I'm not comfortable giving criticism on the record. I tend to be short (harsh) with my words and sometimes struggle to make them sound diplomatic.
When I was a member of Toastmasters I was called upon to evaluate speakers in a formal manner–standing at the front of the room and giving my evaluation orally. At first, I despised this job. But I grew more comfortable in the role because it made me a better thinker, listener, and all-around observer. It also forced me to work on the language I use.
Artists, too, are called upon to critique one another in both formal and informal situations. When faced with this, try the Oreo® Approach, which I learned about in Toastmasters.
As you know, the Oreo® is a cookie with two chocolate wafers on the outside and light, creamy filling on the inside. When you're critiquing someone's art or marketing materials, think of the chocolate wafers (the parts that hold the whole together) as praise. The fluffy stuff in the center is where you can offer room for improvement.
For example . . . your critique might go like this highly abbreviated version.
Chocolate wafer (praise): Julia, I really like your use of complementary colors in the composition. They make the image “pop.”
Fluffy stuff (room for improvement): I'm wondering, though, if it might be better without that tree on the left. Or perhaps toning down the green would allow me to focus better on the center. You might also consider changing the mat color. I think white would be a better choice in this instance. The red, for me, detracts from the collage itself.
End with another chocolate wafer (praise): Boy, your craftsmanship is terrific! I'd love to hear about the adhesive you're using.
This isn't a magic pill for giving constructive criticism. I struggle with diplomacy every time I work on an artist's statement, review marketing material at a workshop, or help a client reword an email newsletter.
What are your experiences with giving or receiving criticism? What can you share with other artists in these situations?