Artists: 5 Methods for Surviving Negative Criticism

by David Finley


Everyone seems to have opinions about art. A lot of them are nice. For instance, your Aunt Mildred remembers how great your drawing of the family dog was, a friend thinks a piece you did would be perfect for his new rec room, and there's always the "I can't even draw a straight line" compliment.

However, there's the other side, where the comments are so scathing and unfiltered you never want to pick up a paint brush, write a song, or choreograph a dance again. But fear not, Scofflaws, because criticism is a normal and healthy part of the artistic process.

5 Ways to Handle Negative Criticism

1. Don't take it personally.

 Let me say that again... Don't take it personally!

 Because the process of making art is such a personal thing, it can start to feel personal when the negative feedback starts flying your way.  It is highly likely the person generously bestowing this feedback isn't doing it to personally attack you. Maybe they just want to help you improve. Maybe, the piece just doesn't agree with their taste. Maybe they, like a lot of art critics, are in love with the sound of their own voice.

 Just know it isn't about you.

2. Don't ask for feedback unless you are willing to have your work criticized. 
 As an artist, I love to share my work with others. It's the interaction between the viewer and my paintings and drawings that makes my piece complete. But, when you submit your work for public viewing and consideration, be prepared for honest reactions, some of which can be biting.

 I once entered a contemporary mixed media piece about my Dad's hearing loss called, "The Quiet Man" in a show featuring mostly still lifes, ocean seascapes, lighthouses, and pictures of local marine life. It made it in the show because one of the jurors loved my work. It turns out, she was the only one who did. The show and reactions of the spectators and other jurors was a humbling experience to say the least.

 When something like this happens, it's important to remember why you're making art in the first place. You are trying to engage people and say something that matters. Your voice comes with a price. So, don't put your work out there expecting only praise. You'll eventually be disappointed.

3. Accept that criticism is a necessary element in the refining process. 

 Believe it or not, criticism is a good thing. It can help you look at your work objectively and see things with fresh eyes. When it comes to your art, you are not as objective as you should be.

 The Beatles are a great example. There was a competition to out write each other within the band. When a song was weak, the other band members were quick to point it out. As a result, those guys produced amazing song after song after song. While John, Paul, George, and Ringo all went on to write excellent music in their solo careers, the consistency wasn't as strong as in their Beatle years. The criticism they gave one another was helpful, even crucial in this case.

4. Be as professional as possible and listen carefully.

 I occasionally teach art classes as a side job. As a teacher, it is important to help your students improve.

 When it comes to correcting my student's art, I have a very gentle and easy approach. However, I still have had some students who argued with me, used foul language, and one who even cried in a corner. Those students never really improved, despite being talented.

 On the other hand, there where students who accepted the feedback in a professional and courteous manner, even thanking me for my help. These students improved considerably. They took my feedback and used it as a springboard to achieve greater successes in their art.

5. Ask yourself if there is any truth in it.

Sometimes, no matter how professional or open you are, a negative comment about your work can still hurt. It's especially hard when it is a piece you love.

 Still, you owe it to your work to ask yourself if the comment deserves consideration. If the comment has merit, you should try to learn from it. However, here's some good news: Sometimes, the nasty words are not true.

Impression Sunrise, by Claude Monet
 When Claude Monet debuted "Impression Sunrise", considered to be his first official impressionist painting, it was torn apart by critics. Monet, had to ask himself if what they said was true. Monet had already made headway as a professional artist, so the temptation to conform back the more traditional painting methods had to have plagued him.

 Fortunately, he decided he would continue with this new form of painting.

*6 (Bonus)*. Move forward

While it's good to take feedback into account, it's best not obsess or dwell on it. Grant criticism its due time and then leave it behind.

 You have new horizons to explore, new art to make, and new expressions to share. You can't do that when you are shackled to something bad someone said about a painting you did ten years ago.

 Thanks for reading!

Dave, Grand Poobah of all Scofflaws

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