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  • Writer's pictureRobert Tate

The Critical Art of Critiquing Art (Constructively, of Course)

Note-giving and taking can be a challenging phase, especially for creatives. It's a crucial time, and mutually satisfying collaboration is essential. But often, it can be a time of heartache and frustration. So, how can we improve this phase? Let's discuss and find ways to make the editing process smoother and more efficient. Share your thoughts in the comments below. hashtag#editingprocess hashtag#collaboration hashtag#creativity 

As professional creatives, our work gets critiqued, and the editor's work is a particularly vulnerable target. We are the human gateway between organized chaos and art. Unsurprisingly, every producer, including those you had yet to learn were on the production team, demands 2 or 3 (or 10) rounds of notes before considering the chaos fully ordered. As my colleague of many years, Michael Selditch likes to say: "They all feel the need to pee on it," I will add that editors hate being the sub in water sports.

So, in the spirit of collegiality and collaboration, I offer this primer to those in the privileged position of "giving notes."

  1. Forego the shit sandwich. That steaming pile of criticisms you've artfully surrounded with a few soggy, half-baked compliments to throw off the scent fools no one and can make the recipient feel overly coddled.

  2. Take yourself out of the equation except as an audience member, open to a new experience and a good journey. Facilitate improvements by focusing on the work itself rather than what you may perceive as bad editorial choices.

  3. Give ownership to the editor for their editorial choices. Instead of exclaiming, "I don't like what's happening in this segment," ask the editor, "What are you going for here?" Listen to the answer and build on that answer by holding the editor accountable for the results. "Do you think you've accomplished the goal?" "How do you think you might accomplish it even better?" You could get as specific as you wish. "If I were seeing this for the first time, not knowing anything about the story or characters, I'm not sure I would get that character X has ulterior motives. Is that something you think the audience should know at this point?"

  4. Keep an open mind. If you are good at your job, you hired this person because they are good at theirs. Accept and take pride that your editor is likely better at editing than you are. Be open to seeing new, surprising, riskier, and more nuanced presentations of the story than you may have expected.

And editors, reward your note-givers by not taking anything personally and having alternative approaches and solutions on deck. Show them you've put thought into the task and that they can rest assured that this crucial part of the creative process is in good hands.

How do you approach the note-giving process? If you are the recipient of critical notes, what are the best paths a producer can take for a mutually satisfying (and productive) experience? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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