One of the worst things about art school was the grueling weekly critiques of our work. There were tears, gnashing of teeth, anger, and a boatload of humility, dished out by not only your classmates but the teacher as well. I am not gonna lie it was hard. And you would think they would be so much bitterness between the art student, but my art school classmates to this day are some of my closest friends. I suppose there’s a lot to be said for being vulnerable enough to to give and take criticism in a loving and supportive way.
Despite being potentially painful, I have to admit critiques are hands-down the best way to grow your work. These days thanks to the internet everybody’s a fucking critic. Here are some tips for surviving what can feel like an attack and use those words to make you a better artist.
Here are some of my most mediocre to awful projects:
Check your gut reaction and call out any snark immediately. This is super important. Criticism is one thing, verbal abuse is not acceptable. For example a blanket “That sucks ____ (insert noun of choice)” statement is snark and of no use. Now my best friend can say this and I might heartily agree. But a stranger? not so much. What was you gut reaction to their comment? Call them out if you feel they are just being mean, ask for clarity if you think they just have lousy communication skills.
Ask for specifics. If art is terrible it is usually the sum of several not so great things. Ask which parts are particularly unpleasant. Is it the color scheme? the composition? Am I using the wrong materials? Narrowing it down to specifics presents actionable fixes OR points for debate.
Consider the source. Now granted this can be a slippery slope to not doing the growing part of you creativity. But sometimes you have to take a look at who is doling out the criticism. For example, my great aunt is not a fan of abstract art. On a trip to the Met she turned her nose up at the De Kooning. But the Renoir! she loved. Tomato/tomatoe/whatever. Abstract art is not her thing and that is okay. My first spinning teacher is not a fan of art yarn. She would probably hate everything I make.
Look at your work again in light of the criticism. Sometimes you will have a change of heart once you look at your work through someone else’s eyes. Looking at your work again will help you find a fix to make it better, or help you find your resolve for what you have made. It takes some serious humility to do so effectively, but so worth it.
Go gently with yourself. I am always surprised at how much time is spent in a place of discomfort while working to make art that you can stand behind. And pushing through techniques/styles/experiments that do not work does not make you a bad artist. It just makes you an real artist. Right brain work can be exhausting. Listen to what your body and emotions are telling you what you need and do that. Rest, meditate, do yoga, visit with friends.
Maintain a practice of self love. Showing your work takes courage. Since you are working with your right brain which sits next to your emotions, criticism can feel like a personal hit. Make sure you are doing the work to remind yourself that you are worthy and your voice matters. For me that involves time with loved ones, journaling (art just for me), essential oils, meditation and energy work. For you it might be different. I find it helpful to list out 10 options for emergency self care so I can remember at times when my mind is reeling with distress.
Let it go and move on. Whether good or bad criticism, don’t wallow in it. Take what you need from what you learned and move forward in your next project. You and your body of work are more than just one piece. Do it differently (or exactly the same) the next time.
So, have you had to endure harsh criticism recently? What did you do to overcome the negativity? Did it help you make better art? Share in the comments below.