How To Conquer The Cancer Of Criticism

Unfortunately, criticism is something that we are all rather too familiar with. We begin bearing the burden of others judgment from a very young age and the problem is that we end up becoming overly self-critical. In fact, we will often jump in to criticise ourselves and things we have done before anybody else can even open their mouths to suggest there is something not as good as it might be.

Criticism, however, does not have to be all bad. If we can learn to accept another’s analysis of our work, for what it is, their opinion, then we can digest what they have said later and see if it has any validity. Sometimes we reject another’s critique out of hand because we don’t want to admit that things might need to change, that perhaps we’ve made a mistake.

Who Are Your Critics

As an artist, it is important to realise that there are different kinds of critics in the art world, and their opinions are not all equal. So who are these people? They fall into four main categories

  • Relatives and friends
  • Yourself
  • Professional art critics
  • Teachers and mentors
  • The general public

Let’s take an in-depth look at them.

Relatives and friends

When you are a budding artist one of the most damaging forms of criticism can come from your spouse or partner and other relatives or friends. The problem is that we are used to listening to these people and often accepting their advice.

However, when it comes to our artwork they are not necessarily experts and in all probability, they aren’t. All they can do is offer you an opinion about what they like or don’t like. They do not have any technical expertise and are therefore unlikely to be able to offer you much in the way of useful appraisal. This is further compounded by the fact that we often want to please them and so we may change something in our painting on their advice, even though it may be the wrong thing to do. The other problem here is that when you are beginning you are so unsure of what you are doing that you might turn to anyone for help, whether they can actually help or not.


My advice regarding relatives and friends is to politely accept their assessment and then just ignore it until you can find some one more knowledgeable, whose opinion you do trust. You must learn to develop a bit of a thick skin because there are always going to be those that like your work and those that don’t. And if you take the judgement of others too much to heart, you’re in for a rocky road.


art critics photo


Self-criticism also has its place. It is, in fact, a vital part of producing an artwork. However, we might like to think of it as evaluation rather than criticism. The word carries so much negative baggage along with it. Yet, if I do not stand back and critically appraise my current artwork I will not be able to see either if, or where I have gone wrong. Worse than that I will not even be acknowledging that I may have made a mistake or two. 

In order to deepen my art practice, I must be able to critically appraise my own work from a non-emotional standpoint. I have to be able to realise that an art practice is built on the foundation of making mistakes and failing forwards. If I don’t get this important point I will have a great deal of difficulty progressing.

The other important aspect of self-criticism is developing your intuition.  Learning to listen for and hear that voice within, which will guide you more truly than your ego.

Professional Art Critics

There are times during your art career, where you may have your art critically appraised by journalists, competition judges and other art critics, who make a living at making critical appraisals of artworks. The higher you rise in the art world, the more you will come under the microscope of the professional critic.  Although they have much experience in appraising art, you must remember, that they are still expressing a personal opinion. A judge is highly unlikely to choose a competition winner with a piece of work he or she dislikes.

At the end of the day, there will be as many opinions about your work as there are people in the world!.

Teachers and mentors

Of all the people who might criticise your work, teachers and mentors are probably the most valuable of those who will offer you a critical appraisal. You would do well to pay attention to what they say and attempt to put into practice what they are advising you. Of course, nobody is infallible and you must use your own unemotional judgement to determine whether you think their advice will improve your work or not. This is where it becomes important to be able to listen to your own intuition because it will always guide you well.

The general public

The general public is a very similar category to family and friends and you can apply the advice given for that category to this one.

So, as you can see, there are many aspects to the subject of criticism, and it will serve you well to listen to some and discard the rest.



Pix Credits :

First Photo – by johnhain

Second Image  by Slimdandy

comforting criticism,criticism,critics

Cut To The Quick – Is There Such a Thing as Comforting Criticism?

Comforting Criticism – well that’s a kind of paradox, isn’t it? Nobody really wants criticism – we don’t want to be told that our fledgling creations aren’t quite up to scratch, that we didn’t get it right.  Is there any value in criticism at all, we might ask? There are two things at stake here – one is our precious ego, and the other is our fear.  That fear that we are being seen for the fraud that we really are ( well so we tell ourselves), and the fear that we won’t be able to get it right at all. The fear that we are so bad, so dumb that we won’t ever get it right stops creativity in its tracks.

Man, that gremlin – does he sit on your shoulder sometimes, because he’s certainly spent a lot of time sitting on mine in the past? So this leads me to Comforting Criticism. – Just what is that really?  I have heard it described as an Oreo™ cookie. Why? Because you give some pithy comments upfront, followed by something mushier and follow-up with a last, slightly challenging sentence. In other words, your criticism is offset by some encouraging comments.

There are different ways to view criticism. We can take it too hard and get upset and even angry with the other person about their observations. Or we can be a bit thick skinned and say to ourselves ‘well is that true? What do I honestly think about that? Of course, any persons critical viewpoint is their opinion about the matter at hand. So obviously some criticism is going to be more valuable than others. If you are taking an art class and your tutor comments about something in your work that could perhaps be changed, and they explain why it needs to be, this is a lot more useful than one of your classmates commenting on your work, when they don’t necessarily have that much experience. However, that doesn’t mean to say that you have to dismiss the criticism out of hand, particularly if they have painted for longer than you have.
The trouble with criticism is that our fragile egos don’t like to think that we haven’t got it right, and it’ll go to bat for us, when that may not even be helpful at all. And the problem with comforting criticism is that we may be receiving a watered down version of the truth, which is not helpful either.

It is my belief that criticism certainly has its place in the scheme of things. And my positive response to it rises in direct proportion to the regard with which I hold the criticizer.  If it’s someone who I consider knows more about the subject than I do, I’m very happy to listen to their thoughts on the subject at hand.  

This Weeks Question: What has been your reaction to criticism of your work? Do you find it useful or do you fear it?

Look For Next Week’s PostAn artist’s biggest fear, what do you think it is?


Or The Things That Books Can’t Teach Us

By and large we tend to think of criticism as a negative thing. Why ? Mostly because it is LOL!  However intertwined with that is the struggle our ego puts up when we are criticized, even kindly.  This happens even when we put our selves into  a situation where we might expect criticism to be part of that, such as in a class situation where we are learning a new skill.

Is your cup full or empty?

Are You A Full Cup?

Are You A Full Cup?

If we want to master a skill, we require constructive criticism.  How else can we know what we need to do to improve? It is impossible to teach a full cup.  There is no room for growth.

As a case in point, I had a self taught person come to me a few years ago and ask me to critique their work and point them in the right direction. It was an interesting experience for me because every time I went to point out what might have been improved in the work, and how it could have been achieved, I was immediately informed of how much this person or that person had admired the work, or thought it the best thing they had ever done.

I realized fairly early on that there was little point in us working together as they were unable to take any kind of guidance without going into defense mode, which effectively prevented then from actually ‘hearing’ what I was saying.

What is important here is that we all do this somewhere in our lives.  Another subtle form of this type of thinking is that as soon as we think we have got something nailed, we stop the flow of expansion because we allow no further possibilities to enter.

Today’s Question: Where are you being a full cup in your life?

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