How to comment on other people’s Art

I have been on Flickr for quite some time now, I am a member of deviantart and I have been presenting my art on this blog for quite some time. I have received comments and I have given comments, and I must admit that in many cases I haven’t said anything after looking at some other person’s art.

Commenting on other people’s art is a bit like commenting on other people’s blogposts. Many commenters use their comments as a way to get traffic to their websites, blogs, articles or galleries. I don’t want to be misunderstood – this is absolutely legitimate, as long as their comments are qualified comments.

What are qualified comments? Let’s get back to the person at the receiving end. At the beginning of my blogging career I would have savoured any comment that came in, even a “great post!” one. But some blogging posts later I was not so enthusiastic anymore. What exactly was it that the commenter liked? Was it the subject, or the way I dealt with it?

I must admit that I didn’t have these difficulties with “Lovely picture!”, because I could relate to that – I had felt that reaction many times when looking at other people’s photographies. However I love to get comments which refer to certain aspects: “Nice composition”, “lovely vibrant colours”, “great macro”.

The same applies to pieces of art. Of course it takes much more time to comment then, because you have to take a closer look and find out why you love the piece. Is is the detailed work, the composition, the distribution of light and shadows, the imagination, the expression of skill, the expression of love for the subject – I think you are getting what I mean.

Commenting like this takes a lot of time. You might have to reduce the number of your comments. But: those comments are very important for the artist. They are not only helpful, but they also are an expression of appreciation – I appreciate your work and so I give my time to produce a qualified comment.

This blogpost was inspired by reading Judy Adamson’s blog post “Who needs Praise?”. I am looking forward to your comments!

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About Ulla Hennig

I live and work in Berlin. Taking photos is one of my hobbies, and writing is one of my hobbies, too. So I decided not only to show some of my pictures here but also present some of the thought which came wth the pictures.

13 responses to “How to comment on other people’s Art”

  1. Judy Adamson says :

    Hi Ulla – thank you for a thought-provoking post!

    You wrote: ”those comments are very important for the artist.’ but I have a bit of a difficulty with this because I think we are looking at our art in very different ways.

    Yes, like anyone else, I like positive comments because it’s always very good to hear that my art has ‘said something’, connected with someone else. But I wouldn’t be at all interested in what other people thought of my composition, light and shadow distribution….etc. For one thing it would suggest that the person was approaching my work in an analytical frame of mind, which can get in the way of making a connection on a different level.

    The second reason I wouldn’t be interested is more difficult to put into words without sounding arrogant. I think you may be implying – correct me if I’m wrong! – that such comments would help the artist to improve their work. And I don’t believe one can improve one’s work by listening to other people’s opinions or suggestions. For me it’s about ‘ownership’ of one’s art.

    If someone told me, however politely, that my work would benefit from such and such a change, I would suggest that they did their own work and left me to do mine! Having said that, I think there’s a place for asking advice about technical difficulties, such as using a new medium, but that’s as far as I would go.

  2. Holly Day says :

    Hi Ulla πŸ™‚

    I’ve been brought here when I clicked on your FB link.

    Well, I understand your point of view to a certain point. I myself, because I use comment moderation, use to decline comments that aren’t nothing more than “nice” or “well done”. This doesn’t bring anything to the debate, whenever there’s materials for a debate, of course; and makes me think that, the “reader” actually didn’t read the content, didn’t checked the graphics I featured, etc.

    However, I never consider any comment as a kind of encouragement.

    Mostly because I know that I can’t please everyone. Many browsers come to my pages because they ran a search in any search engine and didn’t know much about me before. Therefore, why would they bother going further, especially if, after they saw my pages, they realized these weren’t those they were looking for?

    Now, if I was an artist; which I am not, I would consider this from the point of view I just wrote either, mostly because I’d be pretty sure these also often came if not for self-promotion purpose, at least because they were brought to my graphics/arts not by mistake, but because search engines directed them to me, through keyword research and not fine art.

    Another thing is that some browsers don’t have time to spend writing extended comments but want to make sure they appreciated your art and just leave a short note letting you know.

    This being said, and this isn’t meant to offend anyone, I noticed a huge trend on the Web these days, and it is the fact that everyone consider they should be praised for the work they do – although nobody asked them to do anything – and also consider that, if one doesn’t have something nice to say, we should keep silent.

    That is not my state of mind, neither would consider I could improve my own works if I just don’t want to listen to negative feedback or only want to get extended feedback.

    As, as matter of fact, sometimes, the things we produce don’t deserve more than a “nice work” or “lovely thing”.

    Wishing you the greatest success in your online endeavours,
    Holly Day

  3. Rhonda Albom says :

    I actually share your view. I recently stopped approving those “nice blog” comments and want more (unless they are from someone I know). Otherwise not only do they not add anything, but they are often just spam. However with art, I don’t think I am qualified to add much more than “nice pictures.” After reading this, I will give it a bit more thought next time it comes up.

