How to Manage Criticism and Use It to your Advantage

Nov 04, 2020
How to Manage Criticism and Use It to your Advantage
I suppose, it doesn’t really need to be said that hearing people criticise your work can be hard to take. You can spend hours, days maybe, working on a drawing, making sure everything is perfect and just as you want it, finally sit back and feel pleased with your work, only to share it on social media and have someone tell you what you could have done better. And, never mind the thirty positive “you're so talented” comments. Who can listen to those when there’s that one “it’s nice, but...” remark? It seems to be basic human nature to ignore the positive and focus solely on the negative. And, sure enough, next comes the anger, frustration, a few “effs and jeffs”, and a loss of heart. Suddenly, you’re looking at the drawing you’d been so pleased with ten minutes ago, and starting to think that you’re really not happy with it at all.
I get it, I’ve been there. I’ll never forget sharing a photo of  my first horse portrait back in 2016. I was so proud of myself, and sharing it on my Facebook I had loads of amazing comments, but, when someone suggested that I add more bone structure and muscle definition to my drawings to make it look more realistic, it's safe to say it wasn’t the comment I was hoping for. And, even now, after four years of drawing and refining my technique, I still get the odd comment from someone with suggestions on how I can improve. It’s something that you never seem to get away from, regardless of how long you’ve been drawing for. So, at some point down the line, I decided that instead of getting angry every time someone said something about my work that I wasn’t happy about or didn’t agree with, I’d find a way to accept their comments and make use of them. And, knowing that there are other artists out there that might need help with dealing with criticism, I’ve decided to write a step-by-step guide to managing people’s critiques, and how to make the most of what people are telling you. As I’ve learnt from experience with that first critique of the horse, I followed that person’s advice and, well, they were right!
Step One: Take a Breath


It’s infuriating when you were hoping for nothing but kind words, and instead someone tells you what you could have done better. What do I do? Read the comment, and take a breath! I find that there’s little use in getting upset about it, and it won’t actually do anything in the long run but bring you down. It might seem silly, but taking a nice, deep breath and giving yourself a moment to process the comment will allow you the time you need to keep a cool head and stop you from getting worked up.


Step Two: Reread the Comment

It’s always useful to remind yourself that what people say on social media doesn’t always come across as they’d meant it to. What they say and what you read can sometimes be two completely different things. It’s hard to convey emotions and tone of voice via text, so what could have been meant as a useful, inoffensive comment might be seen as the exact opposite.

Reread what they have said, and imagine what it would have sounded like if that person was sitting in front of you saying the same words. Often, people cut down what they write online into short, sweet messages. If they were in the room with you, would there have been more to their comment? Would they have sounded more polite in the way they were speaking?

I always find it really useful to remind myself that the voice that I read a comment in may be completely different to the voice they meant to use. Plus, it’s important to remember that most people aren’t trying to be unkind or difficult, they’re trying to be helpful.


Step Three: Ask Yourself “Is There Truth in What They’re Saying?"

Now, I appreciate that you will come across the odd person who is being critical for the sake of being critical. It happens; you can’t always avoid the inevitable social media trolls. However, if you’re like me and you’re lucky enough to have a supportive following, then chances are they’re trying to do you a favour by giving you a suggestion for improvement.

Consider what they have said, and then go back to your drawing. Do you agree with their comment? Do you think their suggestion would improve your work? It’s okay to still disagree; we all have a different way of working, and we don't all see a piece of artwork in the same way. If you decide not to take their advice, why not reply to their comment and politely tell them why? It may be interesting for you to enter into a discussion with them and find out why you work differently. You may both learn something from one another.

Equally, if you decide that what they have said is valid, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Admitting that they were right doesn’t mean you’re admitting that your drawing wasn’t good enough! It simply means that there is something new for you to try.


Step Four: Ask Yourself “How Can I Use this to Improve?”

The best thing you can do with criticism? Use it to your advantage! Try to make use of the suggestions in your next drawing and see if it improves your work. You might be surprised. And, if you decide that it hasn’t worked for you, there’s nothing lost. You’ve tried something new, accepted that it’s not right for your work, understood why, and, most importantly, you’ve avoided simply getting annoyed by a critique and used it as an opportunity to learn.

As I see it, it will make what could have been seen as just a negative comment into something positive, and will save you from some doubt and heartache along the way.



Step Five: Remember You Never Stop Learning and Improving

Possibly the most important step in this list, remember that, regardless of how experienced you are, how many hours of drawing you have done, there is always room for improvement and always a chance to keep learning. You can’t ever fully avoid criticism, but you don’t always have to see it as negative. See every suggestion as a tip from someone who just wants to help, and get as much from it as you can. After all, without criticism there would be nothing pushing us to continue learning and growing as artists, and might all still be where we were when we first put pencil to paper.


So, that’s that! My step-by-step guide to managing criticism. For those of you who struggle with critiques, I hope this will help you to see it in a different, more manageable light. For those of you who are fortunate to already take it all in your stride, I applaud you, and hope you agree with the points I have made.
There is something else I’d like to add onto the end of this, just to clarify that this blog isn’t intended as an invite to begin critiquing other artists’ work on mass. It’s important to remember that, ideally, you shouldn’t criticise someone’s work if they haven’t asked you to. And, if you do, always remember to be kind and consider that there is a real person behind that photo on Facebook.

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