Making art is a highly subjective experience.
You put your emotions, personal experiences, ideas—your whole self—into your work. That's what makes art powerful and relatable.
So, when you open yourself up by sharing your artwork with others, you open yourself up to the one thing that artists fear the most: a bad critique.
It just feels so … personal.
Yes, it hurts, but it doesn't mean you have failed as an artist. A bad critique is inevitable in any creative field—it's just a matter of time.
When negative feedback rolls your way, don’t cast away your career as an artist. Take these steps to deal with a bad critique the right way, so you can keep a level head and move forward with making even more amazing artwork.
Cool Down Before Responding
An arrow just sailed straight through your heart—at least that’s what it feels like. But the pain of the moment can cloud your judgment, so before you do anything else, take a deep breath and give yourself a few big breaths and five minutes to cool off.
Being heated might distract you from reacting professionally or cause you to miss out on what exactly was said.
Be completely honest with yourself. Were your expectations set unreasonably high? Are you too emotionally attached to the piece? Did you mentally shut down the second a negative word was uttered?
Even if you feel like your wounds are justified, you need to proceed with a level head—and this next step might help.
Take Criticism with a Grain of Salt
There’s nothing like a little silent cross-examination to help you soothe some of the inevitable pain that follows a bad critique:
Is this person qualified to be giving this particular feedback?
What do they know about your medium and its market?
Are they being objective, or forcing their own personal tastes?
You don’t need to take every critique to heart. Sometimes it’s best to let unsolicited comments (especially from the internet) roll off your back and fade away. It’s the knowledgeable, well-intentioned critiques that you want to pay attention to in the long run. It can be helpful to know what other qualified people see in your work and what needs to be improved.
If their critique is too vague or confusing, ask what concrete improvements they suggest you make.
Ultimately, finding other artists or mentors that you trust to give you honest feedback will only make your work and career stronger.
Find the Silver Lining
Even in the harshest critiques, you can you find a silver lining. Just ask artist Lee Hammond, who received a pretty scathing email from a former fan.
The disgruntled emailer admitted he had been following Lee’s career for years and “used to” believe she was one of the best ... until she had started dumbing her work down for the sake of chasing a dollar. (That was a kinder way to paraphrase it.) This complete stranger insisted she focus more on her art. He even went on to say she wasn’t “special” anymore because she had started teaching her style of drawing to other artists. Yikes.
Now, any self-respecting artist would feel a swift punch to the gut after reading that. But, it’s how Lee responded that would make the artist community proud.
“After reading and re-reading this email, I decided to learn from it. Actually, he had some valid points under all of that negativity. I decided to reach for those and apply them, and flush the rest.”
She replied, agreeing that she could always become a better artist, but that she didn’t create, write, and teach for the money, she did it because it brought her joy. And, by the time her career is finished, she hopes to create the masterpiece he so desperately asked of her.
In the end, no matter what type of critique you receive, you should ask yourself what was constructive about the criticism and what wasn't. Separate out the two, consider the source, learn what you can, and as Lee Hammond observed, forget the rest.
Only then can you get better.
Get an Outsider’s Perspective
No one understands the struggle and pain of a harsh critique more than your peers. Anyone who has ever dared to create work to put on display has received criticism at one point or another.
So, if you’re ever having difficulty sorting out who’s who or what’s what when it comes to credible critiques, you can always ask for a second opinion.
Reach out to your art squad and ask them to be objective and honest. Have them consider what about the critique makes sense and what they suggest going forward. You can then make the final call, knowing that you’ve weighed your options.
In the end…
You can’t please everybody.
In the end, it’s your reaction to a bad critique that will matter most in your art career. Remember to keep a level head, and you can use a constructive critique to grow as an artist and define the audience that will buy your work.