Handling Criticism of Your Work

Criticism and rejection are tough to handle, but it’s possible to prepare for those moments so you’re ready to respond to them appropriately.

If you’re new to the idea of exposing your work to strangers, it can be intimidating. Whatever you make - a painting, a song, a novel - is intensely personal. You likely feel vulnerable even when sharing it with close friends and family members. When you put your work on the internet, you’re instantly making it available to millions of people, all over the world, who don’t have any personal connection to you. What if they don’t like it?

Remember Your Skill Level

History is full of people who’ve “failed their way to success,” initially struggling due to a lack of experience, misplaced ambitions, or bad luck. No artist is perfect when they begin - you shouldn’t expect to be either. If people are critical of your work, it’s because the work is imperfect, not you. If the critic’s heart is in the right place, and it usually is, they’re being honest because they want to help you achieve the potential they see in the work.

All art has flaws. Even people with decades of experience are open to criticism, so you’re not exempt. Take your first rounds of criticism in stride, and remember that you’re only going to improve from here.

Accept Rejection as an Inevitability

Rejection is a scary thing to face, but it’s a lot less scary when you know it’s coming. When you learn to accept rejection as an inevitability, the individual and temporary rejections you experience will seem far less severe. You could go the route of Jia Jiang, who spent 100 days straight seeking rejection intentionally - by the end of the experiment, he was so used to being rejected that it no longer mattered.

Although that might be a bit much, it demonstrates an important kind of learning curve. When you face your first artistic rejection, it’s going to feel intense, maybe even soul-crushing. But the 30th rejection? You’ll take it in stride. The 100th rejection? It’ll hardly matter, especially with some success under your belt.

It’s easy to forget this, because we’re only seeing the successes of the people we follow. But make no mistake: Getting published in a glossy magazine or landing a big-time client comes with a helpful dose of rejections along the way.

Realize Not All Criticism Is Equal

Some criticism doesn’t matter. Feedback might come from respectable art critics who know your medium inside and out, or even a prospective client who wants to hire you. It can also come from people with no investment in your work or the craft. Separate these types of criticism so you can take valuable insights from strong criticism and avoid the heartbreak of weak criticism.

Don’t Dwell on Others’ Opinions

If you get stuck on a piece of feedback, you won’t be able to keep moving forward. You’re going to have big fans who think your work is perfect and scathing critics who think it’s garbage - your job is to realize the truth is somewhere in the middle. No single piece of advice is enough to make or break your work, so don’t invest too heavily in it. Even from people with experience.

Try Rewriting the Feedback in Your Own Words

All feedback, good and bad, likely has some grain of truth. But it can sound harsher if it’s written by someone else, so try writing it in your own words.

This has many benefits. You’ll distance yourself from the original piece of criticism. You’ll get to see the criticism in a light that makes it easier to handle. And most importantly, you’ll force yourself to confront the “meat” of the criticism, enabling you to learn from it rather than seeing it as an insult or a challenge.

Forget the Competition

Comparing yourself to others rarely does anything but make you feel worse about yourself. Don’t use criticism to stack up against others in your field. Instead, focus on what you can do to become a better artist in your own right.

There’s no shortcut to avoid the nerve-wracking feeling of putting yourself out there, but it doesn’t have to be a drain. By embracing feedback and criticism with the right mentality, and using these tactics to learn from it productively, you can refine yourself as an artist and escape with a positive mindset.

Anna Johansson

Freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant. A columnist for Entrepreneur.com, HuffPost.com, and more, Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends.

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