“You’re not so great” — in print

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As you may know, or figured out, I am a visual artist. This blog is a component of one of my works of the same name. Recently I had a two-person exhibition of the postcards and pamphlet original works (and other work) at a local gallery, about which a local blogger wrote a review.  Here’s the gist of the review on a structural level: it was negatively critical of my work, but highly praising of the other artist’s work.  Bummer.

Now, any artist that is in it for the long, professional haul knows s/he will receive criticism (hopefully) at many points in his/her career (and if the artist can’t handle criticism that can be very personal, s/he is in the wrong business!). But we aren’t immune to emotions or ego-bruising. Having received my first-ever negative review, I was confronted with a  multitude of potential reactions. I could:

  1. Write a nasty comment on the blog, detailing the missed points of consideration that should have been given to the show (the dialogue of the work in it).
  2. Send him a copy of my artist statement and the link to the blog, questioning whether or not he took the time to read them.
  3. Be irritable and pissed at the other artist who received praise (she is a friend and colleague).
  4. Walk around mopey for a week.
  5. Not tell anyone about the review and hope to God they didn’t see it–criticism can be embarrassing.
  6. Change my work to suit his tastes; cater to his desires.
  7. Retaliate by writing a negative review of his work, if and when I ever see it exhibited.

OR I could:

  1. Acknowledge that he is just one viewer and entitled to his opinion, even if I think he missed the point of the work.
  2. Acknowledge that even if I don’t like what he wrote, he might have a point. How can I try to clarify my message?
  3. Rewrite my artist statement, adding just a sentence or two that could reinforce the point of the work.
  4. Be grateful: bad press is always better than no press.
  5. Be joyful for the other artist: she deserved the praise and it was right on target.
  6. Share the review with all my friends and colleagues on Facebook. Hey, no one is perfect, no art (or person for that matter) is universally disliked, and anything bringing a dialogue to my work is awesome.
  7. Think about the points, take it to the work, and use it if necessary. But avoid reacting or pandering to someone’s sensibilities. Basically, stay on track with the work, but with a new point of criticism in mind.
  8. Make a plan to, should I ever meet him, thank him for taking the time to view and review the show.

Now, I know many of you are not artists, but there are plenty of times in our lives when we will receive criticism that just cannot/should not be ignored. So, my suggestion is: take a moment (or a lot of moments), feel how you feel about the comment (but don’t act on it–not yet), and consider your possible reactions. How will the optional reactions serve you in the future? How will it make you look/how will it change others’ perceptions of you? What is the reaction that will serve you the best and move you forward on your goals? What can you learn from the criticism? Is there anything you can take from it and apply to your life?   Then and only then should you respond to the criticism. And I promise, you will definitely be better for it!

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5 thoughts on ““You’re not so great” — in print

  1. i’m no art critic, but i like your work *and* your blog.
    i liked the other artist’s work, too. and if the ‘covet test’ proves anything (wanting the work reflects its strength), i would covet *both* of your work. i don’t feel this way about much stuff, even the stuff in which i see merit.

    great response. we all *do* get this kind of reaction to *something* in life. thanks for the helpful strategies.

  2. as a writer working for an advertising and marketing firm, i too have to deal with criticism with each creative job i am privileged to work on, and i can certainly relate to where you’re coming from. i often find myself very attached to some of the concepts i come up with, while others i’ve generated seem bland or simple, and aren’t my favorite at all.

    as it just so happens, at least 8 out of 10 times the client will select one of my least favorite ideas, and/or my creative director will quickly axe one or all of my favorites and choose one i consider to be somewhat boring.

    your approach to criticism, and how to react is right on. though it can be hard NOT to take it personally when someone shows dislike for my creative style or ideas, i don’t take it that way in the least. because it is simply one clients or person’s perspective on the matter saying “nah… that’s not so great.”

    Beethoven, Bach, Van gogh and plenty of other famous thinkers/creators must have had some negative feedback at some point in their career, just as they have received great praise for it from so many over the years. i think the phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” comes into play in this sense… because though one person might have had nothing but negative things to say, as demonstrated above another person had only positive feedback to give.

    i just wanted to touch on this, because its an experience i find very close to home, and i enjoy your blog SO much, i thought it best to “have your back” on this one… which i totally do. keep up the good work! 🙂

  3. Wow, thank you Bry very much for your wonderful comment! Both insightful and very kind. Advertising/marketing seems like it would be such a difficult industry, always in flux and so highly subjective…. I really admire those who succeed in it. Congratulations on your success! You have a terrific attitude. 🙂

    And thanks for backing me up and for the support–it means a great deal to me (and made my night)!

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