So today, I’m going to get into the mud a bit. There’s one thing that an artist needs to be able take and take it well. All criticism can be beneficial. The good puffs you up and the bad lets the air out with a whimpering wheeze. Is it a hard pill to swallow? I mean like one of those multi-vitamins that’s the size of an ice cube and makes you think, “This is going to test my gag reflex”. Yes, but, again, beneficial.
I admit, my experience with criticism has been on the side of easy so far. I think that’s the natural progression of being an artist (or at least I’m jaded enough to hope so for the sake of the majority). You create and you show your closest family and friends first. They tell you nothing but good with some helpful suggestions and you feel like skipping and whistling around the block. But then (ah, yes, the notorious “but then”) you take your art and throw it out beyond your trusted circle and get hammered. I’ve been preparing myself for this confidence crippling event for a while now. I know not everyone is going to think I’m the second coming of Tolkien (to be honest, though, I don’t want to be).
Criticism is inevitable. Not just in the art world but everywhere. Job performances are constantly being scrutinized and upon review time, you either get the good raise or the crappy one. Your output determines your worth. In our society, that’s true, especially in the work force. In the arts, your output is subjective to preference. That’s the good news.
If you don’t hone your craft and put the necessary effort into creating something you are proud of, knowing you gave it all, then expect harsh critics to stomp, gut, scratch, burn and view what you did as a waste of their time. If you do hone your skills, then it’s more likely you will get the opposite reaction.
Now, as I’ve said before, you can’t please everyone. It doesn’t even sound that good when you step back and consider the full range of that idea. Imagine being surrounded by “yes men” who would fish your used tissue out of the trash and immortalize it on a mantle piece. Yeah, not good. And it doesn’t help you in the long run. In art, you want to start but never be satisfied with just that single piece produced in the beginning.
There’s an innate creative desire inside artists that want to go beyond what they’ve done and challenge themselves to try new things, improve upon the old methods, and/or test their boundaries. Art is daring in many respects.
Learning to take criticism is a must but it does not have to defeat us. It should be taken but not be made a keepsake, used as an heirloom to pass down onto your children.
Here’s my diatribe: you cannot go through life afraid to be offended. Everywhere we look, people base their entire happiness on whether or not others are allowed to say or do something that might offend them. People outside of your inner circle are not going to be kind for the sake of keeping your feelings intact. It’s a great disservice for us as a society to travel this road.
I’m a writer. There are going to people who love what I write and there are going to be people who tell me I should seek another profession. Is that hurtful? Sure but only if I determine that another person’s personal preference, taste, and/or critique has power over my passions, dreams and desires.
A good way to prepare yourself for the future of criticism is to ask yourself some basic questions:
How do I want my art to have an impact in the world?
If any of these involve an answer of attaining money or acceptance, then I think we’ve found the problem. Neither of these (here’s the cliché) can bring you true satisfaction or happiness. They just leave you wanting more. You will become an addict, getting a fix but then wanting more to meet your needs. It’s not worth it! Search for and find the answers to these questions that include you being happy despite what others can give you.
Trust in your abilities. Trust that what you produce comes from a genuine place of joy. It’s easy to say grow thick skin and you’ll be fine but I think it goes deeper. Pleasing everyone is impossible no matter what you do in life and as we’ve all discovered in our social media culture, avoid the comment sections on YouTube. There are a lot of trolls out there on the interwebz who seriously have nothing better to do than spread hate and horrible vitriol that somehow makes them feel accomplished. Ignore them. Avoid the places where you know people will purposely try to be hurtful. You deserve better.
Call to Action: Answer the questions above honestly. If you find that your answers have some bad motives, then consider why. Pursue a path that changes these to what I’ve hopefully provided as helpful.