An Educated Guess

Musings on life in general

7 Ways for Artists to Deal With Negative Feedback

If you’re like me, you’ve frequently seen people get their feelings hurt on the internet. In fact, it’s such a common occurrence that all sorts of words have been created to describe the process, my favorite of which is ‘butthurt’.

One of the most tragic ways in which people end up getting hurt is when they post an original creation on the internet for others to appreciate, and it gets torn to shreds by harsh critics who have no personal stake in being considerate to strangers. There are many sides to this problem, and all of them have some degree of merit. For example, some people suggest that you shouldn’t post something to the internet without understanding that it may receive negative feedback, while others suggest that online critics should learn to be more constructive and considerate.

Everyone wants to be praised for their work. It’s the extremely rare individual who creates things and doesn’t care how they’re received. I’ve seen mass-market, award-winning authors break down in tears because of a bad review, so it’s not just the mark of an amateur. However, in the case of said award-winning authors, they can console themselves with the piles of money that they should (but don’t) have, and with all of the other people out there who think their work is great. The average person on the internet has no such recourse, and may even give up their art entirely based on too much harsh criticism.

Making someone give up their work isn’t what criticism is about. What it’s about is giving people the feedback they need to get better at their craft. At least, ideally.

In reality, many people don’t understand the difference between criticism of a work of art and criticism of a person. And that’s people on both sides of the issue, critics and artists alike. I’ve seen many artists get personally offended by legitimate criticism of something they’ve created, and I’ve seen many critics cross the line and start criticizing the artist rather than the art.

Regardless of whose fault it is, this situation still arises every day, if not every few minutes.

So artists, here’s a list of things that will help you deal with it:

1. No one can ‘make’ you feel bad. They can say nasty things, or even do nasty things, and the only part of that process that you can control is how you respond to it. It may feel like your response to negativity is ‘natural’ or out of your control, but it isn’t either of those things, I assure you. The way that we respond to stimuli is a thoroughly learned behavior, and you CAN control it. It’s easier said than done, of course, but it’s a good first step toward developing a thicker skin.

2. Anything that you create, no matter how excited or proud of it you are, is flawed. ”Perfect” works of art just don’t exist because their value is inherently subjective. Find me a single work of art in the entire world that everyone thinks is perfect, and I’ll eat my hat. I’m serious, I will literally eat my hat. People who are far more talented than you, and far more successful than you, have been torn to shreds over their work many times; even people who you hold in historically high regard, like Shakespeare.

If people like William Shakespeare are at the mercy of bad reviews and nasty comments, what hope do you have? Best-selling novels, blockbuster films, and classical works of art have all garnered their share of criticism over the years.

3. You are not your work! I can’t possibly stress this enough. If someone insults your work, they are not insulting you; they probably don’t even know you well enough to make a real judgment about you one way or the other. People are fully capable of both liking you as a person, and disliking your work, and that’s okay! Not everyone has to like both, though it’s probably best if your significant other does. Still, it’s incredibly important to realize that even if you feel like it is, your work is not a part of you. I know you’ve worked very hard on it, and have labored and put your heart and soul into it, but the people who see/read/hear/whatever it don’t know that. They can’t tell how much of yourself you’ve put into your work, and you can’t expect them to treat your work nicely just because you tried really hard.

4. Find a balance between accepting and ignoring criticism. This is a hard thing to do, because it’s really easy to go too far to one side and either listen to too much criticism, or not enough. That’s a balance that you’ll have to strike for yourself, but if more than one person has the same criticism of your art/book/costume/sculpture, there’s probably something to it. Bear in mind that art is subjective, and if several people see your sculpture of a nude woman and think it looks like a monkey and an octopus having sex, it’s probably not because they’re ‘just not getting it’, but because you somehow failed to express yourself properly through your art. There’s always going to be that one weirdo who sees monkey/octopus sex in everything, but when you start seeing trends, that’s when to listen.

5. Always thank people who have offered feedback (provided that you’ve asked for it), even if it’s really negative. That person took time out of their day to comment on your piece of art, and they didn’t have to. Maybe they were motivated to just be a jerk to someone on the internet, or maybe they genuinely wanted to help you refine your art; there’s no real way to know, which is why you should thank them anyway. If someone was being a jerk, you’ll be the bigger person, and if someone was being nice, they’ll really appreciate it. Above all, don’t argue with someone who has expressed their opinion on your work. It’s their opinion, and they’re allowed to have it. Additionally, you’re almost never going to convince someone to like your work by arguing with them, so it doesn’t even serve a purpose. You can certainly explain your work to them, because that may help them understand and appreciate it, but don’t do it defensively or argumentatively. A simple ‘thank you for your comments’ will suffice, though it’s always nice to see a thoughtful consideration of the criticisms that were brought up.

6. Positive feedback is useless. I’m not talking about positive reviews, those are great because they convince other people to see/read/listen/buy/whatever your work. I’m talking about people who leave comments on your post with things like, “I love this!” or “Wow, this is great!”. While it may make you feel good and let you fall asleep with a smile on your face, it won’t help you become a better artist. Even comments like “I thought the third sentence in the last paragraph was awesome!” are useless, because of course YOU thought it was awesome… You wrote it!

Generally speaking, people will simply accept things that they think are good. Since you’ve presumably made this work of art according to your own artistic vision, garnering no negative comments on certain parts of it probably means that you should just keep doing things the way that you are.

Negative criticism is the best way for you to really get a feel for how people have received your work, and it’s the only way that you’ll really be able to grow as an artist. Look at negative criticism as having done you a favor by providing you with ways to improve your work. It may or may not help you to think, “Now I have to make it even better than before, so that X, Y, or Z critics will like it!” I don’t think that creating things for the approval of critics is necessarily the best tack, but hey, whatever works, right? Better to turn those negative reviews into the fuel that powers you to continue on than to quit. Which leads to our next, and last, point…

7. Don’t ever stop creating. Most people who create things are driven to do so because it satisfies some internal ‘itch’, or desire. No matter how negative someone else is, don’t ever let them take away your faith in yourself. The world is a big place, and there’s space for many different artistic visions. Your talent may be small and weak like the flame of a tea candle, but with the proper nourishment, you can grow it into a sizable campfire; that nourishment is your perseverance, not the praise of others. Have faith in yourself, not in your work, and you’ll continue to be able to grow as an artist.

  • 11 April 2012
  • 1