Artistic Nature and Harsh Criticism

Updated on August 23, 2019
PAINTDRIPS profile image

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

D is for Dragon from the North
D is for Dragon from the North | Source

What To Do

What do you do when you are faced with harsh criticism? As an artist, I know that no matter how well I do I will always meet people who don’t care for my work as well as people who think I’m stupendous. It is unavoidable in the field of art. Art is about personal preference and taste. So I should be able to shake off any criticism by just considering the source or realizing I can’t please everyone. Right? Easier said than done.


My Art, My Children

Also, artists typically have a hard time separating themselves from their art. I am my art. My art is me. You criticize my art and you are criticizing me personally. I know I shouldn’t think that way but I’m very close to my work and although I try to stay separate, it isn’t easy. Someone asked once which was my favorite painting of the dozen she was looking at. I couldn’t tell her, because I love them all. They are like my children. You can’t pick a favorite child. Some are easier to manage than others but you love them all. Maybe this is why it is so difficult to put a price on art. How do you sell your children? How can you put a price on them? They are priceless to you as the creator. You only hope when they leave home they go to somewhere nice where they are treated like the priceless treasure you know them to be.

F is for the Frog Prince
F is for the Frog Prince | Source
S is for Sleeping Beauty
S is for Sleeping Beauty | Source

Trusted Art Instructors

I decided I could improve my work by taking online classes to get my master’s degree in illustration. All went well for several years and I learned so much from these great masters of the illustration world. As I finished up work on my thesis project and neared the end of this adventure the worst began. About 6 months ago now, I was faced not just with criticism, but harsh, unrealistic brutal criticism that left me paralyzed. This hurt not just because of the brutality of it but because it came from someone who was supposed to be teaching me and who had my respect. She said I was less than average. Up to that point, no other instructor had given me anything but helpful support and suggestions. She never said that I should give up art but it was tantamount to the same thing. In a field where there are at least 11 good and capable artists for every solitary art job, being average or less than average means I will never achieve any success. My dreams of landing a publishing contract were cast into doubt and I wondered why I spent so much time and effort pursuing something that, for me, can never happen.

J is for Jack and the Beanstalk
J is for Jack and the Beanstalk | Source

Crushing Brutality

This criticism wasn’t just a one-time thing. She hammered me for 3 months in a class where I learned nothing except that I cannot succeed in this field. No matter what I gave her it was less than okay. This was the woman who would be Okaying my master’s thesis and she made it clear that I was barely worth her time. She would give me suggestions for improvement one week and after I changed the offending things, she would say it was better before. Nothing special, nothing of lasting importance. I began to wonder if she was even going to allow me to graduate. She did finally okay my thesis project and award my master’s degree, but because of her harshness and a constant brutal barrage of critical words, I fell into a depression. I cried for days. My sleep was interrupted, hearing her words in my head over and over. I wondered if I had anything of importance to share with anyone, artistically or intellectually.

Successful People Who Overcame Obstacles

Page for the Mean King
Page for the Mean King | Source

Overwhelming Depression

I remember that all artists are presented with harsh disapproval but knowing and not caring are two different mindsets. I read once that some art directors and even teacher routinely practice a method of culling the pack but telling some artists to give up art; they are no good. They do this for two reasons: first, if the artist believes them and gives up art then they were never going to have the ambition to make it anyway. Second, if the artist got mad and basically said I’ll show you, then they have what it takes and they will now work harder than ever before to excel in their craft. I know that and I did get mad. I also got depressed.

M is for the Magician's Apprentice
M is for the Magician's Apprentice | Source

A Smelly Mess

Previously I had written artistic encouragement in the form of articles and blogs, but afterward, I couldn’t bring myself to share anything. How could I? I was obviously unworthy. I spiraled into self-doubt and self-deprivation. I threw out the illustration work of 2 years thinking it could never be published anyway. Back to the drawing board. At the drawing board, I stared blankly at paper thinking I shouldn’t waste the perfect paper with my chicken scratch. I wasn’t even drawing for myself; something that used to bring me great joy. This depression lasted for months where I didn’t care about anything creative anymore. I didn’t do the dishes for weeks and forgot about the laundry. Basically, the house and I were falling into a smelly mess. Eventually, I got back to a routine of cleanliness but only with extreme effort and discipline. Not that I wanted to; I just needed to.

What do you do when you are faced with harsh criticism?

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The Love Of Friends

After 6 months some people approached me and told me how proud they were to know me. They thought my work was good before but couldn’t believe the level of excellence I had achieved over the past few years. Their words built me up little by little into remembering that I no longer have to please this one art teacher. I now have a public that actually loves my work. They went on and on about the caliber of my art and the books I had been working on, encouraging me to continue where I had left off. I suddenly realized how far down into the depths I had actually fallen as they were pulling me up. Their words meant more than they will ever know.

