When Your Work is Criticized
It’s Not Always About You
How do you handle it when your work is criticized? Whether you are an artist working for a company or you’re an independent artist taking on commissioned work, you’re bound to come up against criticism eventually. If you have a formal art education, then you’ve gone through your fair share of class critiques. In class, I’m sure you bit your tongue and didn’t mouth off to your teacher for the sake of a grade. In the real world, it will be your employer or your client who is doing the criticism. Even if they don’t word it in the form of a criticism, asking you to make a change indirectly tells you that they didn’t like something, right?
It’s nice to think that your work is so perfect that everyone will just love it, all of it, all of the time. But let’s face it, you’re not perfect and neither is your art. Some people will like it, others won’t. Logically, odds are pretty good that sooner or later, someone will criticize your work. So, when your work is criticized, how do you handle it?
Consider the Source
First of all, let me differentiate. Criticism from an uneducated source shouldn’t even be an issue. I discussed this in the Not Good Enough Mentality post in the Ask For Feedback section. When an individual like this only offers an “It sucks” comment with no educated reason as to why they think that way, dismiss it. They don’t know what they’re talking about and it’s clearly a knee-jerk opinion. People are entitled to their opinions. Don’t take offense. If they say they don’t like it and can offer some constructive reasons why, such as some perceived flaw in the basic foundations of art (value, form, perspective, etc.), then perhaps listen to what they have to say and reevaluate your work from their perspective. You can choose to make changes or not.
More than likely however, when your work is criticized by an employer, they do have some education in art. They’re also not likely to just tell you that it sucks without giving you a reason why. In this case, what do you do? Throw a tantrum and storm out of your boss’ office? Go back to your desk and cry or sulk? Or do you pull up your big boy/girl undies and make the necessary changes? If you want to keep your job for very long, you probably should do the latter. But how do you consistently do that without it getting under your skin?
Try to consider these things:
- You applied for the job and accepted, hopefully having done your research on the company. You knew what type of artists they hired and what type of look they were after. More than likely, you told them in an interview that yes, you could do the work. So, do what you said you would do when you accepted the job.
- Realize that it’s not about you, personally. The company is after that certain look. It has nothing to do with you, really. They want what they want. You’re getting paid anyway. Just do it how they want it. That’s why they hired you.
- If they’re asking for something that violates some of those basic foundations that were drilled into you in art school, and you’re unwilling to break those foundations, you can try to politely point it out to them. If they still insist, do the work as they request. You don’t have to put your name on it if it bothers you that much and you don’t want to sign something you determine to be less than your best work.
The point is, in the case where you have an employer, they hired you to do the job. They have a certain look that they like. Can you imagine if Disney hired an artist and that artist insisted on drawing in the old early-80’s Heavy Metal cartoon style? I can guarantee you that they would not be a Disney artist for very long.
The Challenges for Independent Artists
Now, if you’re an independent artist and a client who commissioned you is the one doing the criticizing, they won’t necessarily have a formal art education. In fact, chances are good that they won’t. You can still try politely to educate them on the basics of art, but it probably wouldn’t mean much to them if they’re set in their ways as to what they want. To a degree, you still shouldn’t take it personally. If they can explain why they want certain changes made, and it won’t cause you to lose sleep over it, then go ahead and make the changes. If it does, you might consider one of two options:
- If you really need the money, make the changes anyway, but don’t sign the work. I get it. Sometimes times are tough. You do what you have to do to get by. Once you’ve completed the job, it’s up to you whether you accept future work from them.
- If you just can’t stomach it, apologize, give them their deposit back, and say you can’t do the work. You can explain politely that they hired you based on your work that they’ve probably already seen. That’s your style and you wouldn’t be able to deliver what they want because it’s a style other than your own.
Patience is a Virtue, but Being Prepared is Wise
Let’s be honest, nit-picky clients are just a pain. I’ll agree that they can be incredibly annoying and it can be incredibly difficult to continue being polite with them. As an independent artist, anticipating these clients is just smart business on your part. It’s up to you to let them know somewhere in writing, whether it’s on your order page or on the receipt you give to them for their deposit (or both), that you’ll allow for 2 or 3 changes before you have to add extra fees. Even if you do have it in writing, you should still verbally let them know in the beginning stages of your transaction that this is your policy. Not many people read the fine print, after all. Once this is made known, most people keep the nit-pickiness to a minimum. I’ll cover more on why this is so important in a future post.
In either case, be polite and respectful (even if you think they’re an idiot). It’s a small world and you never know who they might know. At the very least, they’ll respect you and appreciate you being up front and honest with them.
Please note that different artists will have different challenges. In my case for example, people come to me knowing exactly what they’re going to get. That’s precisely the reason they come to me. They want a photorealistic graphite drawing of their pet and that’s what I deliver. There really are no other variables with what I do other than eliminating or including collars or backgrounds. That’s discussed at the beginning so there are no questions later. By the way, I charge extra for backgrounds. That’s discussed, too.
On the other hand, painters, illustrators, ceramic artists, etc., that have to sign their name to work with so many other variables, might come into situations like those mentioned above. “This is too big. That’s too small. Can we make this red instead of blue? Can this turn to the left a little more? Can you make this part…” You get my drift. Whereas graphic artists or web designers who don’t necessarily sign their name to things, might not give a rat’s patooty what the client wants or how it grates against their design standards. For them it may be easier to just focus on the bottom dollar.
It may be worth your while (and your sanity) to determine what you’re willing to handle as an employee or as an independent artist and if necessary, adjust your situation accordingly. This may mean finding another job, being careful to not burn any bridges along the way. If you’re an independent artist it may really be in your best interest to sit down, write up a contract form which states the work you agree to do, for how much, in what amount of time, with how many revisions, and the fees for each additional revision. Those basic conditions should be on any contract you draw up to avoid any misunderstandings once the job is underway. If there are any other specifications particular to your artwork, they can also be added. If you are not sure how to begin, Google artist contracts to find examples to pull ideas from.
It really isn’t a matter of IF your work will be criticized, but WHEN. And when your work is criticized, it’s up to you of course, how you’ll handle it. But with these few pointers, I hope you realize that you’re more in control than you think. By implementing some of these suggestions you can circumvent some of the criticisms altogether. By researching jobs properly, you’ll find a job that fits well. By having contracts in place, you limit nit-picky customers from the get go. But most of all, I hope that you take to heart that when someone criticizes your work, it’s not a personal attack. People want what they want and they like what they like. Every person’s aesthetics is unique and their sense of aesthetics might not fall in line with the basic foundations of art. You won’t be able to educate them all, but it’s up to you whether or not you choose to work for them.