Tuesday, May 3, 2022

The Critic In The Creative Space

As artists, our lives run the gamut of emotion, experience, motivation, inspiration, flailing, and challenges. It’s a big swirling soup of inspired life, full of delights and satisfaction spiced with personal testing and tenacity. Undoubtedly it’s a magical way to live, truly a blessing! Even if we can only dip our toes in-between other demands, every minute in our creative space is a gift. This isn’t referencing an actual space in your house though — this is the internal space that exists inside of you, that “home” in your soul that shelters your brand of joy, enthusiasm, purpose, dedication, and inspiration when you create your art. It’s your power source, your engine, your creative nexus that generates momentum for your creative aspirations. We may have fought hard for our creative space, too, and work diligently to keep its fires stoked. Honestly, life has this annoying penchant for dousing the flames, doesn’t it? Every child starts out as an artist but, somehow, that gets lost along the way for many of us. And the world constantly imposes its stresses and pressures on your creative space, yet it’s a fragile place, its furnace easily dampened by the right triggers. Indeed for some, it can snuff out altogether. So it takes a kind of devotion and militant optimism to cultivate your creative space...but the real trick is to preserve it.

To do that then, you know what it also takes? A wall. An impenetrable thick wall lined with rail guns.

Because you know who can bust into your creative space and pollute it, even render it uninhabitable?

The critic. And it surely seems that everybody is one.

Like we explored in Pickled Art, there are simply some types out there who’ll crash your creative party at the first opportunity if you let them. Some folks simply want your art to be their art, they want your vision to be their vision, they want your style to be their style, they want your goals to be their goals, and so they’re going to launch criticisms at you to make that happen. In this way, art just seems to attract criticism like moths to a flame. Indeed, where else though would a stranger or amateur just “cold call” an expert and tell them how to do their job?! Oh, wait…we live in the age of social media. <rolling eyes> Because boy, this can sure rattle your confidence, spike your self-doubt, pop your balloon, tarnish your experience, raise your blood pressure, and maybe even ruin the piece completely for you. And if it becomes a pattern of public treatment, it can dampen your desire to create anything at all. Some critics are even so obnoxious, you come to question human decency and the very tenor of this community. Yet you can’t argue, placate, or reason with them — they just escalate, double down, or worse, flip things around and gaslight you as the villain when you pushback.

So why do people do this? Perhaps they aren’t creative and so see you as a means to their end. Perhaps they’re dissatisfied in their own creativity and so try to bend yours to their ideals. Maybe they just feel self-important and want to throw their weight around. Maybe they seek to belittle and bully out of some twisted agenda. Perhaps some people just like to tear others down because their own baggage compels them. Maybe your work has made them feel insecure somehow so they lash out with criticism. Maybe they need to inflate their sense of self-worth and so use you to step on. Maybe they simply have no clue or care with how they come across. And probably for some, the temptation to help may be fueling their opinion with the well intentioned rationale, “But how will they ever learn?,” without realizing that what they’re doing is inherently problematic. Whatever the reason, we find that six basic strategies tend to be launched the most:

1. “Cold commentary”: This is the infamous uninvited criticism, unsolicited advice, or unwelcome “helpful” opinion. Truly, if you’ve ever shown your work to another person, you know what that is, and if you’re active with your work on social media, you definitely know what that is. Because there’s always one promise when you display your work: Negative feedback, and the more of a public figure you are, the more ardent it’ll be. As BrenĂ© Brown would put it, if you choose to go into the arena, you’ll surely get your ass kicked. You’re simply going to get beaten up with opinionated judgments because you’ve become a lightening rod, a magnet, a target. That’s just the way of it. Curiously, too, that uninvited critic will often frame their behavior as giving you a “constructive critique” as if forcing their opinion down your throat was a positive, something worthy of gratitude even. Yet when you beg to differ on that point, watch how quickly they gaslight you as the bad guy. But don’t let them make you doubt yourself because here’s the truth of it: The only critique that’s actually constructive is that which was specifically requested. Regardless, be able to defend your work and your choices, be very clear on your Vision, have a toolbox of coping mechanisms, work to develop your poise and confidence, and above all, understand in no uncertain terms that not all opinions are created equal and most are really just detritus. In fact, the opinions that are typically the most insightful tend to be the very ones that will wait for your invitation, when you’re ready to absorb what they have to share. They'll also have the wisdom to respect your creative space and act to preserve your experience despite all the “even ifs,” “buts,” and “what abouts” because they understand that your enthusiasm is far more important at that moment than “perfection.”

2. Passive aggression: We’ve all heard it — either people telling you outright how you should create your piece or saying it needs to be a certain way to be “perfect.” You want your forelock up, but someone says it would be “perfect” down instead, or you want your Quarter Horse bucking but someone says that she’d be “perfect” jogging instead. In short, the piece needs to adhere to their vision and not yours to be “perfect.” Here, perfection has been weaponized and this little trick manifests in all sorts of ways from the “I’d like it better if” to “If only” to “but it would be better if” to “I like it but….” Now it’s up to you whether you want to chase after someone else’s “perfect,” but just know there’s a sure deal with that devil: You’ll mostly likely sacrifice your Voice and eventually become disillusioned. Your Voice doesn't like compromise or being diluted, does it? No — it wants its own Truth in 100% purity. And here’s the kicker: That’s what makes it perfect! If you remain faithful to your Voice then, its fruits will be all the sweeter no matter how others try to sour it.

3. Comparison: There are plenty of people out there comparing artists, even ranking them, so at some point, you’ll be compared to another artist which can surely be complimentary, but it can be hurtful if that comparison is thoughtless or ill-matched. The truth is every artist is their own Universe, distinct, autonomous, and self-contained, so to make comparisons then is, in essence, to diminish the compared by pairing apples and oranges, or by pigeoning-holing a square peg into a round hole or, even more, by over-simplifying things so much that the nuances and differences — where the magic happens — are lost outright and we lose the essence of things. Sure, one artist can influence another, it happens all the time, but that’s where the comparison should end. Beyond that is the special magic that asks for our respect and the space to exist on its own terms. As Taylor Swift sings: 

