Artistic Nature and Harsh Criticism
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 artist 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.
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 one 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.
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 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
I remember that all artists are presented with harsh disapproval but knowing and not caring are two different mind-sets. 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.
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 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?
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.
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?
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.
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 like I did? How long does it take you to come out of it? I’d love to know I’m not the only one.