Deal with criticism like a boss

Ever had someone tell you that they didn’t like you or what you do and felt great afterward?  No? Me neither. I’m a serial over-thinker, so I look at criticism from every angle and from every angle in alternate universes and often lose sight of what was even being talked about in the first place.  Painting is an art, photography is an art, but giving and receiving criticism can be an art too. What is the best way to handle, not only critics, but the criticism itself?

Before we know how to take a punch, maybe it’s best to learn how to give one without injuring someone else.  If you’ve been around long enough in the art world, you’ll know that there’s good, constructive criticism and, conversely, bad, destructive criticism.  

The different types of criticism

Constructive criticism gives the receiver something tangible to work with; an action or behavior to change, improve or fix.  Destructive criticism is, just as the name sounds, aimed at breaking down or diminishing the receiver’s work or confidence. Take a good look at the last time you gave a critique, whether you divulged or not.  Were your words aimed at changing a behavior or meant to devalue the other person? Always try to give constructive criticism, or none at all. Constructive criticism is important because it requires the giver to, first, observe and then analyze.  Anyone can say something sucks. It takes objective analysis to give concrete reasons WHY it’s awful. From here, you can also work backward and realize that often when you can’t give concrete reviews of an artist’s work, there may be a personal cause for your distaste.

You know how to serve it, but can you take it?

The other half of the criticism pie is receiving it.  As a creative, it can be a challenge. A simple critique, even if it’s constructive, can feel like a bashing.  As a professional, reacting as if it is a personal attack (even if it is) is one of the worst things we can do.  Receive criticism with grace and competence.

Listen —Avoiding or immediately dismissing any criticism is a tell-tale sign of an insecure creative and doesn’t inspire confidence in your brand.

Ask questions — If a critique is unclear, don’t be afraid to politely and openly ask for clarification.  This isn’t an interrogation, but an inquiry for better understanding. It’s hard to fix something you don’t understand.  

Even if it’s destructive criticism, thank your detractor.  If you need examples, take a look at the ways that big companies handle their critics on social media.  For the most part, you’ll notice that many of them include an apology and an open invitation to talk about the issue.  Being able to handle criticism appropriately and professionally is a great way to demonstrate that you listen and value the opinions of others.  Remember that, especially if it’s on social media, potential clients can see how you react. Your critic may even be a potential client! So be sure to always put your best foot forward and respect others.

If you remember nothing else, remember that criticism is an opinion; it’s an amalgamation of another person’s experience.  It isn’t wrong or right, it just is. The consolation prize is that your creation elicits any response at all, good or bad.  Accept that not everyone is going to like you. Accept that not everyone is going to like your work. Pizza doesn’t even get to 100% at the polls and pizza is delicious.  So just shake ‘em off and keep on feeding your hustle.

How are you dealing with criticism like a boss?  Tell us your best practices!

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Deborah Dumont is an artist, mother and wife. She’s the mastermind behind DMD Studio Art and is interested in painting, cute things, writing, coffee and Asian language and culture. Deborah has been painting for over 20 years and mainly works with resin and fluid acrylics.

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