And we see you over there on the internet

Comparing all the girls who are killing it

But we figured you out

We all know now, we all got crowns

You need to calm down

4. Weaponizing subjectivity: All art is subjective — yes, even realistic art has a goodly degree. For one, we have the murky waters of taste, whim, options, possibilities, and spectrums that lend so much welcome diversity to the art form. Yet there’s a hefty dose of subjectivity even in those anatomical technical specs, too, because they really aren't such a hard fast objective baseline as one might think! Really, if you truly understand anatomy, you’re fully aware that Nature is crammed with possibility, oddity, happenstance, and moment that will spin structure and motion into alternates that can be well-removed from what we’d think of as normal, even possible. “There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Yet note how many critics rest their comments on their brand of subjectivity rather than actual facts, or rather, on their very narrow base of experience or taste rather than a broader and more informed viewpoint. Indeed, there’s a huge difference between something “looking wrong” and actually being wrong. Undeniably, there’s plenty in life that looks wrong, but is still technically correct! But the typical critic will use subjectivity as a bludgeon to make your piece fit their more limited knowledge base and safer, "less odd" tastes. This is exactly how we risk homogeneity and dumb down our work if we “groupthink create” because most people out there simply don’t have the Eye, haven't done the esoteric study, haven’t gone down the rabbit holes, aren’t pushing the envelopes, aren’t exploring the options, and just aren’t looking for the same things you are — they want something that fits inside their safe little box. And is that really how you want to define your work if that’s not your goal? And is that influence suited for your creative space?

5. Ignoring “creative consent”: Creative consent entails the boundaries that automatically initiate the moment a piece is displayed which pertain to the artist's agency over their own creative experience. This means that we do not step into their creative space and impose ourselves uninvited. Put another way, it means we never negatively comment on a piece unless the artist has expressly asked for a critique from us. And simply displaying a piece is not consent to criticism or critique. So just because an artist displays their work doesn't mean that's an open invitation for our corrections or an impromptu lesson, even if well-intended. Instead, that artist is sharing their work for their own reasons we’re not privy to and — trust me — if they truly want pointers, they’ll ask for them. Until that happens, however, let that artist have a safe space to show off their hard work, joy, love, flailing, curiosities, challenges, sacrifice, discipline, failures, and dreams. Which brings us to…

6. The belief that artists are “asking for it”: There’s a contingent out there who believe that artists ask for criticism simply because they choose to display their work — that the mere act of showing their work to others is the invitation itself. Wow, that’s a presumption. What’s more, that a person is so entitled to their opinion that they should voice it even when it’s hurtful or thoughtless. We often hear the rapid-fire justification of “it’s just my opinion,” don’t we? The catchall phrase of the critic and often the mantra of the destructive ones. But there’s this, too — isn’t the rationale “they were asking for it” the alarming excuse of every abuser? But — hey — just because a cosplayer may dress a certain way doesn’t mean they’re asking to be groped! Likewise, just because an artist displays their work doesn’t mean they’re looking for your “help” or other criticisms. Granted, they don’t expect everyone to love it, but what should be present is a safe, respectful, thoughtful space all the same. Truly, if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. The Golden Rule always applies here. Just because one has a criticism doesn’t mean it’s correct, doesn’t mean it’s necessary for the artist to know, and definitely doesn’t mean it has to be voiced because — no — the artist just isn’t “asking for it.”

So what’s the solution to this onslaught of criticism intruding into your creative space? Ignore it all. Flat out ignore all of it. Don’t accept what they’re throwing at you. You “don’t receive that,” as @elysemyers on TikTok advises. Don’t even engage if you can avoid it. Absolutely, silence can be a powerful response. Besides, you’ll never change anyone’s mind about whether or not they like your work so don’t even try. The fact is that some people don’t understand — or care — that what they’re doing is hurtful. They also don’t realize that their behavior doesn’t speak to the truth of your piece but to their own baggage. So just let it all slide out of your psyche like water off a duck’s back. Not important. Not relevant. Not worth your joy, energy, or time. Not received. You have better things to do like getting back to work in the studio and better voices in your head like those that inspire new work and cheerleader you on. Don’t give this kind of icky feedback bits of your life. It doesn’t deserve it.

Why? Because what this icky feedback is doing is crashing into your sacred space, uninvited, unwanted, unwarranted, with the sole purpose of bursting your bubble with their demands, their expectations, and their vision. But they aren’t your demands, your expectations, or your Vision, are they? And who’s art are you creating? Theirs or yours? Remember, the Universe made you the sole vessel for your art, not theirs! You don’t need their voices in your head — it’s distracting, muddling, compromising, and saps too much of your energy. Your Voice is the only one that matters, and it’s more than enough and worthy! It’s powerful, vibrant, and critical for the health and diversity of our art form. We need every Voice, in its full potency, to keep our art form dynamic, growing, evolving, and multi-faceted for every taste. Indeed, if we succumb to the demands of public opinion — opinions which will never be pleased anyway — all we’re doing is dumbing down our Vision, stifling the power of our Voice, and all the while injecting confusion and disillusionment into our creative space. Who cares what other people think. Really — who cares! If you love creating your art, that’s the only thing that actually matters. Heck, you don't even have to like what you're creating, just keep doing it with enthusiasm. See, if you keep at it, you'll get to a point somewhere down the line where you will love your art but you'll never get there if you stop! Besides, being creative is good for you so "just keep swimmin'."

And there’s this, too — pandering to public opinion is also introducing their errors, skews, biases, and misinterpretations into your work. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen an artist input an error, diminish their awesome piece, or come to doubt themselves when they were actually right, all because they listened to public opinion. And I’ve seen plenty a piece robbed of its vital energy and lively novelty by a misplaced demand for a "better" (read: “safer”) interpretation. Really, truth be told, the groupthink usually isn’t nuanced enough to get it right, or more pointedly, just not right enough. Many also prefer what’s “safe” over what’s possible, locking out oodles of exciting options. If you’re creating to chase public opinion then, you’re going to get into trouble pretty quickly with self-doubt, confusion, frustration, exasperation, disillusion, block, paralysis, fear, and maybe even defeat and despair. Why? Because you’ll never make the public happy no matter how much you change your art. Read that again. Without a doubt, no matter how hard you try, even if you changed everything about your art, a significant enough portion of the public will still be dissatisfied and have no qualms about letting you know. So let it go. Let it all go. Besides, they aren’t your people! Believe me when I tell you then that you’re better off unapologetically creating for your own reasons, without waver. Never sacrifice your Voice or Vision on the altar of public opinion. Do you really want to create according to your own comments section, constantly and impossibly chasing after all that like doomed Don Quixote? Or do you want to create authentically, joyfully, and on your own terms with confidence and authority? There’s only one way to do that and that’s by preserving the sanctity of your creative space even if that means ignoring negative cold comments entirely. There’s nothing wrong with a one-way street if that preserves your inner sanctum.

