Using Criticism to your advantage
By Randy Luckie, 10/7/2018
“We need very strong ears to hear ourselves judged frankly, and because there are few who can endure frank criticism without being stung by it, those who venture to criticize us perform a remarkable act of friendship, for to undertake to wound or offend a man for his own good is to have a healthy love for him.”
– Michel de Montaigne
What did you say?
The pain of truthful criticism can lead a creative mind to despair or anger, or even spurn the creator to give up. However, in the right light, maybe it can drive us to new and better levels of a practiced art, be it writing, painting or any other creative pursuit. It is true that having someone offer an opinion on your work, that is less than flattering in nature, is sometimes, no, make that, always, hard to hear.
We work and work on our object, we add clay to it, we chisel at it, endlessly editing the crude ideas into the thing we wish it to be, only to have some person offer what’s missing or what’s wrong in their view of the little child we have made. No parent wants to hear what a brat their child is, no matter how much of a brat the child really is.
I make that child analogy, because as creators, that is what is like building a thing. It is this thing we conceive, bring into the world and try our best to craft in a way the world, at large, will not only accept, but as something we really want the world to like. This notion is not original to me, by far, I am sure, but it is one I seem to understand wholeheartedly, and it helps bring understanding in general to the topic I have chosen here in this article.
Sometimes we see our own work as what we wish it to be and overlook the minor, or maybe even epic, flaws the work has. I have been victim of this over and over again, as, I am sure, any creator has (and does). It is hard to imagine anyone looking at their own work and proclaiming that is all it was intended to be or all it could possibly be.
Getting Schooled, again!
Consider any craft in itself, you are never at the point of nirvana with it, or you would quit doing it, what would be the point then? Instead, it is something you are learning at all the time. You are always finding new avenues, techniques and styles that, yesterday, you had no idea of. It is the very thing that keeps it going. I have heard it time and time again, masters of any skill, saying they are still learning every day. I like this quote from the author of “The Wonderful Wizard of OZ” on the value of learning…
“No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and that is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire.” ―L. Frank Baum
We always hurt the ones we love
So, with all that said, how is this important to the creative mind? The opening quote by Michel de Montaigne, written in the 1500’s, nails it on the head. This quote points to the need for a creator to hear such things. How else can you be expected to look objectively at your own work? Most of us won’t do that on our own, perhaps even, we can’t, because of that nasty word ‘objective’.
The quote also points to a friendship in the act of wounding or offending. If we, as the creator, choose to consider this aspect on top of the wounding, then once we get past the emotional hurt of the comment, then something of real value to our continuing efforts can be found. Perhaps our crafting will become a more focused, a more beautiful version of the dream desired as it moves from conception to reality. Throw those comments of criticism into the bonfire of your creative furnace and see what comes from it.
It is true that some criticisms are intended to hurt, to be negative with intent on destroying the work or the creator, or both, perhaps. If you practice throwing them all in that furnace, the ones born of hate will simply burn away with no real consequences, while the ones that have value, will have a positive effect on your work, without you having to worry about what this one, or that one, means on any emotional level, thereby, improving your work.