Step 1: Did the person ask for critiques? Are you in an environment where critiques are expected, i.e. an art program/school?
Yes (proceed to step 2)
No (stop and eat a donut and sleep)
Step 2: Do you hold a personal vendetta against this person in any way?
Yes (GET OUT)
Maybe… (GET OUT)
No (proceed to step 3)
Step 3: Check your language! Be straight forward, point out good points and bad. Evaluate the piece for WHAT IT IS, not what you want it to be. Consider the person’s concepts and ideas, even if it is not to your tastes. Be honest if you’re not sure how to critique the piece. And I think it’s always good to give them a list of artists or art pieces that remind you of it, so they have a list of people/artwork to study on their own time*. Even if you’re not sure how to crit, just say what’s on your mind.
"But what if it’s shitty?" What is you’re an asshole, do I spit in your face and push you over? NO. Every piece has its own language, its own positive and negatives. Don’t start dishing out harsh crits on obviously beginning pieces or obviously not finalized pieces. You can tell if you have a personal vendetta when all you can say about someone’s work is that it’s shit. SHUT UP.
We need to learn to create an environment that encourages creation of all kind, not break it down. There is a huge, HUGE difference between being a shit head and a harsh critique. I’ve heard the differences, not to myself personally, but in class crits. Harsh critiques are ones when people are brutally honest about how they react to what you’re doing. Hard questions about what you are trying to convey, if to them it’s done successfully, and their suggestions on how to further the project for the sake of your concepts. Harsh critiques are exciting, you are presented with a challenge, not with a dead end.
Critiques are a giving process. You are giving advice for the sake of helping an artist better their artwork, not break them down into tears. And if you think art is some hardlined “must be this and that not what you want” then you should also GET OUT.
(*For some reason I’ve found ppl on tumblr discouraging this, and I think it depends on how you approach it. But really, I think it’s a very positive aspect if someone recognizes someone else’s process in your artwork, because that means there’s someone you can study further and see how they approached your similar concepts. Not to mention, art is a constant conversation between itself, and there is no such thing as an original concept. Artists “steal” from each other all the time, it’s really just how they express their language and how it relates to other artwork that makes it interesting. It’s also really cool if someone says, “wow this reminds me of some of da Vinci’s sketches” and you just kind of fist pump because yesss.)