A Life in Paint
The questions are rolling in quickly now, so I figured I'd better answer another one today. This one comes from Marjorie, who asks, "hi Carl, I was wondering, how do you handle criticism as an artist?"
Well, Marjorie, and anyone else that was quietly wondering the same thing, I'll say this, the short answer is not very well. That being said, I suspect leaving it at that won't make for a very interesting blog post.
Criticism is part of the job when you're an artist, it just is. For me, especially in the very early stages of my career, I had a very difficult time accepting it in anything close to a graceful manner. I suppose it's because my work is so personal, I paint based on mood, inspiration and emotion, so there's just so much of "me" in the work that it felt in some way like a criticism of it was also critical of me. The thing is, art is, in many ways a subjective thing and based on personal taste, so really, to stay in this game, a person has to get over that attitude if they're going to have any hope of not spending everyday walking around under an angry defensive cloud. So, as I grew, both up just generally, and as an artist, I learned a few things about dealing with critics, such as:
1. Consider the Source: People just love to give their opinions, whether they're asked or not, that's just life. But who are these people providing not so positive feedback? It's a question you need to consider. Is this person an art critic, a collector, a gallery owner or anyone else that has any power to shape or contribute to the course of your career? No? Are they a knowledgeable art lover? Okay, well, then smile and file that comment in your mental trash bin and empty it. Don't be a jerk, always be gracious, you can actually do this with a smile and something like, "thank you for your opinion, I'll keep that in mind." Why the trash bin? Because more often than not these types of criticisms come from family, friends and acquaintances that have no interest in collecting your work, know nothing about art and have no power to change the trajectory of your career, it's just like me saying I don't like the sweater you're wearing today. There's no way it's going to affect your life in any way whether you accept or reject the so called advice, unless you allow it to.
2. Consider the Spirit: Before you go off all half cocked and get defensive and start shooting back, take a second, think about the spirit in which the critique is offered. Believe it or not, very few of these "suggestions" will have been designed to hurt or "diss" you as the young people say. More often than not, the comment is simply based on personal taste or a lack of familiarity with the type or style of work. They aren't trying to be mean, they think they're helping. Again, smile and thank them for their opinion.
3. File Under Consideration and Revisit: Sometimes, an artist will receive suggestions or critiques from a person or people that do have the ability to contribute to their career, gallery owners, collectors, art critics, etc. These are people who know about art and their opinions may well warrant some consideration. I've found the best thing is not to react right away. Again, smile and thank them if you're face to face, or if it's via email, which pretty much everything is now, just don't type. Pause, shut up, file it under later consideration and come back to it later, when it doesn't sting so much. Then, go back, consider the comment with a clear head. It may just have some merit. And if it still doesn't, that's okay too, no harm done.
4. Remember the Good Times: Okay, not really times, but when faced with negative comments, and you find yourself feeling a bit down, take a minute to remember all the wonderful things people have said about your work, the accolades, the triumphs, you know, the good stuff. Remember those things, allow yourself to bask in that for a bit, walk away from the easel, turn off the computer and while you're basking in the light of your own glow, go for a nice walk, enjoy something other than work, like sunshine and fresh air.