Wondering About Critique…

Here’s a pretend letter from a pretend reader of a blog dedicated to thinking through various issues related to art-making and Christian faith.

“Dear Blogging Person,

How does a working artist deal with criticism?  I don’t mean mean-spirited people dishing out vindictive diatribes, but the simple, ongoing critique of one’s work that comes from all corners.  Evaluation is what I mean, I suppose.  (Public evaluation, especially.)   From family members to writers for the biggest media outlets in the land, everyone’s got an opinion.  (It’s all just opinion anyway, isn’t it?)  Given that I’m a typical artist, with my own inner nuttiness going crazy with insecurity and self-doubt, I find that I oscillate wildly between the ecstasy that follows one person’s rave and the debilitating depression that hits when someone in the paper or on the jury confirms what you always knew was true anyway, that your work was substandard to start with, and probably always will be.  I know about faith and believing and giving glory to God and all that, but come on…give me some practical advice here to keep me from just quitting what I’m doing, knowing there will always be people way, way better than me at what I do.  I used to have great fun doing what I do, but now not so much.   And one other thing: if I believe the good stuff and let it make me feel all rosy inside, don’t I have to take the bad stuff, too, even if it only soots up my soul?  (Soots isn’t a verb, but you get the idea.)  Thanks for your no doubt helpful answer.   Tom.  (as in ‘doubting.’)”

Before I get to answering poor Tom, how about you?  What do you tell him?   And yes, we are all talking to ourselves about this constantly, aren’t we?

And just to reveal one of my biases, I’ve always been a big fan of criticism, especially when its informed.


3 Replies to “Wondering About Critique…”

  1. That’s easy…You work as hard as you can, bring your talent and life experience, leave it all out there on the stage (or page, or canvass), and enjoy the effect it has on your heart and mind and the hearts and minds of your audience.

    The critics (or “evaluators”) that enjoy and praise your work are sensitive, thoughtful public servants who recognize your contributions to art.

    Those that don’t are jealous hacks without an artistic bone in their bodies.

    See how easy that is?

  2. Knowing full well that this is a difficult and persistent challenge, here’s what works for me:
    Doing the work. Just showing up every day, being disciplined, struggling with the materials, making stuff. Criticism will come and go. There will be ups and downs. You have to persist and keep on working. In the end, it’s nice to have a pat on the back but belief in oneself and the work will get you through.

    This is a brief answer to a question that could be debated for hours.

    Love Bob’s answer. Right on!

  3. I think Bob is onto something; in order to both protect our creative spirits (get better not bitter) we must filter or categorize what people say about our work. Some is very helpful. Some is just venting.

    Jeff’s also right; “And yes, we are all talking to ourselves about this constantly, aren’t we? And just to reveal one of my biases, I’ve always been a big fan of criticism, especially when its informed.”

    I believe that being one of God’s creatives is a calling to a life-journey and finding our own voice and excellence is a quest. Each of us has a unique “voice” artistically and all we can do therefore is make art that’s true to ourselves – true to who we are, where we’re at, and what’s meaningful to us.

    Bringing glory to God is about becoming all that He has created us to be. My advice a la David Bowie (believe it or not) is to go make art which resonates with you personally, and filter the criticism carefully. Listen to God’s Spirit far more than the critics and the journey will become productive.

    Hope that’s helpful.

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