art, painting, Mona Kuhn

How do you react when the criticism your work receives is not easy to hear?

Criticism can be hard to hear and can come from a superior at work or a perfect stranger with a loud opinion. When delivered harshly, it has the power ruin a whole day and more importantly your self-esteem. It’s easy to be defensive when you’re on the receiving end on criticism and when we fear judgment of others we put up our guard. Many of us spend a lot of time thinking about the opinions of others. In the art world, it’s impossible to control what a person will say about your work, but it is possible to be in control of the way you internalize and react to criticism.

Step back from the situation and rather than being defensive, delay your response until you’ve gathered your thoughts. If you let your defensive emotions get the best of you, you may say something you regret later. If the critique you receive is sent via email, allow yourself at least an hour before you respond. If the criticism occurs in person, respond graciously with a polite but generic response.

Consider the source and the value of criticism. There are two forms of criticism: constructive and destructive. Constructive criticism comes from a positive place and is meant to help you better yourself. Destructive criticism is meant only to tear you down. It can some times be hard to decipher between the two, but set aside the tone and focus on what actually is being said. If you’re an artist or curator, you’ve likely experienced both, so it’s good to be prepared for the next time you receive criticism.

Acknowledge that you might be wrong. This is perhaps the most crucial but most difficult step for most of us. Allow yourself to acknowledge that the person offering said criticism might have a point. If you stay on the defensive, you rob yourself of valuable opportunities for growth.

Understand though, that you will not be able to please everyone. At one point in time you will need to decide what feels right to you and go with it. Remember to respond with grace. If the criticism is destructive, it never warrants a response. Quickly delete any hateful emails that benefit no one and wash your hands of that negativity. However, it is constructive criticism, it should be addressed respectfully once you are ready to do so. Thank the person for their input and then agree or disagree as you see fit.

Do you have any tips for handling negative critiques about your work?