Fight Depression

Artists Are Sensitive

We artists feel things deeply and strongly. It isn’t easy to shake off wounds, especially while still bleeding. I know I need a tougher skin, but wouldn’t that take away from the art I create? Isn’t the sensitivity I have part of what makes my art touch people the way that it does (all except for that one art teacher, of course)? I like being sensitive and really don’t want to “grow a tougher skin” so I am doomed to feel the arrows of criticism. It makes me who I am. Who wants thick skin anyway?

P is for Puss in Boots
P is for Puss in Boots | Source

Consider The Source

So this week I went back and looked at all the changes she had me make on pages of the children’s books. I threw all those changes out as worthless and went back to where my art was before. It was better before she started making unrealistic changes. I think I should let a publisher be the judge. I still may run into art directors and publishers that don’t like my work but I don’t have to crumple up and die. I can just move onto the next one. In a great and big world, someone will love my work enough to publish it.

R is for Little Red Riding Hood
R is for Little Red Riding Hood | Source

Your Cure?

Do you have a method of pulling yourself out of the depths when something or someone has brought you down? Do you go to trusted friends? Do you do what I often do and discount your family’s encouragement because they are “family and they have to love you?” Is there a mystery cure I’m unaware of? Are you able to shake it off or do you suffer depression as I did? How long does it take you to come out of it? I’d love to know I’m not the only one.

Questions & Answers

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      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        20 months ago from Fresno CA

        Awesome, Bede. I'm glad to hear you survived. Sometimes I wonder if they hire at least one persnickety instructor to weed out those who aren't serious about their craft. Who knows? I think it's a pretty mean way to say what we already know... that there are about 11 artists for every freelance job available and if you aren't among the best you won't get much work. Still artists don't do it for the money. We have an inner fire that compels us to do art... it hasn't anything to do with money. Although it would be nice to make a living.... Thanks for commenting.



      • Bede le Venerable profile image


        20 months ago from Minnesota

        Denise, I’m sorry that you had such a persnickety instructor. Her changes were way off. The images before were much better, reminiscent of beautiful mosaics. Anyway, I can relate to your thoughts here, because of the sensitive artist thing, but also I had a persnickety professor also. He taught a painting class. Every time he passed among the easels, he looked over the work and something negative, leaving us all with droopy feelings.

        So, I wasn’t the only one who had a problem with him. My friend and I thought of the things he might say next; instructor: “You know, have you ever considered animal husbandry?” In other words, don’t think about being an artist. Anyway, we survived and are both artists today.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        2 years ago from Fresno CA

        Chitrangada Sharan,

        I agree with you. I should not accept what people say unless I think it is a good criticism but I did. I was not very confident and let her get to me. She made me feel worthless. I will work hard not to let that happen again but you know it is not easy. Thanks so much for the kind words.



      • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

        Chitrangada Sharan 

        2 years ago from New Delhi, India

        Your beautifully written and illustrated hub touched my heart!

        It is so much relatable. The best option in my opinion is to listen to only constructive criticism and not feel low about it at all. If you are confident about your work, no criticism should bother you.

        Art is creative self expression--Another person may not see it in the same way as you do. We should try not to get too affected by it and make changes only if you think , it is required.

        I loved all your art work--they certainly convey a lot.

        Thanks for sharing and wish you all the best.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        2 years ago from Fresno CA


        Thanks so much for finding me again. It's true. I really sort of dropped out for a while. I felt so bad, so beat down, that I really thought I had nothing of any importance to say to anyone. How could I tell others about art if I stunk so bad at it myself? Or at least I thought that. Now I realize that it was bad intel and I shouldn't have been absorbing it at all. I'm only starting to come out of it really. I have several hubs started but still haven't the courage to finish and post them. We'll see. Maybe soon I can share my thoughts again.



      • profile image

        Lawrence Hebb 

        2 years ago


        I was beginning to wonder where your hubs were? I actually thought HP had cut me off from your feed!

        The last few months, as a family, we've begun to realise we are all 'creative' and each of us handles the criticism differently, as for me, I usually try and see what the other person is saying.

        If it's valid, and got something good to add, then I'll take it on board. But if it hasn't, then I get 'frustrated' or angry as some might say!!

        Kick the 'crap' out but keep the good.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        2 years ago from Fresno CA


        I agree that I paid them to give me honest feedback on how to improve and I know many artists should never be teachers because they haven't the temperament for it. It was the total discouragement and discounting of my work and effort that really sent me into a tail spin. I think I am like most people who can honestly say I don't like criticism but I want to improve so I take it. This wasn't criticism, though. Thanks for your comments.