Really, I’ve been at this for over thirty years, and I still outright ignore all the critical comments in my feeds. Yes — even those trying to be “helpful.” I even block chronic offenders. Why? Because they fail to respect the sanctity of the creative space — and its fragility. See, it’s emotion that keeps the artist going — love, determination, gumption, discipline, joy, enthusiasm, stubbornness, disquiet, curiosity, motivation, thrill, inspiration, delight — it's all fuel for your creative space. But feelings are fragile things, aren’t they? When the right button is pushed, very quickly they can flip into their unhelpful counterparts fear, block, paralysis, frustration, exasperation, doubt, indifference, disillusionment, disenchantment, resentment, and despair. And perhaps the most fragile emotion of all is enthusiasm — it’s quivering and vulnerable, easily succumbing to negative input. Yet “perfection” is an abstract with no feelings whatsoever, it’s inert and even more, impossible to attain. So which one is more important to preserve for longterm progress? Plus no one knows but the artist all the challenges, struggles, frustrations, despairs, tears, sweat, triumphs, backstory, and joys any given piece has entailed nor does anyone but the artist know the goals, Vision, motivations, and end game of it neither. Only the artist is truly privy to the full backstory which means all criticism is missing so much sensitive information, it tends to do a lot more overarching harm than good. 

How? Well aside from the emotional impact, which can be crippling, every artist is on their own learning curve, aren’t they? (As is everyone with a criticism.) Yet we have no idea where they are on that curve, do we? None. Indeed, the wrong bit of advice at the wrong time or even the right bit of advice delivered wrongly can be rather detrimental to their longterm progress. So trust that the artist will figure things out in their own time, in their own way as they progress on their own learning curve. Honestly, pelting an artist with “helpful criticisms” is a surefire way to eventually shut them down, even if peppered with plenty of compliments. As such, it’s also a great way to make them stressed, anxious, distrusting, and embittered. Because there’s this, too: There’s no balancing between good and bad comments. Really, you can tell an artist ten glorious compliments but it’ll be the one criticism that will ring in their heads forever the loudest. This is due to the artistic temperament for one, but also to a “negative bias” hardwired in the human psyche. We simply lend more weight to the negatives because they were the ones that could hurt us throughout our evolution. Therefore, the artist has to be in a specific ready state to receive criticism well enough that its harm is minimized and its benefits maximized — and only the artist knows when that is though and will then ask for a critique. But until that happens, only offer support and encouragement. Honestly, there’s no “helpful” comment that’s worth potentially sacrificing an artist’s enthusiasm since one sideways criticism can even ruin the entire piece for them. Really, I’ve known too many pieces getting trashed as a result. So again, the rule is to wait for a clear request for a critique from the artist; otherwise, keep all criticism to yourself or offer only positives. Yes — only positives. Even if you think the piece is riddled with problems, it’s far more important to preserve the artist’s enthusiasm. And absolutely, no matter how many issues a piece may have, there’s always something positive that can be said about it even if it’s all the hard work and love the artist has poured into its creation. Find and focus on those positives and chances are that artist will grow, improve, and evolve, and probably much faster with their enthusiasm intact. And no, this isn’t being disingenuous or blowing sunshine up you now what. It’s helping to protect the fragility of their creative space which is far more helpful in the long run. Because just as much, this creative niche is freakin’ hard enough on its artists already. Frankly, it’s brutal and usually unnecessarily so. So why add to this corrosion when it can be so easily neutralized by positive support?

So — yes — I only focus on the good comments. Now one could easily argue that’s creating in an echo chamber, only hearing what I want to hear, and yes — that’s true, it is. But creating something and putting it out there in public is an act of such tremendous vulnerability, that’s hard enough, thank you. And frightening! Every artist, on some level, takes a deep breath of trepidation with every debut. Creating is hard enough and showing ya’ll what we create is harder still so giving the whole experience a softer landing isn’t being fake, it’s being considerate. And it’s also precisely how we reinforce all the good juju that motivates artists even more to create all the cool stuff we love! It’s no surprise that the more positive reinforcement an artist gets, the more creatively invigorated they tend to become and so the more exciting work for you! 

And artists — remember this — your creative space is your own best excuse to filter commentary. You only have a finite amount of energy any given day so do you really want to waste it on anything unwelcome that could drain it? Think about that. Because isn’t your energy best spent in the studio? Never expend your energy on those who don’t serve it — they aren’t your people. Be very clear, for your own sake. Yet even more precious is your time. As an artist, all you will ever have are two things: You talent and your time. And while the former is limitless, it’s the latter that’s the limiter and the most limited resource. So respect yourself — don’t waste it on things that’ll only impede, muddle, paralyze, or distract you. You don’t need all those negative voices in your head, that pit in your gut, and that self-doubt in your heart getting in your way, especially when it was all avoidable. Again, your time is best spent in the studio, creating more of the work only you can.

Always remember that your creative space is your sanctuary to succeed, fail, experiment, explore, grow, stretch, faceplant, ponder, and marvel. Only one person should be in that pilot seat, that throne, that nexus — you. No one else should have a seat there. And never forget your power there, too. You are full of potency, purpose, and intent. Your art is an extension of all of you so let it shine through uninhibited and bold — create out loud! You don’t need to justify anything here either. Know that you deserve your creative space not because of your talent or your success, but because it was always yours from the start. Indeed, no matter how you triumph or stumble, false start or plow forwards, charge through or careen off the map, you’re worthy of the creative space the Universe made specifically for you. By the same token though, the only person who can let it all fall apart is also you. If you chose not to defend or tend it, it can crumble apart and you may find your creative drive fizzling away into disillusion. It cannot withstand the outside onslaught on its own. 

Now this isn’t to say never seek outside opinion and feedback. Really, many artists reap the benefits of critique! But the key concept here is this: Let it be on your own terms. Let it be invited and controlled so it’ll exist within boundaries of your own making. So for that, identify those peers you believe mirror your goals because they’ll be the ones to actually guide you best with your piece. For example, artistic peers whose work you admire are often good choices. Ideally, too, they should also have the social graces to deliver their insights in a way that won’t corrode your enthusiasm, confuse the issues, or over-season your work with their vision. But a peer is going to just get it — they get the whole process thing, the journey thing, the ugly stage thing, the motivation thing, all of it. They simply speak your language, making them uniquely positioned to deliver a truly enlightening critique that can bump your piece up a few notches.

