When you create something and put it out in the world, you are sharing your heart and soul. I can see why a lot of artists of any kind (painters, drawers, writers,etc) will keep their art close to the chest and never let it see the light of day. It is a scary experience to release your creation into the world for others to potentially ridicule or hate. This is partly the reason why I have a hard time releasing anything I create into the world. What it if isn’t well received?
Veteran artists know this pain and have managed to push through it. I applaud and commend them for being able to take negativity with a grain of salt and still continue to create beautiful things. It is much easier said than done to ignore the bad.
That said, I feel that sometimes the “bad” can be good if you look at it the right way. This is what I have learned over my college writing courses. I have had to critique more work in the past few months than I ever thought possible. Some if it was amazing, some of it needed work and some of it really needed a total do-over. The question I always asked myself was “What can I say to help them be better?”
I realize many people don’t do this. It is quick and easy to say that something sucks or “I want my 5 minutes back”. I just feel that some of those people are just assholes in general but I feel that many really don’t know how to give constructive criticism and this can cause people who create to not take any criticism at all. They get mad, give up, or just don’t listen.
This was never more evident than this past week. Hubs has a new book ready to be published. For those of you who are new here, he self-publishes on a few platforms and so we do all the heavy lifting that a traditional publisher would do. This means that we have to find an artist for his cover art. Luckily there is this awesome place called 99 Designs. You post your project up, give some basic guidelines, and then artists compete with their art for your business. This is awesome for freelance and indie artists as they can actually make a living just by making connections through this service.
Hubs used 99 Designs before and it was wildly successful. We have awesome cover art for one of his books and he intends to contract this same artists for future books in the series. Last week Hubs started another contest for the newest book hoping to get the same quality as before. Now, much like writing a book, other artists really do need input on what and how to make things better. In this contest you are able to ask or answer questions and give comments on a particular piece. This is important if something just isn’t quite right and just needs a little something to really make it wow.
Apparently most of the people in this contest don’t see it that way. When we comment something like, “It looks really good, but we would like to have more of this or less of that.” the artists takes the whole piece down and withdraws from the contest. This isn’t good for an artist working on commission. You will never get any work out there and many times art needs to be revised to be all that it can be and all that it needs to be.
So, I have some advice for people who create things for helping them move past the hurt of criticism, but are still committed to making their craft better:
- If it isn’t helpful, ignore it. This is important. Some people are just jerks and some don’t know how to tell you what is wrong. If it isn’t helpful in making the piece better, just ignore it.
- Ask questions. If someone says they don’t like it, ask why. Give them options to help them narrow it down. Is it the color? Is it the wording? Maybe it is a sketch and they don’t realize that it isn’t finished. Ask questions to help narrow any problems down.
- Look at your work from a different point of view. You know what you were trying to say, but the audience may not. Try to come at your work with the eye of someone who doesn’t know the story you are trying to tell with your art/writing. This can be difficult and it takes practice. Many times issues can show up just by doing this simple thing.
- Accept suggestions and consider the changes. Don’t automatically see criticism as wrong or bashing. Many people really do want to help you be a better artist. If someone keeps telling you that the color doesn’t work or a sentence just doesn’t fit, try it a different way for the hell of it and see if you can make it better. Maybe blue really is better! Maybe taking out that entire sentence helps clarify the paragraph!
- If all else fails, don’t be offended if it isn’t someone’s cup of tea. Art in any form is subjective. Sometimes you are just going to create something amazing and perfect, but the audience isn’t going to like it for one reason or another. Maybe they aren’t keen on your style. Or, like a great many covers we have had to look at, it just doesn’t really fit the theme. That is ok. It doesn’t mean it was a wash. You have a new piece for your portfolio.
Now for the advice for people doing the criticizing!
- Be nice. Even if you think it is total crap, be nice. The person presenting has just giving you a part of their soul, even if you commissioned it. It takes a good deal of courage to open themselves up. Be. Nice.
- Ask yourself “How can I help this person make it better.” You are fresh eyes on the project. You will be able to pick out any problems areas that the creator over looks (and we all do because already know the story we are telling) and point them out. Timeline issues, wrong shading, weird angles…you will be able to see it more clearly.
- Start with a compliment. You may not always have a compliment in which case remember No. 1. However, 99% of the time there is something you can appreciate from the work. ” I like how you are talking about child abuse, however I am not sure who the story is about…” “I like how you make the piece dark, however it seems a little too dark, perhaps using a lighter shade…”. People will be more likely to listen to you then as you are giving them suggestions and just telling them their work is terrible.
- Be specific. This one can be a little difficult because sometimes you really don’t know what is wrong. “I see you are talking about child abuse in your story, but I got a little lost. You may want to clarify a bit when this happened.” “This art is really well done, but it doesn’t really fit the book. Maybe try taking out this element and see what that does…” Do your best or ask questions. “I am really not sure what direction you are taking, can you explain it to me?” is better than “It needs something else, but I really don’t know what”.
- Always end on a high note. Even if it is as simple as “I look forward to looking at this again!” This will let the person know that haven’t written them off and that you really do want to help them make their work the best it can be.
Of course, none of these things are the end-all-be-all and it isn’t comprehensive. However, I hope these things help anyone reading them.
And keep creating! The world needs artists!!