“You’re not so great” — in print

Fake Headline

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!