Even so, you are never obligated to accept anyone’s opinion of your work, no matter who is giving it. Really, if you believe it wrong or an ill-fit for your Vision, take what you can learn and dump the rest. Your Vision is yours alone in the entire Universe. No one could ever create the same way you do even if they tried, even if they were technically trained to copy you. You are singular and in the moment as are all your choices and consequences expressed in your art, and all those add up uniquely on each piece. So always follow your gut. Not your mind, not your heart — your gut. It’ll steer you true in the long run. Really, if some comment makes your nose twitch, it’s the Universe telling you to stand your ground. Draw that line in the sand, claim your creative space, and stand your ground. Even if you’re only one up against many — stand your ground. Chances are your gut is right even if that’s not obvious anytime soon. Just don’t confuse this though and end up becoming stubborn, resistant, and close-minded. There’s a huge difference between what your gut is telling you and being too rigidly minded.

Because — yes — maybe sometimes you’re wrong. Hey, it happens and it’s important to now how and when this is the case. Always remember that different Eyes catch different things, different knowledge bases contain different data, different perspectives weigh different things — and no Eye, knowledge base, or perspective is truly complete. Every single one has gaps and blindspots, even if we’ve been at this for decades. Absorb, cogitate, research, and decide what to use then with a critique because we have to get our bearings with that, too. And the key concept here is “research” because if you’re wrestling with a particular point your peer has made — good — put it to the test. Research it and investigate. See, the true value of a good peer critique isn’t to tweak your piece — that’s incidental — it’s to beef up your knowledge base and expand your toolbox in new ways. Indeed, that’s a great way to frame peer critiques in general — they’re guides that point you to new doors and offer you the keys with fresh insights and new techniques. So walk through those doors, go down those rabbit holes, recalibrate your knowledge base because, truly, the best way to use their input is as a springboard for further exploration. Just keep this in mind — try not to get frustrated if you still don’t quite get something they’ve pointed out. It just may not be the right time yet. We can only absorb what we’re ready to absorb at that moment; everything happens in its own time. Trust that you’ll progress at your own pace, and when that happens, it’ll absorb a lot deeper than if it was implemented half-understood and half-impressed, and most likely creating new systemic mistakes. Rushing things before we’re ready can generate bad habits so be patient with yourself and put a pin in it. You can always circle back later. 

And this also isn’t to say that collaboration is a bad thing either. So much fun and incredible work can be had with collaborating with other artists! Absolutely, if you get an opportunity to collaborate with an artist you admire — do it! Just be sure in that moment between you and the piece that only you is present with your own Voice and Vision. Indeed, isn’t the reason the other artist is collaborating with you is to work with your own individual awesomeness? They’re there for your talent! Not theirs — yours! So express it 100% as that best honors their efforts, too. 

The points is that growth isn't necessarily served best by the critic, despite what they insist otherwise, because there are plenty of other ways to stretch and correct that don't threaten to implode your inner arting landscape. We can take the insights of our guides, the synergy with our collaborators, the lessons of our own mistakes, the march of our learning curve, the explorations of our study, and the growth of our artistic evolution and mash it all up into our own brand of progress. Stay true to yourself, loyal to your creative space, and faithful to your Vision and you got this.  

So what are some ways we can sail these waters without our boats getting tipped over? Well, for starters, it’s good to accept a few things as part and parcel of the beast. First, not everyone will like our work and that’s perfectly okay. More still, we don’t need everyone to like our work, and that’s even better. Heck, we don’t need anyone to like our work, the best case scenario. Seriously, the more you can detach yourself from a need for acceptance, the more you’re going to realize there’s only one person you should be pleasing — yourself. Never chase public opinion. Never place someone’s criticism above your own regard for your own efforts. Never put someone else in a position of power over your own agency. If creating your art pleases you — regardless of its nature — that’s all that matters. Because there’s this, too you aren’t going to like what you’re doing all the time! Absolutely, there are going to be plenty of times when you just cannot stand it, or are filled with doubts, or are so meh about it, you wonder why you’re even bothering. This is all perfectly normal. Yet listen to what Martha Graham advised Agnes de Mille — it’s absolutely spot on:

     The greatest thing she ever said to me was in 1943 after the opening of Oklahoma!, when I suddenly had unexpected, flamboyant success for a work I thought was only fairly good, after years of neglect for work I thought was fine. I was bewildered and worried that my entire scale of values was untrustworthy. I talked to Martha. I remember the conversation well. It was i a Schrafft's restaurant over a soda. I confessed the I  had a burning desire to be excellent but no faith that I could be. Martha said to me, very quietly, "There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have a peculiar and unusual gift, and you have so far used about one-third of your talent."

     "But," I said, "when i see my world I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied."

     "No artist is pleased."

     "But then there is no satisfaction?"

  "No satisfaction whatever at any time," she cried out passionately. "There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others."

Second, realize that creating art is a highly personal act defined by and dependent on vulnerability. Read that again. Yet many will insist that artists not take criticism “personally” — but how is that even possible when creating art is one of the most personal acts a person can ever do! Instead then the name of the game is management because every criticism can stick in your craw on some level, even if just a sliver, and we need strategies to work it out of our psyche, encapsulate it, or, better yet, block it outright. Third, accept that you’re engaging in something that automatically comes with the surefire promise of negative feedback — you’re never going to avoid it. You can dodge it, you can bounce it off, but it’ll be fired at you forever. You’re dealing with a crocodile, not a lamb. Fourth, clearly understand that any criticism doesn’t mean you’re a failure as an artist or as a person. Please take this to heart! I know it’s hard when you’ve thrown so much of yourself into your work, but don’t pitch into that pothole. It’s bad for you, bad for your art, and honestly, it’s a bald-faced lie your lovely little inner gremlin just loves to blather in your ear. So when it comes to coping mechanisms, that includes your internal critic, too. Fifth, perfectionism can be a traumatizing tyrant if you let it — so don’t let it. Honestly, come to accept that your work — any work — will never be perfect. We’re human and so we’re going to make mistakes, we’re going to fall short in some way, we’re going to miss the target because only Nature can make a perfect horse and our Vision is only ever perfect in our heads. Even more though, that this isn’t just okay, it’s a good thing! Chasing after perfection is how we improve, right? It gives us goals to achieve, something new to learn, and a new way to surprise ourselves. Just don’t let perfection rob your efforts of enthusiasm and intent — just as much as you embrace it to learn, learn to let it go and move on. Indeed, chasing after perfection can be our single biggest impediment to progress! Remember then that your enthusiasm will ensure progress all by itself so just keep at it and know that it’s surely coming. Just as much, too, some pieces can often just take control — it can take on a life of its own and evolve away from your original vision. It just happens! And if you try to shoehorn it back into your box, it'll fight you every step of the way. So let it evolve, let it take control, let it self-actualize. You are the only way, the only conduit, it can ever materialize the way it was meant to; otherwise its true form will be lost to the world forever. Sixth, know thyself. If uninvited criticism really doesn’t bother you — good for you! You’re one of the few who can naturally compartmentalize it effectively. But if you cannot — which is many artists — train yourself with coping strategies to manage the impact and longterm effects. There’s no right or wrong way to be in this, either — you’re perfect just as you are. And seventh, know very clearly that when you chase public opinion, confusion and disillusion aren’t far behind with a muddled Vision and homogenized Voice. In short, “creating by committee” usually means your work will get dumbed-down and you’ll become disenchanted in your own creative space. Instead, the better option is to identify those who have goals aligned with yours and privately seek their input. This way you’ll have more reliable information, a more focused delivery, more targeted help, less scattershot ideas, and more respectful treatment of your Vision and creative space. Add all this up then and we’re gifted with poise, confidence, and authority — a solid tripod of support — three things that will then flip around to further shield you from unwelcome criticism. Wall fortified!