  4. Ulla Hennig says :

    Thank you all for your contributions to the discussion!
    @Judy: Actually I should have written “I” instead of “the Artist” in order to make it more clear that it is the way I see it. Obviously the way we look at art is quite different. When I look at a piece of art, and it talks to me, I more or less know or find out why it talks to me. And I know, from discussions about art with friends, that happens to them as well. And when I am getting a more detailed comment I prefer that to a general one. Because communication about my pieces of art for me is a way to develop. I don’t follow other people’s advice or hints blindly, but the process of dealing with them — and of saying “no” to some — is important for me.

  5. Kim says :

    Ulla, I do appreciate a more detailed comment. I, for one, can have ownership of my art, yet still have a desire to communicate and connect with others. Recently, I received some comments on my art that were very insightful, and helped me to know that what I was trying to convey was actually received.

  6. Joanna Paterson says :

    It’s interesting Ulla. I think my response would be ‘it depends’… πŸ˜‰ I think it’s quite hard to ask for and / or receive feedback or constructive criticism on something so vast as the web. Perhaps it is more feasible within a small forum.

    I think it helps if the originator signals that they’d find feedback / critique of value – that they know they’re experimenting, and would like to know what others thought.

    I also think there is value in those comments which are simple and heartfelt expressions of being moved by something, even if it is just ‘that was lovely’, or ‘thank you’.

    • Robyn McMaster says :

      Ullahe, when art takes my breath away, it almost ruins the effect if I have to look closer to say exactly why. Metaphor takes us beyond words as amazing art is worth a 1000 words. Often when a piece takes my breath away it is in the realm of the emotional and that can seem trite in words. Sometimes words can fail us.
      On the other hand, it is hard when some people lift themselves up to “expert” and comment in ways to lift themselves up and put you down. That is not constructive to anyone.
      Like Joanna says, “it depends.”

  7. Ulla Hennig says :

    @Joanna: I think you said something very important. The originator should signal that they’d find feedback/critique of value and would like to know what others thought. I will apply that when I present pieces of my art! And your last sentence impressed me very much – yes “those comments which are simple and heartfeld expressions of being moved by something” have a bigger value than what I thought they had. Thanks for telling me!

  8. Judy Adamson says :

    I agree wholeheartedly with Robyn about the difficulty of expressing adequately and coherently in words how a piece of art has affected me! So I think there’s honesty in a simple, brief comment that conveys appreciation and I find such comments heartwarming.

    But to ‘dissect’ a piece of art in order to analyse it can actually kill it!

  9. Davina Haisell says :

    Hi Ulla.
    I understand what you’re saying and to be honest, I’ve never given it that much thought until reading your post — this comes automatically. I’m good at saying what I like and I will also say what I’m not keen on and sometimes make a “what if” suggestion. I don’t practice art whereby I draw or paint paintings, but I have an awareness of composition because my mother was an artist.

    As for commenting on blog posts, I agree with what Joanna has said. It would be helpful for the poster to ask for feedback at the bottom of their post, suggesting what elements the viewer could address. Not everyone who reads or comments is aware enough of these aspects. It would be a good way to teach them about art, too. πŸ™‚

    In my case, when I write a story or a poem, I appreciate all kinds of feedback — even something simple that says the reader enjoyed it. That’s all that matters to me in the end, how much they enjoyed it. However… I have received more involved comments about what the reader got from the writing or insights into what they see my writing doing and I loved that.

    Thanks to this post I think the next time I post a story or a poem I’m going to think about what questions I might invite the reader to answer. Thanks!

  10. Fred h Schlegel says :

    Leaving aside the issue of folks only looking for traffic (seems to me like an awful way to spend the day) there is a real question of intimacy involved in giving detailed feedback for artistic endeavors. As Joanna says, sometimes this is a matter of the blogger explicitly asking for feedback about an item. However, since the blogger might not have a feel for the commenter’s background or experience the reaction to explicit analysis may be more along the lines of Judy’s. Most of us don’t go out of our way to be misunderstood in that way. Taking the time to critique is an investment both emotionally and from a time point of view.

    Maybe the way to get meaningful feedback is to ask explicit questions about reactions to various pieces. “I was attempting to describe the angst an ant feels under the magnifying glass… Did I?” for example. This way feedback can come in ways that is not reliant on the commenter’s experience, but on their feelings toward your work.

    Tis a hard balance to strike.

  11. Judy Adamson says :

    I’m beginning to wonder whether it is significant that the response to my blog post from which Ulla’s sprang, tended to agree with my views, whereas the comments here, on the whole, support Ulla’s view regarding critiquing! Does this signify that people mostly comment when they agree with the thrust of the post and keep quiet when they don’t?

  12. Ulla Hennig says :

    I just want to thank everybody here for taking the time and joining the discussion. Judy, I haven’t got the impression that most of the commenters agree with my blog post! Many of them pointed out weaknesses of it, and so I learnt a lot while following the thread.
    I think the basic weakness of my post is that it generalizes in a way it should not do. Everyone is different, and every artist is different also, and we should explicitly ask for what we need – or do not need. The second point I learnt is that short and simple comments like “lovely picture!” express positive feelings towards a piece of art – be it drawing or photography – and expressing that feeling in a comment is something we should not classify too quickly as a superficial uttering.

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