Is Constructive Criticism Overrated?

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Forum topic by CharlieM1958 posted 02-15-2008 05:11 PM 1938 views 0 times favorited 36 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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16273 posts in 4147 days

02-15-2008 05:11 PM

I came in late on Leon’s post about constructive criticism, just stumbling across it yesterday. After making my initial comments and sleeping on it, I awoke this morning with this thought:

Is constructive criticism overrated?

I started thinking about why I hang around here, and I think I’ve narrowed it down to four reasons:

1) To get ideas for my own work from what other people are doing.

2) To pick up specific how-to knowledge about tools and techniques to help me transform those ideas, as well as my own, into projects.

3) To enjoy the beauty and/or functionality of other people’s projects, and be inspired to improve by those with more advanced skills.

4) To just enjoy the company of folks who share a love of the same hobby.

Now first of all, let me start with the disclaimer that any and all comments, criticisms, and suggestions are always completely welcome on any project I post. I won’t be insulted, hurt, angry, or go-postal-ized by anything any of you has to offer. I’ve met a fantastic bunch of folks here, and I know that all comments are in the spirit of helping each other become better woodworkers.

Having said that, let me explain my question about whether constructive criticism is overrated.

I think all criticisms are going to fall into one of two categories: aesthetic or technical. In oother words, the poster of the comment either thinks a different choice would have looked better, or he/she likes your choice, but thinks it could have been executed better. For example, an aesthetic criticism would be “I think dovetails would have looked really great instead of those miters.” A technical criticism would be “I see that your hand cut dovetails came out a little loose…have you seen so and so’s video on doing those?”

We all want to get better, but are either of these remarks really helpful in that regard? If a person is posting here on LJ’s, they have surely looked at quite a few projects, and thus seen a lot of choices people have made., and are aware of many different stylistic options. So, using the examples I just gave, does a guy really gain anything by me saying that I would have liked dovetails instead of miters? For whatever reason, that was his choice. He needs only worry about pleasing the man in the mirror. If he says in his description that he was on the fence and asks for opinions, that’s different.

Likewise with the technical comments, do I think he really needs me to tell him his dovetails are a bit off? Now you could argue that directing him to a good video on the topic is helpful. But if he has enough computer literacy to be posting here, he is probably capable of researching and finding as much information on hand-cutting dovetails as he could possibly want.

So, after letting all this roll around in my oversized, underpowered head for a while, I’ve come to the conclusion that unsolicited critique, while not necessarily a bad thing, probably isn’t the thing that helps us get better either. What does that for me is looking at a project and saying “Man, I wish I could do that”, and knowing that you folks are there to offer help and encouragement when I decide to step up to the next level.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

36 replies so far

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3725 days

#1 posted 02-15-2008 05:30 PM

Interesting thoughts Charlie. I can’t say I disagree with them either. Aesthetics are subjective after all, so not really something that will necessarily help me with my work. Technical might, but only if someone offers a trick or tip that can help me, rather than referring me to someone else’s DVD.

I do like the idea of having a drop down menu that lets you select the level of critique you want that was mentioned in Leon’s thread. Then, you can ask for criticisms if you’re not sure what’s “not quite right” about your piece of work.

-- "Give me your poor tools, your tired steel, your huddled masses of rust." Yep, I ripped off the Statue of Liberty. That's how I roll!

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4228 days

#2 posted 02-15-2008 05:35 PM

Well said Charlie.

I myself am not here to judge, or criticize anyones work.

I just enjoy looking at other peoples projects, forums, or blogs.

I think the only place to offer advise to someone, is in the forum, or blogs.

Projects, should be off limits for giving out advise, or criticism .

If anyone wishes my advise, or help,

all they have to do is just ask, & I’ll gladly do all I can.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View CharlieM1958's profile


16273 posts in 4147 days

#3 posted 02-15-2008 05:43 PM

I kind of like the idea of a drop-down menu, Tomcat, but I see a little problem with it as well: I would feel like if I chose the option to be critiqued, my friends would feel obligated to take the time to make detailed remarks, and thus I would be putting a burden on them. And if I did not choose to be critiqued, I would feel like it made me look snobbish or oversensitive. The old “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” dilemma.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Dadoo's profile


1789 posts in 3919 days

#4 posted 02-15-2008 05:48 PM

Your 4 reasons for sticking around are the same by me. And honestly Charlie, anyone who could construct a rosewood veneered box just to harbor his favorite measuring tools is allright in my book. See, I also believe in checking one’s projects and links to see what level he’s shooting from. I remember that one of my “recently added” buddy’s suggested that we do basically the same thing! (That is, to check on someone’s level of carpentry before commenting. What they posted might be the best they can do at this time.) I thought that was in itself a great statement, and is something I’ve attempted to do all along.