And fortification is certainly necessary because what a lot of people don’t seem to understand is that dealing with criticism is a cumulative proposition. It all stacks up. No criticism exists in a vacuum — it amalgams with all the others you’ve ever gotten into a big, roiling ball of awful in your gut. If that ball gets big enough then, you tend to run into problems with self-doubt, disillusion, bitterness, anger, paralysis, and frustration. So while someone just wants to correct “one little thing,” that might just be the one little thing that breaks the camel’s back. We don’t know, do we? We just don’t know where that artist is in their journey, at all. No clue. Is it kind then, wise then, productive then to just chime in because we can? Think again. Because what people also don’t understand about criticisms is that they stay with you — forever. On some level, in some way, they’re remembered and often with more weight than a compliment. Indeed, the power of a single criticism can be crushing, yet look how many people wield theirs so recklessly and thoughtlessly! Is it any wonder then why that wall is so necessary? Yet when an artist tries to define their boundaries for their own protection, look how quickly someone accuses them of having an outrageous ego, or of being too sensitive, or of being too arrogant, or being too [insert insult]. Ya can’t win for losing!

So what are some practicalities when dealing with uninvited criticism? Viscerally knowing it needs management is one thing, but what are some actual strategies for doing that? Luckily, there are plenty. First of all, understand that you never have to accept any uninvited criticism no matter who it comes from. Just because someone lobs a comment your way doesn’t mean you have to catch it. Let it drop to the ground. What’s more, you never have to say “thank you” for it. Be calm and polite, but still, you don’t have to thank anyone if you don’t want to. See, uninvited criticism is simply bad behavior. Do you validate bad behavior? This doesn’t mean you go ballistic, however — always be calm, polite, and professional — but you don’t have to meet bad behavior with obsequiousness either. Really, the only time a criticism is ever appropriate and should ever be thanked is when you clearly invited it. At all other times, criticism deserves nothing from you but your indifference. And eventually these types, or most of them, will get a clue and simply pipe down. Anyone who doesn’t — block them. You owe them nothing. Only you know your Vision, your style, your direction, and what you want to get out of your work and no one has a right to be in your creative space if you don’t want them there. Honestly, those trying to crash it are the ones with the issues — not you! It always says far more about them than it ever does about you and your art. Keep that close to heart, flat out ignore the bad junk in the comments section, and keep that wall up and you’ll be able to handle pretty much anything hurled your way.

There is one particularly useful in-person tactic when dealing with an uninvited critic, too — let them hear their own voice. How do we do that? Well, take a breath first and gather yourself so you don’t have a knee-jerk reaction. Then imagine yourself as a mirror reflecting their words back onto them. You’re not receiving what they’re saying, you’re bouncing it back. To do that, remain still, maintain eye contact and when they’re done, repeat their words back to them in a deadpan tone, with a final, “How interesting” or “how curious.” More times than not, you’ll see that critic become uncomfortable and maybe even just leave the scene. However, social media is another equation entirely and in this case, it’s typically effective to simply ignore it — don’t even engage — and if it’s bad enough, delete and block. You don’t owe anyone a response. If someone is a wrong note, is crossing your boundaries, is harshing your mellow, is rattling your cage, or is simply being an annoyance, it’s absolutely okay to jettison them. Indeed, it’s smart to prune your social media to best serve your interests because that sets the tone and helps to shield your enthusiasm.

Now if a criticism is so egregious that it warrants a rebuttal — that’s your choice. Just use facts such as your references and hard data to back up your position. Point out how their position is flawed and how and why their behavior is problematic and unwelcome, but without making any of it personal. In short, address the behavior and the criticism, not the person. Above all, always be level-headed, concise, polite, reasonable, and take the high road because your reaction will be weighted more heavily than the person who caused the problem in the first place. (Unfair, yes, but true.) Yet if someone was outright abusive — give it to them both barrels. But again, be polite, firm, concise, professional, and make it very clear you’re not interested in a “lesson.” It’s okay to show your annoyance, too. Then leave the scene — don’t engage after that, just leave. Say your piece and leave, and block if necessary.

It should also be mentioned that whether we’re stalwart with unsolicited criticism or if we’re very sensitive to it — there is no right or wrong way to be! Everyone is different. Truly, it’s not inherently superior to not care. Granted, detachment is a super handy buffer yet by the same token, one of the things that can make your work so great is precisely your sensitivity, the depth of your responsiveness to the world around you. Really, your sensitivity might very well be your best asset! So when you shut that down, you shut down those very things that connect you so deeply to your art, your Voice, and your Vision. Don’t do that. The fact is that every artist develops their own way of navigating the ugliness out there custom tailored to their personality and motivations — and there’s no better or worse way to do that. Whatever works for you is the best way given you maintain your composure and enthusiasm.

