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The Creative Spiral: Share.

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

Critiques are an often dreaded aspect of art. We feel anxious when exhibiting to our peers, hoping to measure up. We fear appearing lazy, or inadequate, or worst of all vulnerable. In my undergrad I encountered the two extremes of receiving feedback; students who took criticism personally, and those who dismissed it entirely. The first group made their critiques weightier and more significant in their minds. They enlarged them to mean something

about them as an artist. The students who dismissed all feedback shrunk it in their mind, saying something like “Well, art is totally subjective, anyways. You can’t judge it.”

We also learned how to critique properly: begin with a compliment, point out something to improve, then end with another compliment. “The critique sandwich,” as it’s called by many artists. Yet with the importance we’ve placed on critiques, we rarely talk about the proper way to receive one.

Regarding receiving feedback, Sheila Heen, author of “Difficult Conversations,” and faculty at Harvard Law, said that our reactions to life events– including receiving criticism– are based about “50% on genetics, 40% on your inner dialogue, and only 10% on the actual circumstance.” (2015) In other words, when faced with criticism, we indeed have naturally differing emotional responses– some people are more sensitive, while others are more impervious– but we still have plenty of choice in how we react when given feedback that’s hard to hear.

I once had a professor who described sharing his work like sending a child off to university. When your 18 year-old leaves the home, your work as a parent changes. You have to trust you’ve prepared them for the challenge, sit back, and enjoy watching them interact with the world in their own unique way. The experience is fulfilling, stressful, and endlessly entertaining. Though the emotions are of differing proportions, sending your art into the world can feel like sending a child off to school. The time for adjusting things here and there– erasing this, smudging that– is over. If your child’s shortcomings are inevitably revealed in some way, this doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent– it simply means they’re not perfect. The same goes for art (except unlike parents, when we send our project off to school we get to stand by and take notes).

Mistakes aren’t evidence you’re a bad artist. They’re not evidence of anything other than an opportunity to learn.

Remember the If I Go Bald book I spoke about earlier? In the class during which I created it, I was one of the only students interested in children’s books (rather than highly- rendered concept art). Consequently, I felt self-conscious of my book. This, combined with a steady background-hum of anxiety about class critiques magnified my insecurity. As the project deadline approached, dread built up inside me until I felt physically sick. I skipped the class critique in which I should have presented If I Go Bald.

Not wanting to admit total defeat, I relegated my book to the lowly station of an Instagram post. Old classmates of mine still approach me about it. They remember seeing it in their feed and laughing. Though I’m happy they liked it, I feel a pang of missed opportunity when they bring it up.

We can choose the level of power criticism has in our lives. In other words, we can scale it to be as big or small as we choose. What’s your inner-dialogue when you show your work? Are you humbly seeking ways to improve? To what size are you growing the feedback you receive?

If I Go Bald


Heen, S. (2019) TEDx talk: How to use others' feedback to learn and grow, Alumni Personal & Career Development Center. Available at: talk-how-to-use-others-feedback-to-learn-and-grow/ (Accessed: March 30, 2023).

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