February 10, 2013, by Stephen Mumford

Feedback and Feed Forward

The opinions of others, no matter how much one produces art that pleases oneself, are a matter of pressing importance in relation to any creative endeavour. We want to be productive, because it pleases us to exercise our creative powers, but it cannot be denied that we want also to display our efforts to others. The painter wishes to exhibit at a gallery, the author wants readers, the playwright wishes an audience for the performance. And while great artists are often those who trust their own instincts and produce work they find pleasing, where others too find pleasure in those creations, the artists can feel a deeper satisfaction and validation.

The degree to which we are driven by the prospects of approval and disapproval is a matter over which a careful judgement is to be exercised. To pander to popularity is considered vulgar and inauthentic; yet to ignore adverse feedback is considered arrogant and self-indulgent. The right attitude seems to be a mean between these two extremes.

And we can make more than a retrospective judgement of the comments we receive. Feedback can be used to feed forward, to prompt self-criticism and improved future work. This, we assume, is the purpose of comments written on student essays. But published authors too would do well to consider carefully the reviews and referee reports. Some of those could be perfidious but others more genuine. The artist should reflect carefully. A difficult decision is whether the critic is right or wrong. If one can tell those apart, there is a good chance one’s next work will be better.

I’ve had a week that seemed dominated by feedback. Our students finally got their semester 1 results after IT problems caused their delay. And while the lecturers were busy feeding back to the students, those same students were busy feeding back to the University about its IT. I’ve also been thinking hard about the way in which we deliver feedback on our students’ written work: what is the best way to do it and how can we return it more quickly. And my twitter followers will know that my highlight of the week was to receive positive feedback in a review of my own short introduction to metaphysics.

Feedback and feed forward are much broader notions than mere marks and criticism, however. In any social interactions, our skills are a function of our ability to listen to others and adapt our future behaviour accordingly. Good communication depends on giving and receiving feedback: listening and learning – talking and teaching.

Posted in English StudiesLiterature