Now some people will insist an artist should listen to all criticisms no matter their nature because there’s always a something useful to be found, right? But this is literally saying we should swim in offal in the hopes of grabbing a single pearl, and in offal that will never wash off. Is this really the most effective long game when we can stay out of the mess with a private critique as an alternative? Because honestly, swimming after soiled pearls is a problematic proposition, especially in the age of social media. Let’s face it — not all criticism is well intended. In fact, a lot of it is malicious or not delivered well enough to even qualify as well-intentioned, and there are few things more permanently destructive than the ill-meant comment. Why expose yourself to that when the alternative is so much nicer? Plus, what swimming after soiled pearls actually does is permanently implant a cacophony of bad voices in your head that grind away at your creative space, stacking up and amplifying with each passing day. It just makes that swarming ball of ick in your gut bigger. Honesty, few things are more disruptive and demoralizing that a shrill chorus of negative voices stuck in your head! The fact is only a tiny fraction of artists out there can manage swimming in offal well enough to stay motivated as most tend to become embittered or disillusioned on some level. So better safe than sorry, yes? Because, again, if you’re ever in doubt with your work, privately seek peer critique because you’re going to find a bigger, better, and cleaner pile of pearls there. Every artist should always be playing the long game. Read that again.

Another management tactic is to always consider the source of a criticism. Where’s it coming from? Who is it coming from? Are they qualified? Do they match your goals? How are they coming at you? Is it just some troll? Is there an agenda? What’s the real purpose of the criticism? These questions can lend a perspective that can deflect such things really well. Indeed, take all criticism with a hefty grain of salt! Because here's the deal: When you weight someone's opinion, you're assigning it value, or rather you have to assign it value for it to affect you. But does it have value? Does it really? Because once you realize that you can choose whose opinion matters, you also realize that most peoples' opinions don't. They aren't in your shoes, living your Truth. So sure, they can have an opinion, but big whoop. You still aren’t obligated to accept it no matter who is saying it, where it’s coming from, how it’s being presented, or what the agenda is. Let it go and move on. You have better things to do like getting back to work.

Develop a healthy sense of purpose. When we believe that what we’re doing is important beyond ourselves — because it is — our efforts begin to transcend the everyday petty world of criticism and take on more weight and so more forceful momentum. Truly, the more “mass” your motivations have, the more unstoppable your efforts become, so kick it into gear! Think of what you’re doing as a massive train that once fueled with purpose, gains increasing amounts of momentum until its mass is going so fast and powerfully, it’ll simply crush any criticism thrown onto your tracks. That’s exactly how it works. When you know — finally realize — that what you’re doing is incredibly important for yourself, for our genre, for the Universe, your efforts take on a whole new level of meaning that literally no criticism can discourage. Cultivate your purpose and cultivate a new highly effective forcefield. 

Likewise, stay focused. Your purpose gives you momentum but you need focus to direct it — look forwards. You can glance backwards and to the side if you need to at times, but don’t stay focused there because you’ll crash — eyes forward. Indeed, the best answer to any criticism-induced disillusion is to simply get back to work. Elizabeth Gilbert beautifully refers to this as “going home,” always returning to that place that brings you deep personal joy when you create. Just “get back to the salt mines” like a diligent, determined little pit pony because there’s tremendous sanctuary and power in simply pulling your cart with resolve. Head down, eyes forward, shoulder into the harness — pull. You have better things to do.

When you have purpose and focus then, you tend to develop a more disciplined attitude about what you’re doing, too. In short, you gain direction. As such, you get so busily and happily wrapped up in what you’re doing, you no longer have the wherewithal to worry about criticism. Hey — you have stuff to do! Gotta go — bye! And uninvited critics just don’t have a prayer against that! They just can’t get your time and energy when it’s instead directed exactly where it belongs. Absolutely, the best answer to every single uninvited criticism is creating new work.

Be patient with yourself. Not everything will be understood all at once, not everything will be mastered all at once, and not everything will be within your grasp all at once. It all takes time — its own time, going at its own pace that cannot be forced or sped up. This is because improvement is a process, not an end game, so one thing builds on another on another in a crazy jigsaw way — learning isn’t linear! — and so it goes. So while you struggle today, know that you’ll come to the problem more expertly in your own time as long as you keep at it. Absolutely, the moment you stop is the moment you’ll never get there! Yet criticism has a sneaky way of making us very impatient with ourselves — don’t let that happen. Take a breath. Relax. Be kind to yourself and apply even more patience to your own progress. It will come — just give yourself the space to get there in your own time and purge those voices that dog your heels because they know nothing of your journey.

Learn to detach yourself from your art a bit. Doesn’t have to be completely — we don’t want completely — but just enough that you can put some distance between you and it when needed. Why? Because this comes in handy when managing your emotions by giving you the space to pluck yourself out of the situation when you’re pelted by critics. When there’s distance, what they’re saying becomes less about you and more about them. Indeed, the ancient Greeks had a handy trick for this — the concept of the Muse. Here they believed that art was created not entirely by you, but by an outside influence that came to visit you. In short, you aren’t wholly responsible for your own art since your Muse shares your efforts. So if a piece “failed,” it wasn’t you who failed, it was your Muse that hosed up. See — there’s distance. And the fact of the matter is this — even the best artist ever will create duds, will make mistakes, will land short of “perfect.” Every artist has a bad art day. All of us will faceplant many many times throughout our journey. In fact, if we aren’t faceplanting, we aren’t stretching, and if we aren’t stretching, we aren’t progressing as well as we could be. Mistakes are part of the process and journey, too, a critically necessary part. In this, adopting this concept of the Muse in some measure can be a tremendous buffer that better shields us from our own inner critic as well, and anything we can arm ourselves with against that is a blessing.

Know who your peeps are — and who they aren’t. Being very clear about who is your target audience is serious need-to-know information for any artist, especially a working artist. Because your work won’t appeal to everyone and so you’ll find that a lot of the criticism comes from this sector of the community — ignore them. Seriously, just ignore them. They aren’t your people nor do they ever intend to be, and you don’t need to give them any power in your agency no matter who they are! Really, just don’t. You’ll never win them over anyway so just stop compromising yourself trying to appeal to them. In response then, consider this: Amplify your work! Create even louder! Find new ways to diversify and expand your options to slather more of it around. Instead, focus on your fans, those people your art does speak to and who support it. Aside from yourself, they’re the ones you’re creating for, right? Keep giving them what they love and feed on their positive synergy — they’re your cheerleaders so throw them pom poms! What’s more, these are the people you should be listening to if you ever wish to vet public opinion. The thing is, because they care about your work, they’re probably going to care about you, too, and so come to your request with more thoughtfulness than someone who doesn’t give two wits or is even inimical. And even if the latter might have something useful to offer, you still don’t need that negative energy in your creative space. Absolutely, the threat of pollution always outweighs the pearl because plenty of pearls can be found in your positive base, too — so tap that instead.

