Guidelines for Sustainable Critique by Donald L. Engstrom-Reese
Sustainable critique is one of the best tools we have to help each other to hone and clarify our creative work. It helps us to know if our intentions are being clearly communicated to the witnesses of and/or participants in our work. It helps us to understand what has worked, what didn’t work and why. Without sustainable critique a person’s work has a much greater chance to stagnate, becoming merely self referential.
Sustainable Critique is:
I. Given with permission
II. Speaking for oneself
III. Given in a timely manner
IV. Specific and clear
V. Focused on something that can actually be changed
VI. Intended to enrich and support the work
VII. A two way street
I. It is always a good thing, a polite thing, to ask a person if they would be interested in hearing feed back or critique. It is not uncommon to arrange for someone to be prepared to offer critique for a specific piece a head of time. But, it is well within the bounds of good Witch manners to offer a critique of something that one has been a witness to and/or a participant in. Though, it is not polite nor wise to expect an automatic yes when asking to offer such comments. It is up to the person asked to invite you to present your critique. They are perfectly free to say; no thank you, thank you, not yet, maybe later or yes please.
II. Speak for yourself, not the whole group or for folks who are unwilling to be named. What were your experiences? What perceptions do you have to offer? If a survey is to be taken, that is a whole different art form.
III. It is often most helpful and productive to offer critique in a timely manner. Unless clearly asked to, it is considerate and quite good manners not to offer critique for at least 24 hours after any performance, facilitation, ritual, class, etc. It is a good thing to simply thank folks for their work right after a piece is presented. It is also a good thing to let people relax after their work is done. It is good to let them have a bit of down time on their own to contemplate the piece. But, on the other hand, it is not helpful to wait too long. Talking about something months later may be just too far in the past for folks to clearly remember what exactly happened.
IV. Be specific and clear when offering critique. It is great to say that you found the piece powerful and moving, but why did you find the piece powerful and moving. What specific things touched you? What part of the piece helped you realize the intention of the piece? What did you take with you after the piece? It is also good to say that the piece simply did not work for you, but again, remember to name as precisely as you can why the piece didn’t work for you.
V. When offering critique, remember to focus on things that can actually be changed by those who presented the piece. For instance, before offering the comment that it was way too cold for an outdoor Winter Solstice celebration in Minnesota, and then asking why the organizers didn’t arrange for warmer weather, it may behoove a person to ask themselves before choosing to participate in such a ritual: Do I tolerate the cold? Do I know how to dress to be comfortable in cold weather? Do I want to celebrate Winter inside a heated structure or in whatever weather the season brings? Helpful critique may be: It would have been good to remind folks to wear warm clothes and to bring wood for the sacred bonfire to help us stay warm. It would have been good to remind folks just how cold the wind is in near zero temperatures. It would have been good to have a warm cozy place for us all to meet after the ritual for the feast.
VI. In my opinion, the most important thing in giving sustainable critique, is to always offer information that will enrich and support the work. This is about building the piece. It is about making it more beautiful, powerful, spirit filled, wonderful, cleansing, etc. It is about honing the piece to more successfully express and hold the intention of the piece. It is not about shredding the work. It is not about tearing it or it’s creators down. When engaging in sustainable critique it is essential to set aside your ego investments, jealousies, competitions and other insecurities. Sustainable critique is about calling forth your clearest expression of your authentic self and daring to comment with compassion and clarity on what you have actually experienced during the piece in question.
VII. This process is a two way street. It is vital to remember that we open ourselves up to critique when we offer critique
Thanks Donald for the permission to use your text and thanks to Lars Dierksen for the translation.