How to Handle It
Criticism. Nobody likes it and some people love dishing it out. Some critics might say that they’re just being honest and trying to help. But there’s a vast difference between a critique and flat out criticism. What’s the difference and how do you handle it when someone criticizes your artwork?
First of all, let’s differentiate between criticism and critique. Criticism is simply negative comments made in reference to someone or something, in this case, your artwork. Someone tells you that your work sucks and suggests that you should just quit trying. Criticism is always that. Negative with very little intelligence behind the statement. If you asked why they felt that way, you’d more than likely get the statement again with very little added to it. Chances are, the person doing the criticizing has little to no knowledge about art, is not an artist, or just wants to hate on someone.
A critique on the other hand, is from the Greek kritikē, from kritikos, or able to discern. In a nutshell a critique is “(Art Terms) a critical essay or commentary, esp on artistic work”. Yes, a critique is a form of criticism, but it is generally given as something constructive. The ability to discern requires some intelligence and so, a critique is well thought out and analyzed. A critique would offer reasons why the work didn’t measure up. For example, the balance of subject matter was awkward, the color didn’t harmonize well, the perspective was a bit off, or the anatomy was inaccurate. Statements like those offer a base for the artist to begin improvements if they choose to do so.
Either way, it can sting. A well thought out critique maybe a little less so, but it can still sting a little. So how do you handle it without losing your cool or being crushed by it?
If criticism is what you’re dealing with, consider the source first and foremost. If all the person is saying is…”Your work sucks. I don’t know why, but it just does. In fact, you suck. You should just quit,” let it roll off your back. This person is obviously not an artist (or they’d know why your work didn’t please them). And secondly, they are obviously not articulate enough to even express how they feel in an intelligent manner. Even if they didn’t have an art background, a discerning person would be able to say something like…”The color seems to clash,” or “The whole thing seems to be off balance.”
But how do you deal with it? Obviously, your natural response (especially if it’s online) is to fire off a response of your own. But that is exactly what your hater wants you to do! If you respond with “Thanks so much for your opinion. I appreciate it!” they are immediately shut down and have nowhere else to go with their negativity. Boom. Problem solved.
If you’re dealing with a well thought out critique and initially it upsets you, again…consider the source. For example, I’m not going to listen to the guy spouting off fitness advice, no matter how articulate he is, if he’s 50 pounds overweight, lives off drive-thru value meals and guzzles down gallons of soda. I don’t care if he’s an MD or a fitness trainer (and there are plenty out of shape trainers out there!). However, when it comes to art, appreciation or lack thereof is very specific to each individual. If you painted a perfectly lovely still life of pink roses, but the person looking at it can’t stand anything pink…well, you can’t find fault with that, really. It’s a color preference and we’re each entitled.
Now if the same pink-hating individual said, “You know what? I don’t personally like pink at all, but your work was technically very well done. It seems to me though that this piece could use a bit more contrast to really bring those roses to life.” This person clearly analyzed your work with a discerning eye and was able to make an intelligent comment that was both constructive and helpful…a proper critique. So what if it still stings a little? Well, you could thank the person and brush them off. But then you wouldn’t necessarily be learning anything, would you? Obviously, the person was well-spoken. It might behoove you to take some time and consider whether or not there was any validity to what they said. If so, try it! Make the adjustments and learn from the process.
***A brief tangent on making adjustments without touching your original*** Take a photo of your work in good lighting and upload it into a program like Photoshop. In the case of the pink roses, start playing with Photoshop’s contrast tool and see what you think. If you decide the pink-hater was right, make the adjustments to your original work.
Every mistake or less than stellar work is a stepping stone, an opportunity to learn and improve. Sometimes we get so caught up in our work and so close to it that we get a sort of tunnel vision and we can no longer see the flaws. If you brush off everyone’s opinions, you’re missing an opportunity to improve.
So to put a pretty bow on the subject of criticism…it’s going to happen. Brace yourself. Shut down the haters with kindness and don’t give them a second thought. Consider the source and take constructive critiques for all their worth. Take every opportunity to improve your skills, even if you might not initially agree.