This post is by guest author, Miranda Aschenbrenner. This article has been edited and published with the author's permission.You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
In art school, the most stressful part of any class was always the critique. This was when you put the results of your hard work up in front of everyone, explained your ideas, and waited for the criticisms - ahem, feedback - to come rolling in. This was when you put it all on the line to find out if anyone else thought what you were doing was valid.
Even if you're not in art school, life is full of situations where you have to expose yourself to other people's judgments. Whether it's an informal critique through a gallery, an artist talk or exhibition, a studio visit, or just your friends coming to your house, chances are you've been in a position where other people have seen your work and have had something to say about it.
Even when you're content with your direction and don't care what others think of it, it can be hurtful to hear negative comments. If you're already unsure or a little insecure, it can be downright damaging. Heck, even the positive comments can be confusing, leaving you to wonder, "is that really how people see my work?"
Artists constantly receive comments, criticisms and general feedback about their art. As an artist, you need to learn how to deal with these without letting it effect you too much. Here are some strategies to help you survive a formal or informal critique.
Remember Where They're Coming From
No matter how objective people try to be, their own beliefs, likes and dislikes, and experiences will inform any comments they make about your art. Other artists sometimes give advice that encourages you to work in a way that is similar to their approach. This isn't intentional, it's just that they are coming from a place that's familiar to them. I am more likely to comment on the formal qualities of an artwork, just because that is what I'm interested in myself.
Take it With a Grain (or a Shakerful) of Salt
People only give their opinions; there's no such thing as right or wrong. Even if the person giving advice is a respected artist, your professor, or a gallery curator, it doesn't mean that theirs is the definitive voice on the matter. Their opinion may be more educated than others', but at the end of the day it's still an opinion. Don't take any critique as the gospel truth. You need to weigh the advice and use what you can.
Ask Yourself, "Is it Relevant?"
It's important to examine any advice you're given and determine whether or not it relates to your art practice. If you're getting feedback that seem to focus on something completely different than what you're interested in, it may mean that your "message" is somehow being diluted by something else in your art.
I experienced this when I was at school. I was painting tools on doors, choosing tools only because of their relationship to construction. In my head, I just thought of them as shapes in a composition. In my critiques though, I got all kinds of feedback about the meaning the tools brought to the work. If you find that the feedback you're getting has nothing to do with your work, figure out how you can become more focused. I got rid of the tools altogether and just painted rectangles!
Remember it for Later
Another thing I like to do is to file away criticism for later. It's often difficult to take it in all at once. It's easier to mull it over when you get the chance, and sift through to find what is usefdul. Sometimes, the feedback you get isn't relevant now, but it might be relevant later in your career. I still think on critiques I had several years ago to see if there's anything new that I can take from them. Ideas that seemed completely off the wall at the time might suddenly be very intriguing!
Don't Take it Personally
If you have a particularly bad critique, or lots of negative feedback, try not to take it personally. For the most part, people are only trying to help you, in their own way (which isn't always helpful, of course, but it's the thought that counts!). Sometimes, it can seem like people go out of their way to be mean and nasty. In those cases, you should still try to
remember that it's not about you! It's likely more about those people and their insecurity and their issues. You will need to develop a thick skin, but just remember, it's something we all have to deal with!
I hate to say it, but this applies to positive feedback as well! Enjoy it because you deserve it, but don't let it go to your head! It's still just one person's opinion, and if you take it for granted, it could make the negative feedback that much harder to take. I wish I had known this ten years ago! All throughout high school I got awesome grades in art; I was one of the top students. Then I went on to university and suddenly I was surrounded by all the other people who were top students in their schools. My first grades were quite a shock!
Ask Yourself, "Is it True?"
This is the point when you need to be really honest with yourself. Don't brush off every negative comment and think that everyone is too blind to see your true talent. Take a good hard look at yourself and ask yourself, "is it true?" If it is, suck it up! Don't wallow in it! Figure out what you need to do to fix it, and then do it. It won't be easy, but it is necessary. We all need good, honest criticism to be able to grow and reach our full potential!
And as for the strange comments...
I've gotten of weird responses to my work. Not bad ones, but ones that made me think to myself, "what the heck?" People also seem to like making really weird suggestions. I can't tell you how many times people have suggested that my abstract paintings should spin. To me, the idea is absurd; I couldn't think of anything I'd want to do less! But that's what they see, and at the end of the day I'm just grateful that something about my work moved them enough to think beyond what was in front of their eyes. My advice: laugh it off and don't worry about it!
There you have it, my guide to surviving a critique! What strategies do you use?