Dealing with criticism

For some artistic minds, one of the big stumbling blocks is the fear of failure. We may want to do things differently, experiment and play, but big question marks pop up above our heads

What if I am ridiculed?

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What if it doesn’t work?  

 

What if I am not good enough?

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What if others don’t like it and I loose their respect? 

 

It is important to minimise our insecurities to avoid their crippling effect. What would happen if a six year old thought: “Everyone else in my family knows how to read. They’ve been doing it for years and do it perfectly. I am rubbish at this. What if they make fun of me? Why am I so much behind reading?”

The six year old might never learn to read out of fear of failing, or they might hinder their progress by refusing to read out loud. In some fields, we are like the six-years old. If we embrace this young frame of mind “I’m not very good yet, but I can get better”, we actually have a chance of improving ourselves.

Of course, this is so easy to say! But how to face our insecurities? I wish I knew the solution, but I could present an argument that could be of some help. And the argument is: remember that negative criticism usually comes from either carelessness or insecurity.

Careless criticism

Why don’t the parents ridicule the child who can’t read? Because they know fully well how to read themselves, and they know that with enough practice, the child can be as good as them. But if they had a hard day, they might get annoyed at the child for not reading his or her lesson properly. This is just carelessness – they are too tired to take the child’s feelings into account.

General criticism is also often careless. If you showcase your work in the Internet and someone comments “That’s crap.”, I would advise you to take as little notice as possible. 
As many Internet users, it’s likely that the commentator only saw your piece very briefly, not taking the time to appreciate it. It is also probable that the person had no specialised knowledge on what you were showing - it is very unlikely that an experienced art collector, who is searching for the next best painter, will waste their time writing “That’s crap” on all the paintings they don’t like. When a person knows a lot about a subject, their critiques tend to be specific and, as such, more constructive.

 
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Criticism from insecure people

If someone feels insecure about their own abilities, I am sure they will notice your own shortcomings way quicker. As a human being, I have had my fair share of insecurities throughout my life, and it amazes me to notice how much they sharpen my view of how other people's shortcomings. I will give you two examples.
 
At one point I had a problem in a tooth, and although it wasn’t very noticeable, it made me very self conscious. As a result I started examining the mouth of everyone I met. Before having this problem I had never paid any attention to anyone’s teeth. But since I had my own issues, I couldn’t help but check other people’s mouths, perhaps to make sure I still fit in.
 
Another example goes back to my teenage years. As a teenager, I never had the flat, smooth belly so many of my friends, female actors and public figures flaunted. As a result, every time I looked in the mirror my eyes would be drawn exactly to my hated spot – my belly. Whenever I met a girl, I would notice her waistline immediately. Thankfully the days of teenage self consciousness are over and I am now free to notice more important things in me and others!
 
As you can see from examples above, insecurities make us notice more the flaws in others. Sometimes they can make some people quite bitter - they'll exaggerate other’s faults in order to feel that their own faults are smaller. They’re not monsters – they’re just people being people.
 
The truth is, if you bear this in mind it makes it so much easier to take negative criticism. More important than that, it makes you worry less about future criticism and failure.  If you fail, you just try again. None of us went to primary school reading perfectly.

 
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Constructive criticism

It is always important to remember that constructive criticism is a powerful tool for growth. If we are insecure, it is easy to take any piece of criticism the wrong way. If you respond to comments with defensiveness, people won’t give you feedback again, for fear of offending you.

When you receive a piece of well-meant criticism, try to distance yourself from your work. Thank the person and consider how important their opinion is. How much does that person know about what you’re doing? Does it matter if they like it or not? Do you trust that person’s judgement? Have you heard that before? Is it worth changing something?

Hear your audience humbly and change what you think worth changing. But always remember: it is impossible to please everyone. 

 
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