Understand that the delivery of a criticism is as important as what’s said and so you’re allowed to shut it out or even shut it down simply because of that. Truly, that information can be found elsewhere from someone else kinder so feel free to set boundaries. And don’t let anyone confuse you on that point — you’re allowed to set boundaries! And in doing so, you aren’t avoiding progress but building a creative space that best cultivates your enthusiasm to keep disillusion at bay. Why is that more important? Because it’s your enthusiasm that keeps you moving forwards, it’s the very fuel for progress. Criticisms don’t do that — it’s enthusiasm that keeps you going. And you know what can kill enthusiasm? Criticism. So you know what most threatens future progress? Disillusion caused by criticism. Keep those contained then and you’re automatically on the best path to rapid improvement. So if anyone accuses you of only hearing what you want to hear, of creating an echo chamber— fine. They’re right. What they don’t understand is that preserving your enthusiasm is much more important than getting things "perfect." A bit counter-intuitive, yes, but it’s true. Remember — play the long game.

In line with that though is the pollution you introduce into your own creative space. Keep it clean! If there’s one person harder on an artist than a critic, it’s the artist themselves! We can truly be our own worst gremlin, can’t we? But it’s easier said than done to say “stop it” because you can’t, can you? Of course you can’t. You care about your work so much and it’s only natural to want to honor your Vision with your very best effort. But keep it in check by maintaining perspective and never forgetting that the kindness you show others should also extend to yourself. And just as much as you criticize your efforts find ways to praise them, too! Look at all the beautiful work you’ve created! You did that! Out of everyone in the Universe throughout time, you did that! And sure — it’s not perfect. So what? Nothing is. Even the world’s most gifted and highly trained artists always create imperfect work and that’s okay. Wabi sabi, baby! Indeed, that helps to make it so special! We’re human, we’re the sum of our positives and negatives so extend that consideration to your art. And stop with the comparisons. You have your own unique magic — you don’t need anyone else’s! “Comparison is the death of joy” said Mark Twain and he was absolutely right. Let go of any bitterness, resentment, envy, and jealously — they’re a noxious brew that’ll only corrode your creative space. Your talent is enough, you are enough. Instead, turn all that into admiration and be happy for your peers when they succeed. Gosh, the world is hard enough so when they succeed, really, we all do, right? And when they push a boundary out, that's one more limitation gone! Let them inspire you and fill you full of renewed ambition then. And remember, they’re in that arena right by your side, getting their asses kicked, too. There’s this as well — if you can see that another artist’s work is on another level, it means you have a good Eye, right? You just have to put in the work to get more skilled so gather up your gumption and courage and keep going! It’ll come! Also, stop undermining your progress. Yes, the negatives often seem more important than the positives when hellbent on progress, but the truth is all the good stuff is just as critical. Seek balance in your perspective that regards your setbacks and progress in equal measure. Indeed, tactical self-heeling is necessary to spur our growth, true, but doing that all the time can be an exhausting, discouraging grind. Give yourself some breathing room. Honestly, how far you've come with what you had to work with and within the limitations that corralled you...what you've accomplished so far is dang impressive! Keep at it! You're doing great!

Okay now — brass tacks time — you’ve been blasted by a critic. What do you do? First thing — breathe. Take another breath. And now another. Chill. Absolutely, before responding to unwelcome criticism, cool down. Relax and regain your poise and composure. Never just react in the heat of the moment. Take a step back and regroup. And remember who you are — reclaim yourself! It’s so easy to get knocked off your feet by the impact, to have your sense of self wrenched from you by shame and self-doubt. It’s a shock — yes — but snatch it back. It’s yours so don’t let anyone rob it from you. Also remember that you don’t have to catch what they’re throwing, so sidestep and let it fall to the ground. It’s a hot potato — don’t grab it! That’s a lot to juggle very quickly out of the blue, but with some practice — yes, practice — it becomes more second nature, like a reflex. Now then, decide if it even needs a response with the full understanding that flat-out ignoring them is a great option. Silence can say a lot. Here’s the thing, too, the particularly obnoxious offenders have an uncanny ability to zero in on an easy target so the more wall-like you become, the less they get out of you and so eventually come to leave you alone. Because be careful what you feed with your attention. Whatever you encourage with your energy is what you’ll get back in spades, which is precisely why ignoring critics can be an effective long game. However, if a rebuttal is necessary, go for it. And if their behavior was particularly callous, let them have it. Just exercise a lot of wisdom, goodly professionalism, and play the long game. You might also be reassured to see that others will rise to your defense as well, which is even better because it sends the critic a very clear message about what’s acceptable behavior in our community.

Recognize this effect too: When your work makes an impact that means it generated a strong reaction, good or bad. Bingo — mission accomplished! Good job! One of the greatest goals with our art is to connect with people in some way, to evoke something inside them. Now while a lot of that will be awesome, not all of it will be — such is inevitability. But still — excellent work! Yet quite a few people aren’t emotionally self-aware so they just knee-jerk react to their emotions or attempt to avoid them which means they can become uncomfortable in their own skins if your work triggers them. For instance, a classic reaction comes from insecurity. Here, your work may threaten someone’s sense of identity or superiority in some way and so they need to reassert their authority to make their world seem right again. It’s not your work, it’s them. Another classic example is the critic pandering to their ego. Quite often the critic has a truly tremendous sense of self-importance (an accusation they often throw at artists) and so they really aren’t looking to actually help — they’re looking to impress. Another possible situation is envy, resentment, and bitterness compelling the critic to just lash out from their own place of weakness and vulnerability. Some critics even react with weaponized behavior because they feel affronted on some level that may have nothing to do with your work. Heck, maybe they're just displacing their stress onto you, being so haired out. So never forget that a critic’s behavior often says far more about them than about you and your art. Step back, consider its value, then let it all evaporate away like a passing storm cloud. There are better things to spend your precious energies on. 

And now let’s just get this out there: Anger isn’t always a bad thing. Most of us though have been taught that it is, and so if we get angry, we’re automatically the bad guy, right? But that isn’t the case. Anger just is, it’s a normal human reaction to something that strokes us the wrong way because, in all truth, anger can be a rational reaction to a critic. But how do we manage it when we have to take the high road? A better way to frame it then is this — your anger is a signal. Something is wrong, something is off — what is it? What’s your anger trying to tell you? Have your boundaries been crossed? Have you been treated discourteously? Have your rights been infringed? Have your feelings been abused? Pin down exactly what is riling your ire and you’ll gain control of yourself and the situation quickly.

