It’s Not Me, It’s You: Dreading The Critique

March 9, 2015

I recently had the pleasure of sitting in on a round of college portfolio review sessions, so I thought I might take the opportunity to address some of the more common schools of thought about critical dialogue. Although I’m talking about visual, creative pursuits, the true scope of these techniques can be quite broad.

Having passed through the gauntlet known as “private art school,” I can say with relative certainty that the three most frequently employed techniques when doling out criticism are the Double-Glazed, the Compliment Sandwich and the Scorned Lover. I’ll try to explain.

PEEPSHOW_01Oftentimes the first out of the gate, the Double-Glazed individual focuses almost exclusively on the successful elements of the subject undergoing critique. The benefits of choosing this position are twofold. First, the speaker is typically viewed as a benevolent instigator; he or she is aggressive enough to readily engage in dialogue yet passive enough to remain overwhelmingly positive in nature. Second — and probably more important — since he activated himself early on in the critical exchange, he most likely has absolved himself from further engagement when things inevitably get down to the real nitty-gritty. Smart, huh?

Having heard from the Double-Glazed, we will most likely hear from our second archetype, the Compliment Sandwich. The Compliment Sandwich is centered around the bracketing of the true criticism with two distinctly supportive statements. Often viewed as more authentic and valid in nature than the Double-Glazed — and not nearly as extreme as the Scorned Lover — ol’ Compy is truly the sedan of the criticism world. Just as Georgia once buffered the rest of a blossoming America from the ever-present threat of Spanish encroachment, the Compliment Sandwich is engineered to present legitimate criticism without fear of emotional damage. Often the most passive-aggressive of the lot, the compliments on either side of the critique are typically banal and rarely heartfelt.

Lastly, we find ourselves presented with the final and admittedly most aggressive class of the bunch, the Scorned Lover. As anyone familiar with the bitterness of unrequited love could infer, this class is reserved for those with nothing positive to say and often is the person heard from last in the critical process. Typically having suffered through an unfavorable review already, he or she may now enjoy a certain sort of emotional catharsis while taking on the mantle of “critic” himself. Usually chosen in an attempt to ward off future criticism, the role acts as a defense mechanism designed to discourage would-be critics. Such a bold display of vengeful criticism is often meant to imply that should their work be dragged through the proverbial mud in the future, the consequence will be scorching.

Although variations on the schools have certainly been documented, in my experience these three are the headwaters from which those more derivative arguments stem. With this newfound information now at your disposal, I encourage you to gather a group of your closest friends and engage in a rousing game of personal critique guaranteed to result in many a raised voice — and perhaps a few wounded egos.