Dealing with Not so Constructive Criticism

Critique is a valuable and useful resource for artists, writers, musicians–anyone in a creative field (and those outside of it too). Portfolio reviews help steer artists toward a more realized vision, just as Beta Readers do for an author. However, that only happens with constructive criticism. Negative criticism, whether mean-spirited or born from ignorance can have a devastating effect.

Oh Sherlock

That might be an exaggeration, but in the heat of the moment I think most artists would agree, it feels as if you’re heart and soul have been crushed to a pulp. The pain is even more visceral when it’s someone close in your life. How does one deal with that?!

This happened to me yesterday. I’m not going to go into any details, what’s more important is how I worked through the hurt and got back to painting.

1. I didn’t respond in kind. Yes, their words hurt but chances are that wasn’t their intention. People can be clueless.

2. I had to acknowledge to myself that their words were not valid criticism. Their words were not meant to help me improve my painting.

3. I reached out to other artists and creative friends for support. Chances are your creative friends have been through similar situations. Support from your peers is priceless.

4. I let myself feel the pain and then reminded myself how much I love this painting. I thought back to the initial idea and sketches that sparked that zeal. I don’t expect everyone to love my art and that’s okay. I don’t create it for them.

5. Still feeling a little burned, I picked up my stylus and got back to work. I grew up riding horses for fun and competition. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told, When you fall off a horse you have to get right back on. That’s been my motto all my life.

I can’t fully endorse this last one, but I do think it could help in the right circumstances…


About Amanda Makepeace

Amanda Makepeace is an award winning illustrator inspired by nature, mythology, magical beings, and distant worlds. She is the co-founder of the Bird Whisperer Project, a monthly art challenge focused on spreading the the love of birds and art making for everyone. Her art has appeared in ENnie award-winning games and on the covers popular independant novels and anthologies. Her latest project is the cover art for the Long List Anthology Volume 4, a book featuring Hugo nominated stories. Amanda is a regular at Fantasy and SciFi conventions in the southeast, and an award winner at JordanCon, DragonCon, ChattaCon, and LibertyCon.
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  1. Great article, Amanda. I might add one to my list, “negative criticism always comes out of the blue from an unexpected source.” At least that’s been my experience. It usually punches me in the gut, which makes me furious, because when I do get around to thinking the situation through, it usually comes from a source who’s not doing so very well in their own life/art/human experience. They’re just spewing to hear their own voices and experience that one tiny nanosecond when they feel powerful and useful because they peed on something. 🙂 I work with and welcome criticism daily, the more the better. When I am illustrating children’s books, I ask for and want and welcome the criticism – the book always always turns out better. My only frustration sometimes is that I can’t get enough positive and negative criticism! What you are talking about above isn’t the same thing and good negative criticism, but you know that. The English language needs a new word for it. Vomit criticism? No that’s too crude. Hmmm I’ll have to think about that one. 🙂

    • …it usually comes from a source who’s not doing so very well in their own life/art/human experience…

      This is so true, Annie, which is another reason to not react to that person in the same negative manner. Especially in this of social media, you are going to come in contact with asshats, but I can deal with them far easier than someone I personally know. What I experienced yesterday I wouldn’t even call criticism. It was just being mean and insensitive.

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