Know this, too: Your art is the best rebuttal. The Truth is in your work. Let it speak for you. Everything you’re about with your creativity is there clear as day in your art, so step back and let it do the talking. Plus, your art isn’t the sum of people’s opinions, is it? So stop internalizing them, stop giving those opinions so much power in your creative space. Once you come to realize that your work exists for itself — and that’s enough — it becomes its own best defense and you gain another new protective force shield.

Now, all this said, we can say there’s one exception in which a criticism should be given centerstage: When that comment addresses inhuman treatment of the animal or that which is depicted in our work. In this case, we should listen because our choice of subject matter does indeed reveal a lot about our knowledge base, ethics, and priorities. Absolutely, what we chose to portray isn’t to be taken lightly since we’re dealing with an animal deeply seated in many problematic systems. And don’t we want our love of equines to truly match what comes out of our studios? Indeed, if we say “I love children” but choose subject matter depicting violence and depravity towards them, how is that being genuine? If we say, “I love dogs,” but choose to portray terrible things happening to them, what does that actually say about our true motivations? Sure, such things may happen in life, but is that really an expression of admiration and affection? Is that what love would really choose to validate? There’s a huge difference between loving equines and loving the idea of equines, of loving a discipline and loving the idea of a discipline. Frankly, simply parroting what we see in life and then ignoring the truth of it is disingenuous — and people notice. If you choose this path then, know that your road will be paved with constant criticism — and you’ve earned it.

After all is said and done, however, it’s deep wisdom to fully embrace and radiate this quote by BrenĂ© Brown: “If you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.” Hands down, mic drop, 100% spot on correct. Those who aren’t in the proverbial arena also getting bloodied simply don’t warrant a voice in your creative space. They’re sitting it out, safely on the sidelines while you’re the one doing all the work and taking all the hits. That means what you’re creating — and getting beaten up in the arena for — is automatically more meaningful and amazing than what they’re doing. You’re the one who's “showing up,” you’re the one putting yourself out there with courageous vulnerability, you’re the one taking all the risks and making all the effort, you’re the one creating something brand new that’s never existed before — you’ve already won the argument. Let the critics yap on then as they always will — ignore them. You don’t need their energy. Get up, dust yourself off, shake it out, and get back to work. You’re already a champion!

The fact is any criticism given outside of an invited request is out of line and a detrimental intrusion into your creative space — and it’s okay to be clear on that. Yes, there are some artists who just seem to manage the situation really well, emerging seemingly unscathed from the exchanges, but frankly, they’re the exception, not the rule. Instead, most artists are affected by critics on some level, some deeply so. So know thyself and be ready — it’ll happen at some point. There’s always that guy in every crowd. And when we’re blindsided, especially in public, coming up with the perfect response can be difficult. Just never forget that even the greatest artists in history had to field critics, too, some of them alarmingly abusive. Yet they never let this discourage them, allowing it instead to feed their determination to make them stronger, more resilient, more resolved, and driving them back into the studio to get back to work. Let that be the case for you, too. Let these experiences toughen your wall and keenly recalibrate your railguns. It doesn’t have to toughen you up though — you’re perfect just the way you are — just let it toughen your defenses. You can create a force shield around you that’ll repel pretty much anything someone could launch your way without sacrificing who you are.

Even so, being beaten up in the arena is still going to be ouchy at some point no matter what we do for protection. Someone will blindside us, someone will hit the right button, someone will simply be so obnoxious, they get a volley over the wall. But with these pinpointed strategies, we can learn to dodge the worst of it, deflect what we can, and if we get hit, bounce back quicker and with our creative space intact. But even that said, being bloodied in that arena still isn’t right, is it? Here’s the thing — it’s a big crazy world out there, yes, but isn’t our niche rather close knit and relatively insular? So can’t we do better by each other? The world out there is ugly enough — why add more ick? And sure, we do have to make judgments in our niche because we have objective reality to compare against, but we can still do that with a bit more kindness, courtesy, and wisdom, can’t we? Especially in public when so many artists are in earshot of every word? And instead of blathering about what we dislike, why not talk up what we love? Again, if you have nothing nice to say about something, say nothing at all.

Criticism will always be the counterpart to creating art. It’s been its noisy partner from Day One and shows no signs of piping down. Yet while there’s no way to stop it, we can create workarounds to funnel it down other pathways rather than directly dumping into our creative space like an oily, gritty sludge. We can also pop up force shields to deflect and bounce back its barbs and darts, and we have our railguns to shoot incoming projectiles right out of the sky. And in places where it can be a particular minefield, we can simply avoid them like many public forums and social media groups, especially those that lack decent moderation. It should be noted though that while we don’t have to live behind the wall — we need to be ourselves, right? — it’s our creative space that should nestle behind it. We can still feed off people’s ideas, suggestions, and insights, of course, but keep it safely behind there since one unguarded moment can be devastating. Even so, sometimes taking a hit is unavoidable because it just comes from out of left field, even from friends or family, and right when you weren't expecting it. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen an artist unintentionally crushed by one thoughtless comment from a loved one or friend. Here’s where your defenses and coping skills will really be tested — and in a very intimate way — so take the opportunity to learn from the experience itself because if you can withstand such things from them, you can surely withstand anything from strangers and definitely from trolls.

Because — yeah — you can come back stronger than you were before. Take a hit? Get back up. Shake it off. Shoulders back, chin up. You’re stronger than you know, more talented than they imply, and more special than the world would have you believe — now prove it. And guess what — you just got more XP! Use the situation to deepen your resolve, renew your dedication, recharge your gumption as a charged alchemy that reinvigorates your enthusiasm. When you come back with that kind of fire in your belly, what criticism could possibly discourage you? And you don’t have to come back fighting either if you don’t want to! Not all battles have to be fought to be won. Often times the better tactic is to just get back to work, tossing your hair and banging out your art with love and delight. Truly, the one thing criticism can never touch is you living your best art life. As was said in Star Wars The Last Jedi, “That's how we're gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love." Never forget that the Truth is in your work. It will always speak loudest for you, best defend your efforts, and exist for its own sake regardless of what others try to tear down. And remember that a criticism says more about the critic than it does about you and what you’re creating. They’ve just played their cards — badly — only they don’t know you’re playing with an Ace up your sleeve and a stacked deck! Keep your Poker Face and play the long game, and you’ll call their bluff every single time. Zen masta! So party on in your creative space, get back to it, and get back into that arena. You got this.

You can't make your choices based on what critics think. You have to make your choices based on what's honest for you.

~ Nicolas Cage

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