect a bit of the culture of “comment and criticism”, and perhaps offer a few suggestions.

So What Is It?

It would be helpful, I suppose, to come up with a working definition of terms to be considered. I think “comment” is fairly self-evident. That can range from “nice job!” to “what color paint did you use?” For the sake of this article, we’ll define comment as anything not likely to result in a negative emotional response.

Which leaves us with critique. A quick look at the word defined gives us both a noun – a detailed analysis and assessment of something, especially a literary, philosophical, or political theory, with synonyms of analysis, evaluation, assessment, appraisal, appreciation, and review. As a verb, it is to evaluate (a theory or practice) in a detailed and analytical way.

So, by definition – reading between the lines a bit – critique is objective. While the emotions evoked in the analysis and assessment of a given work may be subjective, the definition indicates the feedback to be offered generally in an objective fashion.

Perhaps an example can help better set the stage.

Suppose I show someone a model, which I’ve painted completely red. The viewer, who happens to passionately dislike red – a subjective response – views the model, and after a bit of evaluation says “I think you did a good job in construction. You may want to consider sanding down that one element on that part, as it looks a bit rough, but otherwise you’ve done a fine job on that.”

Notice how that last bit made no mention of the subjective response the viewer had, but rather focused on the objective.

Now, I am not suggesting for a moment that all critique and comment be purely objective, totally void of passion. That, of course, is ridiculous. What I do feel is important, at least for the verbosity to follow, is making sure I’ve laid a foundation for the difference between subjective and objective.

Heading To A Point, Trust Me

In any online post, whether it be Facebook, Instagram, a forum, or other digital exchanges, when the “C&C” statement is offered, a transaction takes place. The person asking for comment and critique is saying “please tell me what you think.” However, in most cases, the implication is “please offer objective comment and criticism, as that will be of benefit to me.” That may be a bit strict in terms of interpretation, but I’d venture to say in spirit it aligns very closely with most folks intent.

And many people will offer up their thoughts in just that manner. The variety of “C&C” is as vast as the multitudes that inhabit the digital landscape. “Great job”, “perhaps tone down the fuscia a bit”, and “I think the landing gear doors are on the wrong side” are all helpful observations, and the modeler posing the initial query can – at their choosing of course – use these comments to help improve their craft.

Yet…

As I’ve written about in the aforementioned blog article, there is always that guy.

Identifying That Guy

I remember going to an auto race quite a few years ago. Tens of thousands of people filed into the stands, all smiling and cheerful and full of fun. Seats were found, drinks and snacks were eaten, and everyone had a great time watching the pre-race activities. To an outside observer, it would have seemed almost familial.

Then the green flag dropped.

Most of the crowd cheered for their driver, and good-naturedly booed the others. As the action on the track increased, people stood to watch, craning to see what was happening, sometimes cheering, sometimes groaning, but for the most part being civil.

However, all around the track, a few personalities came out. People that seemed to lose all restraint. They cursed people who opposed their driver, often to the point of physical confrontation. Parentage was insulted, as were the looks of other’s offspring. It got quite ugly.

At the time, I pondered if it was possible to have a special seating area just for them.

Spotting The Perp

That guy will always pop up online. Perhaps they’re having a bad day. Maybe a bad week, or month. There may be deep turmoil they’re facing, and the venom from that spills over on everyone they encounter. The sad fact is some people are just bitter.

Now. it may come out in subtle ways. Not every appearance of “that guy” results in something akin to “you’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny.”

The distinguishing characteristic is quite often the spirit in which the “critique” is offered.

So how can we identify and cope with “that guy” when the honest “C&C” question is asked? And how can that inform our response?

Evaluate Their Work

Before letting someone spin us up too quickly, I think it’s a good practice to browse their body of work. Regardless of what social platform you’re on, just about everyone has their own work on display. Take a look at it. Look objectively. We can often relate the spirit or intent of the comment back to the respondents work. Does evaluation of their work engender some bit of trust in their statement? “Your model looks like a hammered dog turd” takes on a different meaning if offered by a well-respected professional versus someone who is just starting out in the hobby.

