Never Criticize Other People’s Work

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I was recently on an Internet forum where people usually post their own photos. There, somebody had commented on a photo that somebody else had shared and the entirety of their comment was “Truly horrible.” That’s what they wrote, literally.

Reading such comments never fails to upset me and, whenever you tell those people that their comments are out of place, they invariably retort that they have a right to their opinions and that if somebody publishes a photo, they willingly expose themselves to critique and even to harsh criticism even if such criticism is not constructive in any way.

It’s not the first time I’ve been discussing this topic online, but now I want to share my own thoughts on my podcast.

I resolved some time ago to never criticize other people’s work. I never even critique them, unless I’ve been explicitly asked to give a critique, like “What do you think of the composition or the colors here?”. Then I might give some advice, but I don’t think of that as a critique. I would never criticize anyone, if not solicited.

This episode reminded me of a quote I once read in Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, a great book, so I’m just going to put that quote here, because I think it is very much relevant to what I am discussing.

“If you find yourself criticizing other people, you’re probably doing it out of Resistance. When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own. Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others. If they speak at all, it is to offer encouragement. Watch yourself. Of all the manifestations of Resistance, most only harm ourselves. Criticism and cruelty harm others as well.”

– Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

I would also like to present another quote, with which I agree wholeheartedly. This one is by Rick Sammon.

“When I hear someone needlessly criticizing the work of others, I think about what my mother used to tell me: If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything.”

– Rick Sammon

This is why I have resolved, as I wrote above, never to criticize anyone’s work. If you catch me doing that, please slap me on my wrist, because it’s just wrong. I think that criticizing somebody else’s work only reflects badly on the person extending the criticism.

I know this can be a contentious subject and that many think that, with their critique or criticism, they are helping others grow. I personally don’t believe that’s really possible, unless it’s done in a very specific and controlled setting, like a portfolio review by a master. Then I would accept it, but it’s been requested.

Were you ever criticized, when posting photos online, in a way that made you feel uncomfortable? Share your experience in the comments below.

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Comments 7

  1. Unfortunately we live in a world of opposites, on one side people who are rude and leave negative comments because they can, and on the other side people telling you that you are amazing and wonderful the way you are. Which is best? None. None are right. I really believe in criticism as long as people are polite. There are too many photos out that are not good. Telling someone that their photo is good when it’s not is bringing them what? Photography is not a belief it’s a set of techniques. One more thing, stop reading what anyone says online. We are a divided world unfortunately and people will disagree with you as much as they will agree with you. Your article, your row (basically criticising others for criticising) will find no answer…

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      If I think a photo is not good, I simply follow the advice of Rick Sammon’s mum, I don’t say anything. Nothing forces me to voice an opinion just because I have one.

  2. Ugo, I agree with you wholeheartedly. People who negatively criticize are either envious, have low self esteem or have no social skills. They assume to be the ultimate art critic. To suggest what could be better and the reason why is a better approach. But ultimately it’s the artist’s choice!

  3. I’m so glad for this article.
    I posted a photo of some headshots I got taken professionally, and a guy I didn’t even know, unsolicitedly sent me a private message criticizing my Poss anthem photographers work.
    The photographer I used was reputable and known, I looked up the critical guys name and found out that he is also a photographer but advertises on a photographer community site and doesn’t even have a webpage. Perhaps he thought he could do better but I would never go to someone who stuck their nose in my business when I didn’t ask for his opinion.

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  4. I now tend to operate thusly. If I can’t be myself and give advice to someone when I see there is need for improvement, and they see it as ‘criticism’ and unwanted – yet they’re perfectly happy to be told they are ‘amazing’ and farm their likes and thumbs ups from social media – then I also won’t extend any praise their way either.
    Lots of preaching about how we shouldn’t criticize anyone, but nothing about people who just want praise.
    I offer both or nothing.
    Even with people who say they want feedback and criticism, and especially from artists, all they really want is praise and worship.
    So do nothing. That way noone gets offended, you don’t look like a jerk, and they can flounder around doing something wrong or never improving because they’re told and think they are ‘amazing’.
    Let them see how that works out.

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