As for the ideas given regarding a “drop down critique level indicator thingy”, I don’t think that would stop any negative feedback. This is where you said it best: “I’ve met a fantastic bunch of folks here, and I know that all comments are in the spirit of helping each other become better woodworkers.”

Sounds like a good idea.

-- Bob Vila would be so proud of you!

View MtnManMEP's profile


26 posts in 3690 days

#5 posted 02-15-2008 06:17 PM

I’m fairly new to this community but CharlieMs assessment of reasons to participate here are right on target in my opinion. Fortunately, (yes, fortunately) the world is full of different personalities and I’m sure that includes the population of members here at LJs. I don’t consider criticism to be negative unless it is delivered in a derogatory or demeaning style. However, the familiarity of the party giving and receiving the criticism should be considered. For example, in my opinion, it would be inappropriate and rude for an LJ member who does not have some established relationship with the recipient to make unsolicited criticism of their projects or works unless such criticism was specifically requested. In such a case, if someone did feel strongly enough to leave criticism, I hope they would ask themselves what value will come from it? What will they gain, what will the other party gain and what will the group as a whole gain from it? Unless there is a compelling reason behind any of these questions, (safety, legality, group ethics) it’s best to keep the criticism to yourself.

Regarding the drop down selector, that’s an interesting idea but keeping with KISS, just asking for criticism in the post is probably the solution and if it isn’t specifically requested, then use common courtesy and don’t provide it. If you absolutely must unload on someone, then do it via a private message so the entire community doesn’t have to become engaged and distracted by it.

View Russel's profile


2199 posts in 3868 days

#6 posted 02-15-2008 06:38 PM

You are a wise man Charlie.

-- Working at Woodworking

View Tomcat1066's profile


942 posts in 3725 days

#7 posted 02-15-2008 06:39 PM


I see what you’re saying, and to some extent I can agree. Since I can only speak for myself, I know that just because someone wants constructive criticism, doesn’t mean I have to work to find something to point out to them. If to me it looks darn good as is, why tell them their dovetails aren’t right? Why hunt for a critique?

Still, that’s just me and everyone is different. So, perhaps, I’m the minority on this.

Personally, I don’t need constructive criticism on my work thus far. The mistakes are so glaring to me, I can’t see how anyone can miss them :)

-- "Give me your poor tools, your tired steel, your huddled masses of rust." Yep, I ripped off the Statue of Liberty. That's how I roll!

View CharlieM1958's profile


16273 posts in 4147 days

#8 posted 02-15-2008 06:44 PM

Personally, I don’t need constructive criticism on my work thus far. The mistakes are so glaring to me, I can’t see how anyone can miss them :)

That was pretty much my point. Not so much that there is anything wrong with the critique, just that it probably doesn’t have that much positive impact.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View CharlieM1958's profile


16273 posts in 4147 days

#9 posted 02-15-2008 06:45 PM

You are a wise man Charlie.

You really should talk to my wife, Russel. :-)

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View MrWoody's profile


320 posts in 3703 days

#10 posted 02-15-2008 06:51 PM

Charlie, I agree with you 100% on all of your comments.
I didn’t comment on Leon’s post, but continue to follow it if something new is added.
There are no visible emotions on forums such as this, making it extremely difficult to judge someone else’s intended meaning.
I have misunderstood and been misunderstood many times on the internet, even on this site.
I have posted more here in 21 days than I have in all the other formus I follow, in 15 years.
This site has the friendliest atmosphere of any site I know of.
Dadoo, I like your idea of checking other’s projects before making comments. I will definitely be doing this in the future.
My 2 cents and it’s worth more now (Canadian) ;^)

-- If we learn from our mistakes, I'm getting a fantastic education.

