Criticism Counts: Using Critiques as a Road Map to Success
by Taylor Slattery | April 21, 2020
As creatives, we’re often our own toughest critics. The problem is, the criticism isn’t always constructive. If left to our own devices, our inner voices can throw our value into question and drag us into a realm of self-doubt.
Whether from ourselves or others, criticism can be hard to take. Especially when it feels unwarranted or comes from a source who we feel isn’t qualified to offer feedback in the first place. If you find that critiques often make you feel defensive, perhaps you’re looking at things the wrong way. It’s important to try and step outside of yourself so you can see the criticism for what it is.
This is easier said than done. Our work feels like an extension of ourselves, so naturally, criticism can feel personal. Separating ourselves from our work can be a difficult task, but until you learn to do so it will be difficult to view your work objectively. Of course, it’s good to feel a strong personal connection to your work, but it’s important to remember that each piece is just a stepping stone to something better. We’re all in the process of growth, and a single piece isn’t a measure of your worth as an artist, nor does it represent the pinnacle of your potential, it’s just a snapshot of that moment in time.
If it helps, reach a good stopping point and wait a few days before you ask for criticism. You’ll come back with a fresh pair of eyes and feel less attached to the work than you would if you were to receive criticism from someone looking over your shoulder during its creation. If you do find that a particular critique bothers you, try to figure out why. Maybe they’ve struck a nerve because somewhere deep down you know they’re right.
Finding trusted sources for feedback takes time. While it may feel like a good idea to crowdsource your feedback, maybe by sharing your work in a forum or other art-dedicated space, it may not always be the best. If you receive overwhelmingly negative feedback it can take the wind out of your sails and make starting again difficult. On the flip side, you may find that the feedback is overwhelmingly positive or complimentary, which isn’t necessarily helpful either. Not all criticism is valid and parsing through a bunch of replies for the kernels of truth can be a difficult process.
A better approach is to reach out to artists or designers whose work you admire. Ask if they wouldn’t mind taking a look at your work and offering some feedback. You would be surprised just how many people are willing to take some time out of their day to extend a helping hand. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t receive a reply though, just keep trying and you’re bound to find someone who can help. While feedback from someone within your field is valuable, especially if they’re further along in their career, don’t be afraid to ask creatives in other fields as well. Tapping into different perspectives can be a great way to find some less obvious insights.
Regardless of where you find your critiques, what matters the most is your state of mind. Stay journey-oriented. Focus on where you want to go rather than where you are right now and think of critiques as asking for directions. As long as you keep moving you’ll get there eventually, but help from someone who has been there before can help you get there faster.
Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.