Consider Their History

Most groups online see the same people participating daily. After a while, it becomes easy to spot the personalities of the various individuals. Quite often, there are a few folks that everyone knows will generally have a fairly subjective response. In fact, knowing their history can often lead to many statements being bypassed. (Even if they’re actually quite objective…)

Look For The Meat

There’s an old saying about “picking the bones from a fish before you can eat the meat.” Often times the comments from that guy are much like eating fish. Their may be some good stuff in there, but first the inedible must be discarded. I know one fellow that almost every evaluation of a modeler’s work is full of what is best labeled as unwarranted and nasty criticism. Yet quite often at the core, there is a nugget that is actually helpful – even if it is offered in seeming bitterness.

Evaluate Your Own Response

This one can be difficult. Sometimes an objectively offered response, even if carefully worded, can be taken as if it were very subjective. Any benefit from the answer is lost to what is often colloquially described as a “knee jerk” reaction. When I find my blood pressure rising after reading a response, I try to step back, and re-read it – and take my own pride out of the equation. If it still reads the same, then it may be “that guy“. Yet read objectively – perhaps it is a bit of helpful advice – and I am dancing on the edge of being that guy. (Perish the thought! 😀 )

There can be other criteria of evaluation that will be helpful in evaluating critique, but those four can generally work as a fairly useful filter when navigating the online world.

Certainly filtering responses can help us in our craft. Yet I think we cannot consider the one side of the coin without at least a peek to the other.

Avoid Being “That Guy”

I’ve heard it said that “there is always an idiot in every crowd. If you can’t spot them – it’s you.” While there is a certain humor to that, for the purposes of our topic, I think it’s also quite valuable to consider. My guess is that most of the folks who have a reputation for an acidic online personality do not necessarily intend to do so. (To be fair though, some DO intend to do so, and seem to revel in it.) Oftentimes, they simply do not stop and take a few minutes to consider the other person before responding.

Now – I am not advocating undeserved back pats when someone clearly has asked for “C&C”. What I am asserting is that feedback can be done so in a way that is helpful, and creates a sense of respect in the greater community.

Do you know about the genre?

While not every response must come from a position of genre familiarity, it certainly helps. Various genres have their own styles, techniques, and preferences. And while general modeling skills apply across the board, the end result of the application of skills can vary quite a bit. One thing I have learned in exploring new genres is that the aesthetic of styles is very diverse. Stop and consider if your thoughts have taken the genre into account.

Do you know about the subject?

Sometimes knowledge of a particular subject can be helpful in a response. Yet many times, I have seen thoughts offered (regardless of how they were offered) that were so absent of knowledge of a subject that they almost appeared as nonsense. Separating non-subject general questions (how do these Spitfire compressed air tanks look?) from subject specific (what color should these Spitfire compressed air tanks be?) can really help you evaluate if you should answer at all.

Do you know about the product?

Many times, invitation for C&C will revolve around the use of a particular product. As with genre and subject, a bit of self-examination about your own employment of a product may be warranted before those finger hit the keyboard. Thinking in generic terms versus specific is helpful. While paint thinning in general is important to airbrush any paint, lack of knowledge of a specific brand may make your answer, at best, useless. Or at worst, coming off as “that guy”.

What is your motivation?

This is the key question, I believe, that a thorough self-evaluation will answer. Are you trying to be helpful? Do you really want to see your fellow modeler benefit? Again, this is not about unwarranted back-patting. It’s about being helpful, constructive, and most of all – objective. Quite often, if I’m having a bad day, for whatever reason, I just choose to be silent. And if you know from the start that the question comes from someone who may not be found in your group of “favorite people ever”, I believe it’s doubly critical to stop and think about the spirit of the response.

Wrapping Up

Getting along in “the real world” with a larger group of folks can be challenging. Doing so in an electronic forum, with folks from vastly different culture and backgrounds, can present a challenge that is orders of magnitude above and beyond the physical. Using these simple suggestions to evaluate both a response from another person, and your own answers, can be greatly beneficial.

Ideally, the desire of everyone who asks a question is to get helpful and friendly input that will help them grow as a modeler. Giving some care to being a good “citizen” of your hobby community makes it a better place for all.

2 comments

  1. Jon, this is a great post. I have been hesitant in the past to post things on message boards and or FB boards due to “that guy”. Finally finding a decent board on FB has made me more comfortable in posting but also having thick skin makes it easier 😉

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