How to Receive Criticism as an Artist

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by Jonathan Sims

Whether you’re a visual artist, musician, or writer, receiving art criticism about your work can be a challenging experience, but learning when and how to incorporate this feedback into your practice can be an incredible way to grow as an artist. Meaningful criticism from other arts professionals and experts can be an essential tool for improving your craft and advancing your career. As an artist, it’s crucial to learn how to receive criticism from jurors, art critics, gallery directors, clients, and others in a positive and constructive manner.

First, being able to differentiate between constructive feedback and overly harsh or unhelpful criticism can be a tricky tightrope to walk. It’s important for those delivering criticism to recognize the emotional impact of their feedback and deliver it in a respectful and supportive manner. Criticism delivered in a harsh or negative way can be especially challenging to receive and can cause unnecessary emotional distress. The feedback that is delivered in a kind and constructive manner can be more easily received and processed by the artist, allowing them to use it to improve their work without becoming overwhelmed by their emotions.

Art Criticism
(original image via Jrm Llvr’s Flickrstream)

In addition, not all opinions will be equally useful. You should consider who is sharing their criticism with you, and judge for yourself how helpful you think their critique will be to you. When you are deciding how to weigh feedback: 

  1. Consider who is providing the critique. Do they have relevant expertise and experience in the area they are critiquing? Are they credible and trustworthy? If the person has given insightful and constructive feedback in the past, their criticism is more likely to be reliable.
  2. Ask yourself, Is the critique specific, objective, and constructive? Does it provide clear examples and actionable steps for improvement? 
  3. Trust your own intuition. Consider how the criticism makes you feel. Does it resonate with you? Do you believe it to be true? If you have a strong gut feeling that the critique is off-base or insincere, you may want to take it with a grain of salt.

visitors checking an artwork

It is vital to remember that your art has value and purpose, at the very least because it was important to you to bring it into the world. However, if you want your artwork to evolve and captivate others the same way it engages you, you can learn a great deal from the criticism of others. A lot of the advice you receive will be from people who just want you to succeed in your art.

Related articles: Make Art Criticism Work for You

Here are some things to keep in mind to make the most out of the process.

Be open-minded and receptive

Try to approach criticism with an open mind. Remember that critique is not a personal attack, but rather an opportunity to improve your work. It’s essential to maintain a positive attitude and a willingness to learn from feedback. Try to see it as an opportunity for growth, and avoid becoming defensive or dismissive.

Art Criticism
photo by SNAP! Orlando

Avoid responding immediately

It’s natural to want to respond immediately to criticism, you can also take a step back and process the feedback before reacting. Consider taking notes so that you can have a reference point for making improvements. Avoid responding defensively or emotionally, and instead take some time to consider the feedback and how you might apply it to your work. If you’re not sure how to respond, it’s okay to ask for some time to think about it before sharing a response.

Thank the person for their feedback

It’s essential to thank the person for their feedback, regardless of whether you agree with it or not. Expressing gratitude shows that you value their opinion and are open to feedback in the future. It also helps to maintain a positive relationship with the person, which can be beneficial for your career.

Understand the perspective of the critic

When receiving criticism, it’s essential to try to understand the perspective of the critic. Jurors, art critics, gallery directors, art managers, and clients all have different backgrounds, experiences, and preferences. Try to understand where they are coming from and what they are looking for in your work. This can help you tailor your work to better meet their expectations and preferences if you think this will be beneficial to you.

Separate constructive criticism from unhelpful criticism

How useful is this feedback? Think about the points outlined above. Who is sharing their critique? Is it impartial and actionable? If the feedback is not constructive, you can choose to ignore it or address it ina professional and respectful manner.

Constructive Criticism to Destructive Criticism

Seek feedback from multiple sources

It’s helpful to seek feedback from multiple sources to get a well-rounded perspective on your work. Different people will have different opinions, and hearing a variety of voices can help you identify common themes and areas for improvement. Find individuals who have experience in your field and can offer guidance and support as you develop your craft. Joining groups or communities of artists can also be helpful for connecting with others and receiving feedback in a safe and supportive environment.

Receiving criticism is not always easy, but it’s an essential part of being an artist. The process can be very tiresome or even discouraging, especially for new or emerging artists. Remember, art is as much a process as it is an end result, and experimentation is most often rewarded. What are the positive aspects of the feedback? Identify any areas of agreement or constructive feedback that you can act upon, rather than getting bogged down by negative comments. Try to reframe criticism as an opportunity to learn and improve, rather than a personal attack.

visitor photographing artwork

It’s natural to feel a range of emotions when receiving feedback on your work. These feelings can include frustration, disappointment, and even sadness. As an artist, your work is often deeply personal, and it can be difficult to hear criticism about something that you’ve poured your heart and soul into. Recognize that these emotions are normal and valid; it’s okay to take time to process them. Giving yourself permission to feel your emotions can help you work through them in a healthy way and prevent them from negatively impacting your artistic practice.

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Ultimately, the purpose of criticism is to help improve your art. Consider feedback and use it to identify areas for growth to make changes that will improve the quality of your work. By taking action, you can demonstrate that you are committed to growth and development, and you may even turn criticism into a positive experience. Don’t be afraid to take risks and try new approaches! Embrace the opportunity to learn and you can continue to grow as an artist.

Jonathan Sims is a visual artist that lives and works in New York City.



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