Being an artist and being able to handle criticism must go hand in hand. But this can also be one of the hardest things for most artists to handle. I know for me it can be extremely hard and disheartening if the criticism of my art comes from someone you love or care about deeply and you realize that they do not like your artwork or understand you as an artist.
Yet, there are steps that every artist can take when faced with criticism of their artwork. They can learn to listen to what the person is saying about their artwork while assuming they have your best intentions in mind. Or, try not to get defensive or take the criticism personally as the person giving you the criticism may feel like they are just trying to help you. Also, try to learn not to be too hard on yourself when you hear the criticism, and if possible use humor to diffuse a negative situation while thanking them for their thoughts. But remember it is important that you stay calm and continue to carry on with the pursuit of your artwork.
When criticism of your artwork does come – as it is bound to come sometime sooner or later in life – below are some suggestions to help you handle the situation of someone criticizing your artwork.
Learn to Listen
It can be human nature that when someone tells us something we do not like or do not agree with we may turn away or tune out what they are saying. This can be especially true if they are commenting or criticizing your artwork that you have poured your heart and soul into producing Like many artists, you may take criticism very hard and very personal – I know I do especially if there is someone I am close to and you can see they do not like or appreciate your art. I can hurt deeply.
But in reality one of the best things you can do in a situation like this is to listen. Here are some reasons why learning to really listen when someone is criticizing you is good:
- Listening does not mean you agree – Yes, that is right, just because you are listening to someone who is criticizing your art, it does mean you are agreeing with them. You can listen and not agree.
- Listening is a sign of respect – To really listen to someone is a sign of respect, especially if you asked them their honest opinion and you did not like what they said or their comment on your artwork. When you listen to someone, even if they are criticizing your art, you are also showing them a sign of respect.
- Listening can help defuse negative reactions– When you listen, it can help to diffuse any negative reactions or feelings. This is very important especially if the person criticizing you is someone you are close to. It can take practice to learn to disagree with someone and come out of the conversation as friends and with an understanding.
- Listen to ask questions – When you are in a situation when people are criticizing your art this is also a chance for you to learn and ask questions. So look at this as a time to learn. You can ask questions to show that you are actually listening. Who knows there may be something you can learn from the criticism and if there is not then at least that person will feel like you have understood them.
Listening politely to the criticism of your artwork does not mean that you have to agree with them or even do what they suggest.
When I think about a group of artists who broke with the old ways of art and listened to their inner artistic heart, I think about the Impressionists. Many of the impressionists received so many criticisms and even family pressure due to their artwork. But despite this, it never stopped the Impressionists from working to perfect their art. One of my favorite groups is this amazing group of women impressionist artists who really defied the norms of the day in both their art and personal lives. You can read our blog 7 Women Impressionist Artists, To Admire, Know and Remember by clicking here.
Assume Good Intentions
Most people, especially if you are asking them their honest opinion, feel they have a good intention to telling you what they honestly think. Here are some things to consider:
- Do not assume they are out to get you – Sometimes we people criticize our artwork we may feel like that somehow they are “out to get us” or to bring us down. Do not assume they are out to get you and hurt you. It could just be they do not understand your art.
- Unless proven otherwise assume good intentions – Unless you know otherwise you should learn to assume that they have a good intention or your best interest at heart. Of course, if they do not, you can always just politely smile.
Don’t Get Defensive
When you are in a situation when someone is criticizing your artwork one of the best things you can do is not get defensive. This can be hard, especially if what they are saying hurts, or if you did not expect them to tell you they did not like your artwork. Here are a few things to remember:
- Don’t get defensive and make excuses – This is the time for you to show the person who is criticizing your artwork that you believe in your work and what you are doing. This is the time for you to politely let them know that you appreciate their comments but you believe in what you are doing and you believe in your art. If you get defensive and start to make excuses you have just shown the person criticizing you that you do not believe in your artwork or what you doing or you are unsure of artwork.
- Don’t get defensive and apologize – For some people they may get defensive and then start to apologize. Never feel like you have to apologize for your artwork. After all, it is your artwork and if they do not like it that is Ok, but do not ever apologize for your artwork.
Don’t Take the Criticism Personally
This can really be the hardest thing to remember, after all, as an artist our artwork is personal as we put our heart and soul into it. We have given a piece of ourselves to every single piece of artwork we produce. But here are a few things to remember in not taking the criticism personally
- They are not criticizing you personally – The criticism of your artwork is not a personal attack on you as a person. They are not telling you that you are ugly, terrible or a host of other negative things, instead, they are commenting on your artwork and criticizing your artwork and not you as a person or individual. It may seem to be the same thing to some artists but it is not the same thing. So this a very important point to remember when handling criticism of your artwork.
- They are criticizing your artwork only – This can be the hardest thing for any artist to remember that the criticism is about the artwork. It is not personal – even if it may feel that way at the time.
See the Criticism as Help
Even if you may not see it at the time someone is criticizing your artwork, most people, when they give you criticism of your artwork, may also feel like they, are trying to help you in some way. Here are some ways to handle criticism of your artwork when someone is giving you unwanted help:
- Constructive feedback is a sign of interest – When someone is giving you constructive feedback or constructive criticism this is really a sign of interest on their part. If they were not interested in you or your artwork they would usually not bother to even give you any feedback or criticism.
- They feel they are helping – As they have taken the time to tell you their opinion, from their standpoint they also feel like they are helping you. So look at the criticism as they are trying to help you and give you what they feel is some constructive feedback.
Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself
When criticism comes especially it can be hard not to take it personally and to be hard on yourself. But here are a few things to remember:
- Not everyone will like your artwork and that is OK – Not everyone will like your artwork and that is OK. The world is filled with a lot of different kinds of people with a lot of different kinds of tastes and preferences. So if someone criticizes your artwork, do not take it personally.
- Negative Feedback is not about you – Negative feedback is not about you, it is about your work and not do not be hard on yourself when someone criticizes your artwork.
Smile and Say Thank You
This can be one of the hardest things to remember since here someone is criticizing your artwork and you need to remember to smile and thank them? I know you may feel instead that you want to walk away in anger, but anger will not help the situation. Instead, try to do the following:
- Smile – If someone is criticizing your artwork it can be hard to smile, but if you can try to give them a polite smile it will help to diffuse any anger or make it awkward for you if you need to see them again in the future.
- Say Thank You – Remember they may be felt they are actually trying to help you, especially if you asked them for their opinion and you never expected they would criticize your work or give you negative feedback. The person giving the negative feedback may feel like they are “doing you a favor” so if you can say thank you it will also ensure that if you see them in the future that the situation between you will not be awkward.
If you are able, a great way to be able to diffuse a bad situation or a conflict is to use humor. Humor, when used correctly, can make all the difference in the world and diffuse a difficult or negative situation. Here are how humor can help when you are dealing with criticism of your art:
- Humor can diffuse a conflict or potentially difficult situation – Humor when used correctly can help to diffuse a difficult situation so that both parties can come out of the conflict feeling good about what has transpired.
- The situation becomes less defensive – When humor is used appropriately, everyone becomes less defensive.
- Shows you are spontaneous – Humor shows a kind of spontaneousness that people like. It can help everyone to see the problem, conflict or criticism in a new light.
- Interrupt a power struggle – If you feel the criticisms you are receiving is a kind of power struggle or someone is trying to “put you in your place” humor is one of the best ways to diffuse this kind of power struggle.
- Don’t use humor to cover up other emotions – For humor to work it must be something that both parties are in on and cannot be offensive to either party. If for example, you are using humor to cover up your anger then your humor may be offensive. So humor though very effective must also be used correctly or you can turn a bad situation into a really terrible situation.
It can be very difficult to remain calm if you feel like you have poured your heart and soul into a piece of artwork only to have someone give you a negative criticism. But if at all possible try to stay calm. Here are a few tips to help you with this:
- Count to 10 in your head – If you find that you are starting to really boil up inside then try the trick of silently counting to the number ten in your head and then respond. Sometimes holding a response back, using silence or not responding is the best answer of all.
- Take a deep breath – My apple watch reminds me when I need to breathe deeply. You can learn to practice the same technique in a stressful situation like when you are being criticized for your artwork. Learn to take a deep breath – breathing deeply can have a calming effect on your body.
Criticism of any kind can hurt, but one of the most important things you can learn to do is to carry on with your work and what you are doing. Here are some points to carry on:
- Avoid a doom and gloom attitude – When someone has criticized your artwork you may start to tell yourself things like you “can never be an artist” or that “everyone hates your artwork.” Avoid this kind of doom and gloom attitude as it does not help you, your artwork or your success as an artist.
- Focus on the positive – instead, learn to focus on the positive and realize that this is just one or two people’s opinion and it is not everyone’s opinion. So focus instead on your successes.
Believe in Your Artwork
Believe that no matter what anyone else says, you know what you are doing. You believe in yourself, your ability and your artwork. Here are a few ways you can continue to believe in yourself and your artwork when dealing with criticism:
- Don’t compare yourself to others – Do not compare yourself to others. Instead look at your own artwork, practice and work hard at your artwork and believe in yourself and your abilities.
- Understand your artistic style – If you truly understand your artistic style and what drives your work and how then you can more easily accept and take criticism of your artwork.
- You are the expert to your own artwork – Yes, that is right, you are after all the expert for your artwork. Others may have opinions but it does not mean their opinions are correct as you are the expert.
I love this quote by Ron Brackin, the author, as he talks about criticism of any kind of artwork:
All artists are going to have to learn how to deal with criticism It is part of being an artist. But by actively trying to follow some of these steps it can help to not only diffuse a negative situation but help in how you properly handle the criticism for your artwork. This can make all the difference as you never want to be in a situation where you are burning a bridge as you never know if you may need to cross that bridge again someday.
What is Constructive Criticism?
Not all criticism is negative there is also constructive criticism. Here are some ways you can tell if the criticism is actually a constructive criticism:
- The criticism is done with compassion towards the person they are criticizing. This means the person who is criticizing really cares about you.
- The opinions of the person who is giving criticism are well-reasoned and thought out. Their feedback is valid and important and they have a reason for their criticism.
- Usually, their comments are so well thought out that they will have both negative and positive comments, meaning all the comments will not just be negative.
- They will have well-thought opinions and a reason for those opinions so that they can tell you as to why they feel the way they do.
What is Negative Criticism?
Negative criticism is not the same as constructive criticism. Here is how you can tell if someone is giving you negative criticism:
- Negative criticism is disapproval or disagreement with something.
- Negative criticism is usually an attack against a person, in that the attack can be very personal in nature or it can be interpreted that way.
- A person giving negative criticism would usually not have anything positive to say about what they are criticizing, so much to the point that their focus is completely and totally negative and pessimistic.