In an upcoming paper, I will argue that Deviant Art provides for a better quality critical discourse. I argue that certain formal characteristics along with use qualities create a particular style. This style is then affected and made sense of through social structures such as photography culture. This style leads to better quality critiques, even though it has weaknesses.
What makes for a quality critical discourse?
According to Carey  a quality photography critique talks about both objective elements, such as exposure and composition, as well as subjective elements such as artist intention and expression. Whittington  says that effective critiques talk about some formal elements of the photograph, unity, rhythm, balance, and communication. Abrahmov  talks about common criteria for a quality critique saying that quality critiques should talk about the focal points, the quality and direction of light, composition, depth of field, as well as the relationship between the foreground and background. So, according to these authors a good photography critique should talk about both formal elements of a photograph (those intrinsic to the photograph itself), as well as subject elements of a photograph. By providing both objective and subject elements in a critique, a criticizer can talk about the technical elements of a good photograph while still discussing the viewers aesthetic and emotional response to particular elements within the photograph.
What makes for a weak critical discourse?
When quality critiques talk about formal and subjective elements of a photograph, they quite usually discuss elements in a fashion of good elements, elements that need improvement, and usually conclude in talking about the overall affect of the photograph. So then, weak critiques would talk about either just formal elements, just subjective elements, or neither. I’m leaving out ‘critiques’ that simply demean or put down a photograph without talking about good elements within that photograph or with mean spirited comments about what needs improvement within that photograph. In fact, I’m not counting this type of commentary as a critique at all, as they provide no real discourse to the subject.
When a critique focuses on only formal elements within the photography, they fail to address the interpretation and intentions of that photograph and photographer. As photography is used for many different purposes, it’s important to speak to the artist’s intention to understand how a particular photograph will be used. Similarly, focusing only on subjective elements leaves no real basis for objective comparison between photographs. This style of critique tends to be an “anything goes” critique and normally fails to add to the discourse of photography. Furthermore, this style of critique normally fails to provide elements of improvement for the photographer. In simply saying “This photograph is beautiful” or “This stinks”, a criticizer isn’t saying much about the photograph at all, but rather speaking of their own personal opinions. When adding discussion about particular elements, such as “the exposure, light, and shadow of this photograph work well to create a beautiful composition” a criticizer is speaking to what creates, helps, or hinders their aesthetic experience.
In determining what makes a quality critique, I looked at two large photography websites that allow for some sort of critique; Deviant Art and Flickr. I conducted a content analysis of both sites using 70 photographs from each respective website. Each photograph was picked at random. Comments and critiques were read and then coded. These coded results were then grouped according to the type of element being discussed or the type of discussion happening. For each site I grouped my analysis according to artist expression, color, composition, detail, emotion, exposure and lighting, and focus. While Deviant Art allows for 4 ratings to be given to a photograph, I also looked at how criticizers referred to or used those given terms within their textual critique. Within Flickr, comments are used for critique but also for leaving praise and awards to artists from the community (which is a form of critique itself).
What kind of critique is given on Deviant Art?
In looking at Deviant Art, I found that over half of all critiques talked about compositional elements (perspective, background, foreground, framing, etc) as well as exposure elements (lighting, contrast, tones, shadows, highlights, etc). Furthermore about half of these critiques also referred to the artists intention and the emotional affect of the photograph. About twenty-one percent of critiques also talked about Deviant Art specific keywords (Vision, Originality, Technique, and Impact) giving meaning and discussing how they interpreted these keywords within the photograph and critique.
What kind of critique is given on Flickr?
In looking at Flickr, I found some very interesting results. Overall, ninety-seven percent of photographs I studied contained comments simply offering praise or praise in the form of ‘awards’ (graphic icons stating greatness). Within these Flickr comments as critiques, only 30 references to formal elements were made, compared to 145 references on Deviant Art. Furthermore, only 4 references to subjective elements such as artist intention or emotional affect were made, while 32 such references were made on Deviant Art. It’s clear then that most of these comments were praise only not talking about any formal or subjective elements of the photograph. So, what did these praise only comments talk contain if not talking about formal or subject elements of the photograph? Most of these were contained of small three to five word phrases like “I love it”, “gorgeous”, or “this is the best!!!”. Exalting comments like may help the photographer feel better, but they do not provide a quality critique.
Why does this matter?
In all arts, critique is important in that it provides discourse and learning opportunities. Photography critique brings forth a discussion of what makes for quality photography in a non-arbitrary fashion. This provides knowledge and learning opportunities for other photographers.
Above I have discussed what makes for a quality critique, and what makes for a weak critique. I have shown how that Deviant Art has quality critical discourse, while Flickr offers a mostly praise only environment. In coming posts (and in my paper), I will show that the interaction style of Deviant Art is what allows for these quality critiques. By teasing out the details of the interaction style of Deviant Art, I will bring forth principles for designing for critique.
- 1. Cary, Rick. 1985. A Structure for the Critique of Student Photographs. In Annual Meeting of the National Art Education Association.
- 2. Whittington, J. 2004. The process of effective critiques. Computers & Graphics 28, no. 3 (June): 401-407. doi:10.1016/j.cag.2004.03.007. http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0097849304000330.
- 3. Abrahmov, Shlomo Lee, and Miky Ronen. 2008. Double blending: online theory with on-campus practice in photography instruction. Innovations in Education and Teaching International 45, no. 1 (February): 3-14. doi:10.1080/14703290701757385. http://www.informaworld.com/openurl?genre=article&doi=10.1080/14703290701757385&magic=crossref||D404A21C5BB053405B1A640AFFD44AE3.