Immediately, one notices that there are levels of filtering in this system, so that hopefully if you take 100 pictures in one session, you will choose the best 3 to upload to dA and perhaps you will submit to groups only those that you like best, the ones you wish to promote at that moment and the ones that comply with specific group's submission rules.
So the safe bet is - the vast majority of artists here try to choose their best, and by submitting to groups, they put themselves on the line to be judged, which makes them feel vulnerable and gives the people that judge them a responsibility not to hurt them, either deliberately or through lack of effort and care.
When we talk about "the best work" we need to distinguish between overall best, personal best and different people that will have different preferences, so in fact, the concept of "the best" is a very difficult and tricky one.
My best can be somebody's worst, it all depends on how skilled and talented a person is, or my personal best will depend on how well this photoshoot went, or indeed, all those judgements depends on a person who is viewing my work.
The overall point is that the differences in opinion can be so severe that what I consider to be amazing, someone else will think it's an insult to their eyes.
Even though much of philosophy of art has been written about the inherent quality of things, claiming that there is such a thing as an "universal appeal" I think that even on a dA level, we are seeing that is not neccesserily true, especially because here, judgement is passed by non-professional critics.
And let's face it, all us admins of clubs, and all of us deviants, are essentially non-professional art critics.
The benefit of being a professional critic is that these people learn about art by deconstructing it to it's components and after a long education and practice, they know what they are looking for and their own visual and personal likes and dislikes are the very last thing they consider when judging a certain piece.
Indeed, this is the very reason why it is possible for a professional to publicly give a judgement on "what is someone's best work" in a way that a non-professional can not, because the first and foremost thing, unfortunately, that influences our layman judgement is that personal like or dislike, and that is inherently unfair and conflicted way to judge art.
You probably often mused over Critis's Choice for some award of the year and said "What, this won? Really? But there were so many prettier entries, this is crazy!", and that's an excellent example of critics seeing an inherent quality of some kind, could be extremely well executed difficult technique, some kind of originality, the message, all sorts of things factor in their choices before the pure aesthetic appeal.
Furthermore, our beloved HCB said "Sharpness is a burgeois concept" thus throwing critique of photography on it's head, so nothing is easy anymore, when we talk about approving or declining certain work.
There is another component to judging submissions on dA and that is famed "Submission Guidelines" which vary widely from group to group and indeed there is nothing wrong with any of them.
Every founder has a right to have any kind of group they want. They can say "This group is just for the highest quality works that I would put in my faves", or "This group is just for purple things with green dots", or "Nobody called Steve is allowed to post here" etc.
What I am trying to say is that any guideline is valid. But the problem we are most commonly seeing is when groups say something like "Only submit your best work, we only take high quality images" without specifying any other concrete criteria, because the issue here is:
1. Who will decide what "best work" is?
2. On the basis of what criteria do the admins judge what is, or isn't, of "highest quality"?
This gets further compounded by rejection notices that state something like "this is not representative of your gallery" or "you have better pictures than this one" or siply "this picture is not very good".
This will often upset the artist enough to enquire with the admin about objective reasons for declining their work, and claim that they judged the subjectivelly (and based on those comments alone, they will be right) which, in turn, will annoy the admin who then not uncomonly calls the artist vain, narcissistic, oversensitive and unable to take any criticism and all sorts of nasty words get exchanged as a concequence, to everyone's detriment.
I have seen this happen over exceptional photos, as well as basic level ones, so trust me, this doesn't only happen when someone submits a truly substandard work.
As an artist whose pictures get both accepted and rejected as well as an admin who rejects and accepts things daily, I have thought a lot about this and these are my personal opinions, so if you want to know them keep reading
"This is not representative of your gallery"
This essentially means nothing, and is a very un-useful thing to say for several reasons. First of all, if something is in a gallery, than, by default, it, too, is representative of it. But also, this kind of comment suggests that perhaps you will be penalised if you try something new because, your new picture will not be similar to the rest of the gallery and therefore can be seen as "not representative".
In my opinion this comment should be avoided when giving feedback at all costs. Say something concrete, like "there is no defined focal point" or "I feel this image was oversharpened and it is diminishing it's quality" or whatever, but also, here you must be realistic, responsible and competent to judge.
Certainly, if you never took a picture of an insect close up, or your images of insects are of farly basic level, then you might not actually be as competent to judge insect images as you might think.
Indeed, I noticed that people tend to be overtly harsh towards images that they personally don't shoot, and that the experts in certain subjects deliver much more understanding and comprehensive judgements and feedback on pictures depicting their area of interest.
"You have much better work in your gallery than this"
Also not a very useful, or perhaps true thing to say.
How many times did something grow on you and maybe now, your favourite piece of art is the very one you initially had some kind of resistance to?
Furthermore, what you think is "better" may not be what someone else thinks, and that's why having very concrete basic criteria is helpful, because unless you say in your Subission Guidelines "I only choose what I like, this group is judged subjectivelly" you are risking thinking that you are more competent at judging than you really are, and also, you risk offending or discouraging others.
What I find most useful are the criteria such as: adequate focus in relevant parts of the picture, lack of noise, adequate exposure, composition and artistic appeal.
So really, only pictures that have main subject blurry, or are obviously over or under exposed, oversharpened, overcropped, where the composition is not just a bit "unappealing to me" but genuinely very distracting, when the picture is very visually unappealing (or has a wrong subject, like not a macro being submitted to a macro group etc), they fail the basic criteria.
These rules can be taken up a notch if you want only high quality iages, so you can say "focus needs to be impeccable and carefully chosen to showcase a concept or a subject well" or "perfect and creative exposure is very iportant to us because we are all about light" etc, but still, if you want to objectivelly judge subissions, the parameters need to be a lot more precise and reliable than "I don't like this pic, it does nothing for me".
And if, in the end, you still want to say "you have better works in your gallery" then include the links to the pictures that you are referring to, because that way you'll get the pictures you want subitted, and the artist will get the idea of your taste and probably remember it next time they submit.
Because, nobody likes to be rejected over and over, trying to guess what you want while you go ruining their self esteem by subjective judgements claiming to be perfectly objective.
Giving constructive criticism
1. Most importantly, as I mentioned already, try your hardest to be objective to your own ability to judge something, and as a judge, also be open to criticism. Because how can you expect others to take your critique if you can't take theirs? We all make mistakes sometimes and being open to the possibility that you ay have made one, you will grow a s a critic, as an artist and as a person.
2. Be realistic about your abilities as a critic since experts in certain fields (like droplet photography) will be able to better judge droplets than, for example, landscape photographers, keep in mind that you might have to take extra time when judging something you don't shoot yourself because your eyes will be adjusted to seeing a different depth of field in pictures and you may be oblivious to the difficult techniques that are perhaps employed in taking that particular image.
Let your eyes adjust to the image you are not used to seeing, and go back to your basic criteria and check it one by one focus, exposure noise composition artistic appeal.
3. For essential components of constructive criticism please have a look at these excellent News articles [link] and [link]
They are very helpful and well written.
I hope I managed to discuss that pink elephant of declining submissions to dA groups, please feel free to leave coments with your thoughts and experiences that relate to this issue, I certainly would like to hear your thoughts on this subject.