Turning Artistic Criticism into MotivationDec 10, 2021
By Leigh Penner
Cover Image by Anita McComas
Turning Criticism Into Motivation
No one likes feeling criticized. Different people do have different reactions to it, though. For some people, criticism makes you shrink inside and effectively paralyzes your forward momentum. I had a guitar player in my band like that. Someone she knew told her they didn't like our band sound. That unhelpful and generalized critique broke something in her -- she quit the band a few weeks later. Other people, though, feel the sting of critical words and rise up to let it propel them forward.
Someone once told me I'd never be able to write a book. Well, twelve published novels and three published works of non-fiction later, I beg to differ. That first book, though, my entire motivating focus was on proving them wrong. That was what had me persevering through the work.
So, why is that? Why do some people rise up and see criticism as a challenge to be met, while other people fold inside, and walk away?
Part of the answer is as simple as personality. We all have a fight or flight instinct, and one of those reactions will be your particular personality's dominant reflex. It's important to know that regardless of which side of that spectrum you fall on, there is nothing wrong with you. These instincts are part of the human survival instinct -- they exist to help us.
The facets of our personalities inform our reactions, our decisions, the choices we make, the ways we react to other people, and the beauty we bring to the world. However, allowing our instinctive reactions to stressful situations to dominate our future actions can be problematic. It can limit the risks we chose to take and the joy we experience. So, as elemental as personality is, it is also good to know that as humans we have this amazing capacity for learning and growth. In other words, we can learn when to allow our instincts to guide us and when to develop the discernment to filter our feelings -- and react accordingly.
If you receive criticism on your art, there are several practical ways to prevent harsh words from crushing your creative spirit.
1. Consider the source. So, one guy told you he doesn't like your stuff. Fair enough, and also, so what? That is his opinion, and he gets to have one. If multiple voices are saying the same thing, well, you might want to consider their ideas. Then again, maybe you are just that trendsetter artist who is ahead of your time. Hopefully, the world will catch up with you soon.
2. Objective evaluation. It takes bravery, but there is a time to accept that constructive criticism can actually make you a better artist. Emphasis on constructive. If someone just wants to tear you down, you really need to approach their thoughts with care. If someone is genuinely telling you what they see, though, there is always value in a fresh set of eyes. If you are the person who has learned to see through the eyes of others to improve your art, you are a determined artist. You are brave and determined enough to use every resource to make your art the very best it can be -- even when honest assessment is uncomfortable.
3. Confidence in your calling. There is a time to stand your ground and simply know that through good times and bad, you are called to be a creative. You were made to create art. You are the purpose-driven artist. This is, quite simply, this is who you are; you really have no choice in the matter. Today, these are the skills you have. Tomorrow, because you never stop doing the work, you will have an entirely new repertoire of skills. So, criticism pertains to now... never to tomorrow.
4. Acceptance that your art is not for everyone, but it is for someone. And that is enough. You are the idealist artist. What you do has a unique purpose -- and is uniquely satisfying. Criticism has no power in the face of the joy your art brings.
5. Acceptance that the person who benefits most from your artwork may in fact be... you! Does creativity bring you joy? Well, that is the bottom line, isn't it? You are the blissful artist. If you spend your time doing something you love, you will thrive. And that is more than enough reason to develop selective hearing to the critics -- and continue following your bliss.
At times, we are each different type of artist described here. Just remember, when critics are slinging mud at what you hold dear, you don't have to quit. You don't have to turn tail and flee. Instead, take this list and apply the ones which speak to you. It is possible to experience criticism safely. Learning that skill may even help you grow in your art practice.
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