As artists, it is frightening yet absolutely necessary to regularly elicit honest feedback about our work. While we yearn for acceptance, we also strive to continually challenge ourselves to even greater heights in our creative expression.
At the same time, being in the position of evaluator/critic can be equally daunting – especially when doing so for a fellow Christian artist. If the work is mediocre or even poor, we find ourselves in a struggle between communicating truthfully and trying to protect that person’s feelings.
In the consulting world, when we must communicate a difficult truth to a client, that message is called the “your baby’s ugly” speech. Sounds unkind, doesn’t it? But when someone cares deeply about something, it can be extremely awkward to give them candid feedback. Doing so, in my opinion, is an act of courage.
So how should we respond when we are asked to evaluate a fellow artist’s work? Here are a few thoughts culled from my experience in the business world.
1. Find out if they really want honest feedback. Ask them – twice – before you ever look at their work. Sometimes people aren’t actually interested in a candid perspective – they really just want some reassurance or a word of encouragement. That’s OK, but I prefer to leave that to grandparents – they are uniquely suited to the task.
2. Don’t offer unwarranted praise. Though it seems harmless to pay a compliment where it’s undeserved, you’re setting them up for future disappointment. At best, it is disingenuous. At worst, it can be hurtful.
3. Avoid hyperbole. Most folks can sniff out when you’re being inauthentic. Exaggeration communicates a certain lack of respect for the audience. And – let’s be honest here – people who gush or bluster can easily come across as fools.
4. Find balance in your message. Rarely is anything completely good or completely bad, and nothing smells as suspicious as a review full of unqualified praise. I’m not advocating that you manufacture defects where you have found none, but even in the best of works, there is an opportunity to improve. The flip-side is true, too. Virtually nothing is quite so awful that it doesn’t have at least one redeeming quality. When you find it, please remember #3.
5. Get a second opinion. Before committing to my message, I bounce it off of a trusted friend. We may not be in agreement, but I find that it encourages me to expand my perspective and consider other factors. It also provides me with an opportunity to practice and refine my delivery.
6. Be direct. When it’s time to share your opinion, don’t beat around the bush – especially if you didn’t like their work. It’s the equivalent of removing a Band-Aid slowly – you’re only delaying the inevitable pain.
7. Don’t expect gratitude – at least not immediately. Even when delivered with the utmost of care and diplomacy, hearing that your baby is ugly is tough to swallow. Be supportive but don’t be surprised if they need some space to digest the news.
One final note: A friend of mine writes music reviews. He apparently likes everything he hears, because to my knowledge, he’s never written a negative one. I don’t know if he’s just nice, is indiscriminate about music, or quite simply has very different taste than my own. It doesn’t matter. If I want a genuine response about something I’ve created, he will be the last person I ask.
Do you ever find yourself in a position where you’re asked to candidly share your opinion? How do you handle it? What are other ways, as Christians, we can do better?