Dealing with Criticism

All of us have experienced criticism, sometimes positive sometimes negative. (By criticism, I do not necessarily mean only negative comments, but rather a judgment about the quality or value of our work by someone else.) Sometime we have sought out such judgment; other times it has appeared unbidden. Occasionally, we read it in print or on a web site. Then we are faced with a decision: what do we do with that criticism once we hear it?

Artists from almost every discipline have commented on critics and criticism, artists as diverse as Aristotle and Virginia Woolf, Andy Warhol and Stephen King, W. A. Mozart and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Most of the comments are not very complimentary. Some involve the comparison of the act of criticism to the act of creation; criticism does not fare well. Others argue that only by creating work equal to or better than that being evaluated can someone be qualified to criticize. Some have offered advice on how to deal with both critics and criticism. Almost to a person, they tell you to ignore it; some will also tell you to never read or listen to it in the first place. This, of course, is almost impossible to do.

Artists, as most of us know, are riddled with self-doubt (a topic on which I have written previously, here, for example) and crave some sort of approval of our work from outside. This lack of confidence unfortunately forms the framework which underlies our dealing with criticism. Because we are unsure of ourselves, we grasp at positive criticism or any response to our work that reinforces what we ourselves think of it. If, on the other hand, we are dealt negative criticism, it can be devastating. Sometimes we take it personally. Other times we let it feed our insecurity and discourage us, which can then lead to a downward spiral in our self-esteem, which, in turn, can negatively impact our work.

Criticism can be useful, at least in one sense. Thoughtful criticism can be useful to help people decide how to spend their time and their money—and that can range from buying a movie ticket to purchasing a multi-thousand dollar sculpture. That is a far different thing from an artist listening to a critic and moving forward based on that criticism. Yes, performing with respect to criticism is a very practical approach if you are in school and the critic is your instructor. Otherwise, if you listen to criticism, you may find yourself modifying your work to deal with that criticism instead of listening to yourself. This may lead you to make a more marketable piece, but it certainly will make the work less honest, and perhaps less your own.

Georgia O’Keefe had it figured out. She said, “I have already settled it for myself so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free.” Rather than listening to the voice of others, we have to be our own critics, evaluating our work for ourselves, determining what is good and what could be improved and where to cut and where to enhance. No matter how much we hunger for approval and appreciation, once we have established ourselves as our own judges—settled it for ourselves—the words of others will impact us far less. And in that less-dependent atmosphere, we too can be free—to develop our art.

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Date: Sunday, 21. April 2013 22:36
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Creativity, Criticism

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