“What the public criticizes in you, cultivate it. It is you.” — Jean Cocteau
When you work in any creative or artistic capacity — whether you earn a living from it or not — you’re an easy target for the negativity of others. The moment you present to the world the creation that you’ve put so much time and effort into, you can be sure the critics will emerge in force, prepared to pounce all over work.
Within the scope of the professional sector, I can accept the fact that critics are a necessary evil. They earn their living by being “experts” in a particular field, even if they don’t participate in contributing creatively to said field. They get to rant about and denigrate things that don’t conform to their specific, often far-too-narrow standards, and they convince the casual observer that what is being said is objectively true and valuable. The professional critic knows exactly what they are talking about, right? Not necessarily. Being a critic just means you get paid to have an opinion — and you know what they say about opinions.
Then there are those who don’t get paid. They love to stir the pot for free. They pop up in the comments section of your blog or website or your Flickr page and proceed to tell you everything that’s wrong with your work; how you should have composed your shot; how you should have written that last sentence; how you should being using Lightroom instead of Aperture. And you can’t help but wonder, if these people have such strong ideas about how everything should be, why don’t they just retreat to their little corner of the world and leave those who are socially well adjusted alone? I don’t know — too much time on their hands, insecurity, superiority complex; there is probably a pretty broad set of psychological implications to account for when considering this question. So I’ll leave all that for another time and place.
What about constructive criticism?
I think there’s always room for that. As the term itself implies, it’s a form of criticism that is actually useful — a critique, if you prefer. Sure, we could play a never-ending game of semantics, but the point, ultimately, is that constructive criticism can help a person improve as an artist. Constructive criticism is honest, sometimes brutally so, in its intent; but, unlike the inane, unnecessarily harsh jabs that litter the Web, constructive criticism is given for the benefit of the person who is sharing their work, not for the benefit of the one making the comment.
Are you looking for effective strategies on how to deal with negative criticism? Here’s a short list:
- Don’t deal with it. Ignore it. Ask yourself if you’re happy with the photographs — or whatever the case may be — you are about to post. If the answer is yes, that’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter if everybody doesn’t “get it,” or if everybody doesn’t like it; that’s not the essence of what art is and it’s not something creative people should spend much time worrying about. Author André Gide would tell you, “It’s better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.”
And if you’re one who tends to go around disseminating unsolicited, mean spirited criticisms of others’ work, just remember that no one has the right answer to everything; in fact, in art, there is no “right” or “wrong.” You’d be wise to learn from and be inspired by everything you see around you; you may find yourself rethinking your views, changing your mind, reevaluating your process.
But you can’t grow if all you ever do is play the role of a critic.