      • Glenis Rix profile image


        2 years ago from UK

        I believe that most people hate harsh criticism and brutal honesty and respond better to more gentle guidance than that which you describe here, which seems to be tantamount to bullying. That said, I believe that tutors in any field have a responsibility to give objective feedback to their students. How sad that you so badly affected by the criticism of this tutor, who ought to have been acting as a gently supportive critical friend. It's good that you eventually overcame your crisis of self confidence and are working again. At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you enjoy what you do.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        2 years ago from Fresno CA

        Thanks, Larry. I hope you are well and pursuing your dreams. Thank you for commenting.



      • Larry Rankin profile image

        Larry Rankin 

        2 years ago from Oklahoma

        Interesting read.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        2 years ago from Fresno CA

        Nithya Venkat,

        Thank you so much for your kindness. I agree. I don't know where I would be without such great friends to build me up again. Thank you for commenting.



      • Vellur profile image

        Nithya Venkat 

        2 years ago from Dubai

        It is sad that you got such a horrible art instructor. Instead of helping you out the art instructor was destroying your art and spirit with criticism. You have bounced back with the support of your friends. All the best for great success with your artwork.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        2 years ago from Fresno CA

        Mary Wickison,

        Thank you Mary. I certainly appreciate the concern and encouragement. I also believe in open windows. I think that I am concerned that she is still a teacher there and the next student she does this to may not recover so well. I can usually be tough and take helpful criticism but this was so far beyond that that I am amazed her school board let her get away with it. Thanks for commenting.



      • Blond Logic profile image

        Mary Wickison 

        2 years ago from Brazil

        I feel so angry on your behalf. I don't know if this was at CSUF, but I had an art teacher there who took the pencil out of my hand with disgust, and she finished the drawing herself.

        Some people shouldn't be teachers.

        Developing a thick skin is necessary not just for artists but everyone I believe. I say, just put it out there and let the market be the judge.

        Love the first video you selected. How different the world would be if those people had listened to the naysayers, and gave up on their goals.

        I like to think when a door closes, another opens.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        2 years ago from Fresno CA


        Good observation. I think that is my point even if I didn't state it as such. There are lots of talented people who should never be allowed to teach what they know. Just because they have knowledge and expertise does not make them good at sharing that with the next generation. And conversely there are some awesome teachers that are not professional artists as such, but that shouldn't keep them from imparting the knowledge because they have a love of teaching. I think it also should be said that because artists feel things so deeply, this kind of treatment could send someone over the edge to harm themselves or even commit suicide. Just because I am strong enough to come back from the dumps doesn't mean the next person will be. Thanks for commenting.



      • SweetiePie profile image


        2 years ago from Southern California, USA

        It bothers me a bit that this mentor/instructor of yours is so discouraging to her students. Telling someone they are less than average is actually not helpful at all, and a bit over the top. I understand the need for constructive criticism, but that sounds just plain snarky and ridiculous. Maybe this person is not a very good teacher, even if she is an amazing artist.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        2 years ago from Fresno CA

        Thanks Bill,

        I can always count on you for an uplift and encouraging word. I certainly know that most of my work isn't destined for the Louvre or anything like that. But I don't think it stinks either. All I can do is my very best and hope other people like it now and then too. I'm keeping my head up. Thanks for commenting.



      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        2 years ago from Fresno CA

        Dolores Monet,

        Thanks so much for the encouragement. I agree that not everyone likes all art. I think I said that but I also believe in a little kindness. The best critiques are ones that find good things to point and as well as bad ones that can be improved on. That said, I love your suggestion of putting a before and after of what she had me change and what I changed back. Great idea! Thanks for commenting.



      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        2 years ago from Olympia, WA

        It does hurt for sure. Mystery cure? Finally I came to realize that I do have talent. Not every one of my stories will be Pulitzer-worthy, but I do have talent, and that conviction has to carry me through the criticism I receive from time to time.

        Hold your head high, my friend. We are the chosen few who can do what we do, and that makes us special.

        blessings always

      • Dolores Monet profile image

        Dolores Monet 

        2 years ago from East Coast, United States

        Hi Denise - I am sorry that you went through that terrible crap. That being said, I think that having a tough skin is good for you. After all, you don't like every piece of art that you see. I imagine that you, like everyone else, can view a piece of art and hate it. I've been working on some art myself and am my own harshest critic. I am working on a series and think that the ability to see what's wrong with earlier stuff helps me improve.

        What would be cool in this article would be to see one piece that the mean teacher had you change, and how you changed it back to what you prefer.

        One of the problems with viewing other people's work is that you might not even like the genre. My sister and I argue constantly over individual art work. We like totally different things. When I look at her stuff, I try to dig out what she is dong, even if I don't like it. For instance, I love the detail here, etc. instead of saying, "that's so morbid."

        I think every student of any creative subject should take one of their works and set it on fire. Toughen your skin and lighten your heart. (I like your illustrations and think they are quite original)


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