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 4175 days

#11 posted 02-15-2008 06:52 PM

Dick Cain gave me a bit of advice once in a private message. Now Dick and I have been the best of friends since I’ve been on here. I asked him to post it on the site, that it was great advice and might be helpful to someone else which he did. Now to me that wasn’t criticism, it was just good fatherly advice and I appreciated it. Just a thought. mike

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 3917 days

#12 posted 02-15-2008 06:55 PM

All right Charlie, you asked for it so here I go!

I think there are three different types of criticisms and one of yours is miscatorigized.

I agree with you about aesthetics. To each their own. (whatever floats your boat)
Should you post comments? My answer is only if asked and expressed as a opinion not fact.

When you say ‘technical’ you should say “execution”. The dovetails are too loose?
Should you post comments? My answer is no. They probably already know they could do better.

Technical should be the methodology you used. For example guleing long grain to short grain, or short
grain to short grain.
Should you post comments? My answer is yes. If they did it wrong technically, then they probably didn’t
know any better, and pointing it out would in a nice way, would help them to do things correctly in the future.

But who knows, I could be wrong.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Tim Pursell's profile

Tim Pursell

499 posts in 3711 days

#13 posted 02-15-2008 07:03 PM

I like the KISS idea… Really simple. No drop down menu, no “constructive critisim” unless the poster askes for imput or advise.

Anybody can look at all the projects posted on this site and see the varing levels of skills. both astetic & technical and figure out where their own project falls. A begining or intermedate woodworker (of any age) can marvel at the prowess of many highly skilled craftsmen/artists on this site. It’s pretty simple to find a skill you wish you had & ask for help in developing it for yourself, either thur this site or other sources.

Are we not our own worst critiics? You don’t need any body else pointing out your shortcomings. Just don’t be afraid of asking for adviceif you feel the need. I did:


View CharlieM1958's profile


16273 posts in 4147 days

#14 posted 02-15-2008 07:05 PM

Good point, Gary. I grudgingly and resentfully stand corrected. LOL!

Any comment that is clearly of a helpful nature should be welcomed.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View che's profile


123 posts in 3955 days

#15 posted 02-15-2008 07:55 PM

A couple of thoughts…

I know Leon was talking about constructive criticism the the comment that got his attention was a criticism, but I think his real point is that there is very little constructive critique here positive or negative. Lots of people say nice job and give you a pat on the back. After a couple of pats they start to loose there meaning. I would challenge everyone to spend the time, even if it means you comment on fewer projects, to offer specific constructive comments. Instead of saying “nice job” say something specific like “I really like the contrast between the maple and walnut.” or “Your dovetails look very nice and tight”. A pat on the back for setting up the dovetail jig is better than a pat on the back.

Critique is as much about learning to see yourself as it is helping others. This is why I get upset when new people don’t comment because they “don’t know enough”. I say phooey you know what you like and thats enough for anyone.

Charlie you mention inspiration as a reason for coming here. I’m sure you, like the rest of us, see something nice and say “I’d like to build that but I think I would change x, y and z”. Why not share those changes with the group. I took a look at your last project (the walnut drawer chest ), which I really like, and would offer the following: The overall proportions are very pleasing. I like that you included pulls on the false drawer front. The color of the walnut, the inlay material and the brass works well together. Overall a most excellent box I would have been proud to have made.
I do have my personal x, y and z. I think there are too many competing edge profiles. The under bevel is ornate compared the rest of the profiles, the quarter round works well with the curvature of the legs and the chamfer is too hard compared to legs and quarter round and legs. I would have gone with a quarter round on the drawer fronts and a cove for the top overhang. I would have made the drawer fronts from the same piece of wood so all of the grain lines run through the inlay and into the next drawer front.

The things I would have changed are very minor. Most people don’t consciously pick up on why they really like certain pieces of art and don’t like other pieces that are similar. If you want to build something functional I applaud you for not going to IKEA. If you are trying to claw your way up the mountain of functional art the devil is in the details and you have to learn to see the details.

For those of you who think beauty is entirely subjective please note that height and width dimensions of (9×14) is very close to a phi ratio.

for anyone interested I’m going to try and start a critique group on Flickr here...

PS all reviews are personal and sometimes we all miss the mark. I saw a semi famous photo by The father of photojournalism voted out of a critique photo group on Flickr

-- Che.

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