Critiques have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I would look to my artist Dad for his feedback on whatever drawing I was working on. Later, there were group critiques in high school and college. From an early age, many artists learn how to develop a thick skin when it comes to critics.
I have to admit, in my younger days there were a lot of times when I’d take a bad critique as a personal affront. This even carried over into my professional career. Until a couple of years ago I never fully realized how much my ego and need for approval got in the way.
How could they not like what I did? Were they blind? It’s GORGEOUS! I poured my SOUL into that piece!
I’m sure a few of you out there have felt the same way at times. No one likes being told what’s wrong with a pet project, especially writers who have spent months or years writing a book.
The Good, The Bad, The Give and The Take
There’s an art to criticism. You have to know how to both give and take it with care and grace. It’s not always easy, but with practice and a lot of self-awareness, it is possible to be good at it.
- Remember, it’s not personal. This is the hardest aspect of taking criticism. As artists we’re very attached to our work. It’s a very personal piece of our souls made public. Take the criticism in the spirit it’s given: To help you improve. So often we work so closely with our projects we can’t see what’s in front of us. A fresh set of eyes will point out the trouble spots. Once you see them, you can make them better.
- Listen. Keep an open mind and heart. Be a sponge and not a wall. Absorb what the other person (or persons) says and view the situation as if you were an outsider, too. You’ll be surprised what you learn.
- Clarity. Ask questions if something isn’t making sense to you. You have that right. Talk about it until it’s hammered out and you know what your next action steps are.
- Own It. Sometimes mistakes are revealed. The best thing you can do is own it and move on. No need to offer excuses, those don’t help anyone in the long run. Usually people get angry because they already KNOW they’ve made a mistake and just don’t want to admit it to anyone—not even themselves. They’re embarrassed at being called out. If you can, find the humor in it. Some mistakes can actually be pretty funny. Remind me to tell you about the “red bananas” sometime.
- Show a little TLC. Giving criticism is all about attitude. Remember, you’re talking to a fellow human being. They have feelings just like you do. They may also have worked very, very hard on what they’re showing you. The critique is about the object, not the person.
- Details. Be specific with your critique. Saying “I don’t like it” isn’t helpful. It’s vague and offers no advice for improvement. Specify what doesn’t work for you and offer a way to make it better. Sometimes this is a matter of personal taste and other times it’s a technical or skills issue. Decide which it is and find a solution.
- No two snowflakes are the same. And neither is each person you encounter. Know who you’re talking to and what their personality is like. How do they learn best? Will they respond well to bluntness? Or do they need a more delicate approach?
- Be honest. Above all, don’t lie. Don’t tell someone it’s great when it isn’t. People are asking your advice for a reason and it’s probably because they consider you an expert in your field. They are turning to you for your experience. They want your help. Yessing them to death or telling them something is wonderful when it isn’t not only hinders their growth, it shows a lack of respect on your part.
How do you deal with criticism? Have you had to deal with bad reviews or harsh editors? More importantly, what steps did you take afterward to improve? Tell us about it in the comments!