Dealing With A Critic - Part II

7:31 PM

Continued from Dealing with a Critic....

Criticism: Who Needs It?!!

Critics. We all have them. Both internal and external. We usually have a love/hate relationship with a heavy emphasis on the hate. Because we identify strongly with our work, with the struggles of bringing it into this world, let alone finding the courage to share the work, we tend to take criticism to our very hearts.

The word “oh” uttered without enthusiasm is enough to make us want to curl up and hide. Well-meant but non-constructive criticism can cause us to avoid artmaking for years. And, let’s face it, some criticism is not well-meant, constructive or beneficial. It’s rare, but it does exist. So how do we cope with these demons? How do we keep from succumbing to the potent, toxic, highly addictive, poison of criticism?

We start by recognizing it for what it is–another tool in the toolbox of artists.

And like all good tools, we must evaluate it and determine its usefulness to our work. We need criticism in order to grow. We’re often too close to our art to see where we can/need to improve. We set ourselves up when we ask open ended questions like “Well, what do you think?” to unsuspecting, non-artisan individuals. Especially spouses and significant others. They often answer from a position of what they like rather than from a base of artistic knowledge.

When they criticize the very thing we’re most proud of, it hurts! Why, didn’t they see all the toil and the hours and the tears and the frustration to get to this point?!! Ummm…no, not really. Spouses don’t usually get it. They try to be honest and say something neutral that won’t hurt our feelings because they know they’re in emotion-land-mine territory.

Some thoughts on using criticism as a tool:
  • Instead of asking open-ended questions, ask specific questions....“I’ve been working on getting stronger lights and darks in my painting. Do you see this as having a stronger value pattern?” (Be aware that you may have to educate them on values, but that’s a good thing!)
  • Try the criticism on for size. See if there's any truth in it at all. (The more the advice or comment bugs us, the better the chances are there is some truth to it!) If the criticism fits, use it as motivation to improve! If the advice doesn’t fit, see yourself physically dropping the criticism into a trash can, and walking away. Kick the can, if necessary! The trick is to not go back and dig that piece of advice out of the trash and let it start to hurt all over again!
  • Ask yourself if you’re taking the criticism personally and why. Evaluate whether the criticism is directed at the work or at you as the artist. Many of us get tangled up in separating the art from the artist. Once you’ve established which is being criticized, evaluate the criticism for relevancy.
  • Never ever, ever, never take criticism personally!!! Criticism, simply put, is another person's opinion. It may or may not be relevant or valuable. Opinions come cheap and often unsolicited. They're often said (shared) without thought as to how they might be "heard." 
  • We give the criticism its power - to hurt, wound, irritate, annoy, dismay, or otherwise, harm us! When we take away the power, we take away the sting.
Criticism is just another tool in the tool box - sometimes it's handy and just what's needed. Other times, it's the wrong tool for the job. In this case, you should feel free to dump it in the nearest proverbial trashcan!

P.S. I see Blogger is up to its old tricks of messing with the type - sorry for the micro-sized type!

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11 Creative Thought(s)

  1. Very well put, Laure! It's so true--we are our own worst critics, I think. We can hear words of praise from many people, but if one person says something negative, we agonize over that one comment, don't we? I like your re-phrasing of questions notion--very good idea. Hopefully it enables folks to respond honestly but constructively, too.

  2. Very well put and I agree completely. I have been privileged to have a group of designers to brainstorm with, and we critique one anothers work as well, and I have seen tremendous growth in my skills because of it. I hope to find such a group for my painting as well.

  3. Great subject. Probably one of the hardest tools in the creation of art. If an artist stops listening to criticism then he or she in turn stops learning how to perfect himself or herself. But what advice should be taken when one is trying to keep their own unique style intact? It is forever a balancing act. Excellent article and right to the point of the matter. Bravo Laure!!

  4. Great advice...and can apply to life in general as well as our artistic endeavors.

  5. Why is it that everyone wants to be a critque? Even those that don't paint? I used to paint in our sun room as it had fabulous light but after so many people coming in to tell me how to paint my paintings while I am working on them, I made our guest room with a door to shut into my studio. Now I have peace to do as I please. I still have someone who likes to come and show off their latest painting to get kudos. Sometimes even my non painting hubby notices something not right, but I like to build up not tear down and they dont want the critiquing anyway.. I used to share my work with them but they ALWAYS tear it down so I no longer share it with them. What is with this? Are other Artists that insecure? How do you deal with something like that?
    Thank goodness for my DH as he always thinks what I do is great even if I am not feeling so great about it and especially if someone starts putting it down.

  6. Wonderful points and insight. I've always realized that to ask someone "how do they like it" or "what do they think" puts them on the spot, most of the time you are going to get a sugar-coated answer or run the risk of getting something less than you would like to hear. I figure if they like it, they will say so and if they don't, you won't hear a word.

  7. Laure: great writing as usual. I love to be inspired by your insight and talent. Will give you a call again some day soon, now that I am done training. Would love some feedback on how you think the content of my blog is and if I am going in the right direction. Have a great Sunday.

  8. Sue, we are our own worst critics! And out of 100 great comments, we always seem to focus on the negative one!

    Janene, what a great blessing to have that kind of a group! I was in a group of designers for a while that were like that - it was wonderful!

    You're right, Brenda, it is a balancing act. I find that it gets easier(?) the stronger my own "voice" becomes.

    Thanks, Lisa and Kathy!

    Cris, my granddaddy used to say that the only way some folks were going to rise above their current stations was by tearing everyone else down! I've found that the more insecure or threatened the artist, the more likely they are to engage in that behavior. Other folks are just trying to be helpful, not realizing it's not!

    Good point, Teresa! I had to learn the hard way by asking the wrong person at the wrong time. Sometimes it is better not to ask.

    Hi, Martha, I'll stop by!

  9. I like your concept of considering criticism a 'tool in our artist's paintbox.' Great way to both distance oneself from the emotional dagger that loves to slip in there ... and a reminder that constructive criticism can be very helpful. Where would we be as artists if we never got some good advice along the way?

    I think, when commenting on someone else's work, it is even more important to comment on the strenghts of the piece ... sometimes we don't personally recognize the best parts.

  10. Wonderful post and very true. It is hard to put oneself out there as an artist/creative because you do put yourself on display to all sorts of criticism, opinions and yes, sometimes even praise! =)
    I always tell myself not to take "crits" personal but to build from them and hopefully improve on them.
    Thanks for sharing.


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