When you work for an entertainment company, such as an animation or game company, your efforts are part of a larger shared vision. Developing the diplomatic skills both to give and receive constructive criticism becomes especially important.
This subject has come up during our recent visits to entertainment companies. Angela Lepito, manager of art development and training at DreamWorks, told me that entry-level artists are assigned a mentor to help them learn the company etiquette. It can be vital to the career of a concept artist to know when it’s appropriate to speak up in meetings—and when it’s best to keep silent and listen.
Kevin Bjorke of Trion World Network, a massive multiplayer online game company in Redwood City, told me about how Phil Perkis teaches critiquing to his photo classes. In a nutshell, “It’s about the work and not about the person who made the work.”
Perkis lays out the following rules for in-class criticism, which are strictly followed:
1. No rudeness
2. No competition
3. No telling the artist what the work means about them (a critique is not psychotherapy)
4. The class chooses what work will be talked about (Students should feel free to ask that their work be dealt with because they need feedback). No need to address every work in every class.
Here's the main principle:
“The person whose work is being addressed can answer factual questions in the beginning, i.e., where was the picture made, what film, lens, etc. They can say nothing about intention, content, or other meaning. At this time, the rest of the group can say anything they like about the work, be it craft, aesthetics, politics, art history, et al. The are free to say anything. They can report associations in their minds, dreams and fantasies as long as it's about the work and not about the person who made the work.
“Something very interesting starts to take place if this is done with openness and intelligence; the student is getting real information about what their work is communicating to a group of people who are being as honest and caring as possible. This information is for the use of the student and they can do anything they want with it. The work never has to be defended, justified, or explained. At this point, if a student wants to talk about the work just discussed, they can do so as much as they would like, and a long back and forth discussion can take place.
“The role of the teacher in this process is to moderate, and to be a participant along with everyone else.
“The sole purpose of the critique is for students to gain insight about their work and have information that will help them proceed to the next stage of development. As a group works together from week to week, a level of trust and understanding can develop so that people are more willing to take chances both in the discussion, but more importantly, in their work. Then you've really done something worthwhile.
“It is vitally important for the group, and especially the teacher, to make clear the difference between fact (a smaller aperture gives more depth of field) and opinion (this picture has a violent edge). Making this difference clear allows the discussion to range much bigger.”------
The Perkins method of critiquing
Photo is of Bill Eckert, Gary Geraths and me at Otis College of Art and Design
Thanks, Angela and Kevin!