Helpful Tips for Dealing with Criticism as an Artist

Criticism. Critique. Appraisal. Assessment. All words that can cause anxiety and stress. It’s not easy to deal with criticism, but as an artist where what we do is so personal, it can have a bit of an extra sting. In my blog about taking care on my mental health I mentioned the importance of not allowing my identity to be formed by people’s opinions.
That can be easier said than done though!
With that in mind, I decided to go a bit deeper. These are some of my tips for dealing with criticism as an artist.
I hope you find them helpful…

Orange square with text in white saying "To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing, Aristotle". It features in a blog by simon o'rourke featuring tips for dealing with criticism as an artist

IS IT TRUE?

The first of my tips for dealing with criticism is to evaluate if it’s constructive.

A quick scroll of social media shows a culture that treats all opposition, criticism, or disagreement as hate. This isn’t the case though! In fact, constructive criticism is helpful and necessary for growth. So the first thing I suggest is asking if the criticism is valid.

Is the person knowledgable? Is their comment relevant? Could it lead to improvement?

If so, keep it in context as a teaching/learning point and grow from it. The photos below are from my first ever cat sculpture and a more recent one. Criticism (from self and others) was a necessary part of growing and improving.

WHO SAID IT?

The second of my tips for dealing with criticism is to consider who said it.
For example, if the person is an expert in my field, I might want to listen as it could lead to improvement.
If the criticism is from a client then I may need to make changes.
If it’s a trusted friend laing the comment, maybe I need to listen and work on something in my character or behaviour.
I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point!

DIFFERENT, NOT WRONG!

It’s also important to recognise that as people we’re all very different. We have different tastes and preferences. As artists we simply can’t appeal to all people, no matter how skilled we are or how hard we work. At some point we have to embrace that ‘different doesn’t mean wrong’ and just let it wash off.

Glass containing coloured pencils with text over it saying “Art thrives on a difference of opinion. My treasure is your junk, sort of thing. Life would be dull if we all agreed.”
Part of simon o'rourke's blog for dealing with criticism

PICK YOUR BATTLES

Ah, social media! A necessity for all artists trying to put their work out into the world. But also a hub of troll activity!

I think others may have different advice, but my tip for dealing with social media criticism is to choose you battles. We don’t need to respond to everything.

If you look at some of the comments on my posts, I don’t delete, remove or respond if someone doesn’t like a piece. They’re allowed their opinion, and when they take time to express it, it all helps with that pesky algorithm that’s looking at interaction!

I DO choose to engage however if what they have said isn’t true, has legal implications, harms the business, or disregards one of my core values. Once.
For example, I often get comments about killing trees. One of my core values though is conservation and, as you know from my blog on the best wood for a sculpture, the first thing that I consider is if the tree is dead, diseased or dangerous. So when someone criticises me for killing trees, I will post once to correct it.
Often the response is gracious or contains an apology.
Some say nothing at all or simply ‘like’ my comment.
However, some people choose to keep arguing. At that point I don’t engage any more. I’ve done what I need to do to correct misinformation. Anything beyond that is pointless.
Choose your battles and dealing with social media criticism becomes much easier.

Image shows a troll using a laptop and the caption "Please do not feed the trolls". Choosing battles on social media and not engaging with trolls is one fof the tips in this blog for dealing with criticism as an artist

HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOUR

I’ve found that when dealing with critisicm, having a sense of humour can help. I guess that’s true for most things in life!

As an artist, some criticism is very direct. But it’s also easy to take more subtle things as criticism, such as someone mistaking a person or object I’ve created for someone/something else. When we’ve put time and effort into creating a likeness, it can be hard when people can’t identify it. And yes, more than a decade in, it happens! One of my team once commented on an armadillo sculpture in the back of a photo. It was an otter on a rock!!!

A recent example was that my King Charles II sculpture went viral in South Asia with over 100,000,000 hits that we know of (so far more in reality)… because they thought it was Jesus! Someone shared it with one of those ‘say Amen if you love Jesus’ type caption and suddenly millions of people were commenting!
It would easy to be offended. Not only did they not recognise my portrait, it meant they’d ignored captions, video dialogue. However, I genuinely found it funny!

Sometimes humour doesn’t come so easily. But if we can try to see the funny side, it can help.

King Charles II was mistaken for Jesus!

KNOW YOUR IDENTITY

My final point is something I spoke about in my mental health blog.

Criticism hurts most when it attacks who we are. It’s easy to mistake what we do for who we are and so criticism of our work can sting that little bit more. If we can ground our identity in something more solid than what we do, it’s much easier to keep criticism in context. When we know our worth and our identity and it isn’t based on what others think, we can evaluate and use or dismiss criticism in a much healthier way.

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful. What other ways have you found for dealing with criticism? Drop a comment and let me know!

I’m currently crowdfunding to finance an independent documentary film about me and my work which will be available to donors once it’s finished. Please visit www.treecarving.co.uk/film-project to find out more about the project and how you can donate or even become a sponsor with an end credit.