1. Oct, 2021

Criticism - Friend or Foe?

Criticism, the word that strikes fear into every amateur or beginner artist.  It's a word that can make or break you.  But is it really all that bad, or should we listen to it at all? 

First of all, I think we need to determine what constitutes 'criticism' and what constitutes 'critique', because there is a difference.  Critique is usually constructive and helpful.  It can sometimes be uncomfortable, but ultimately it makes you a better artist.  Being able to listen to critique and use it to your advantage is an important part of being a successful artist.  If we didn't have that, how can we grow?  Similarly, being able to self critique in a constructive way is important.  Knowing what is or isn't working and persevering until we're satisfied is vital.  As artists, we must never stop learning and striving for better.  

Then there is criticism.  This is unhelpful and usually someone's personal opinion from a very rigid perspective.   Art is so subjective that it can be all to easy for an artist to take criticism personally.  As an artist you are putting your soul out there for all to see.  You're inner depths are exposed and if another person doesn't take the time to understand you, then they are unlikely to understand your art, especially if it doesn't fall into the realms of realism.  

Identifying the difference is a skill every artist must learn and sometimes its learnt the hard way.  It can be upsetting to hear and even now, after nearly 30 years, if I'm tired or having a bad day generally, hearing criticism can be difficult.  But when you reflect, its then you must decide, was that helpful and can I use it to grow?  Or was it someone's opinion where they may have misunderstood the purpose.  

A lot of helpful critique, is not usually about the technical stuff.  You can look at an abstract piece of art and embrace it for being abstract and still be able to critique it in the sense of why the artist may have just missed the mark on conveying their message and how they could enhance it.  
Unhelpful criticism usually comes when the person giving it is not looking deep enough.  Critising technique and style is a bit of an 'eye roll' moment and can reveal a certain lack of knowledge in art.  Art is not all about technique.  It's good to know how to be technically accurate and realistic, as it enables an artist to understand form and value, but once that is mastered, technique is more of a side hustle.  It is more about the feeling, emotion and that 'X' factor that counts.  No gallery owner should be commenting on the technical ability of an artist who approaches them, they should be looking deeper.  The physical act of creating and making creative technical decisions is the job of the artist, not the gallery.  The subject matter doesn't have to be a carbon copy of a photo to be good art.  It doesn't have to be completely in proportion or realistic to be good.  You only have to look at all the major art movements to know that.  But if you can stir the emotions of even one person, it's good art.  

So, don't listen to the criticism, listen to constructive critique.  Sort the wheat from the chaff and brush off the unhelpful stuff.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion about your art, but if it doesn't help you grow, it's not worth your time.  Just keep creating the way you want.  Get your uniqueness out into the world.  That's what makes us beautiful, being unique.  Just as a flower makes no excuses for being what they are, they don't try to change to fit your criteria, they are what they are and so should artists be.