Don’t get me started.

Well, OK. I’ve heard some shy, young, introverted artist friends recently talking about difficulties in dealing with criticism of their art and practice — hell, dealing with criticism of their lives.  (Maybe the description “shy, young, introverted artist” contains some redundancy, would you say? I know that it fit me. It still does, except for the “young” part.) So, they “got me started”.

First of all, whether you’re giving or receiving “criticism”, remember this:
Words can heal and hurt — sharper than a surgeon’s scalpel or utility knife blade.
Words can inspire others to achievement — or to suicide.
So, be careful in what you say, and how you say it.

As artists and as human beings, critiques can be useful to us – when these are respectfully and lovingly expressed; and in this world of hype and bombast, we can all stand to review the methodologies of critical thinking.

Criticism and “critical” remarks?  Well, these are a different and rotten kettle of fish altogether.

All too often, our first critics are our parents. What they say — and how they say it — can have lasting impact on our development far into adulthood.

One of the subsequent impacts of words delivered to us is on how we distinguish among critiques, criticism and critical remarks that come to us in the world outside the family — i.e., at school, work, social life, relationships, etc., — how we react or respond to them, and how ingrained those patterns of reaction become.

Unless we’ve resolved to become the proverbial “rock” or “island”, we have important ideas to communicate to other people, that is, socially. As creatives we communicate ideas through our art. For a creative person, whether you’re a visual artist, sculptor, potter, musician, dancer, writer… critiques of form and substance can contain information useful to us. As reality checks often this is critical information, in the sense of the critical care you receive in a hospital ER: Are your ideas sound? Are they being effectively communicated to your chosen audience? What can you do differently and better? Taking in and evaluating the potential or actual truth contained in well-conceived, respectfully presented critiques help us develop as better artists and communicators of ideas. In later blog posts, I’ll present my thoughts on how to give – and receive — useful critiques.

For now, I want to concentrate on the altogether negative and un-useful character of criticism and critical remarks.

Criticism and critical remarks also give us information; but they’re often more informative about the character of the persons delivering them. I’ll expand on this elsewhere, but persons abused early in life often inherit the disease – the blood curse – of abusiveness; something to consider and keep you in perspective when confronted by an abusively critical person.

I can go on and on about this — and if you can stand to stick around me, I often will from different angles . There are some concepts you’ll hear me harp about constantly in one context or writing or art work or another. In this post I’ll confine myself to speaking about how I personally deal with negative criticism. Maybe you can relate in some way; and if so, I’d like to hear from you so I can know if I’m presenting my case in ways that make sense to you.

First, it starts with me, and you, and respect.

Respect is the absolute minimum common denominator of any interaction among persons.
Persons who act with disrespect for others in word or action are innately disrespectful for what is human in themselves.

Behind this concept of respect, I hold as truths two seemingly paradoxical assumptions, for which I’ll give neither justification nor proof. I take them on faith. Take them as you will.

  1. I am totally unique, worthy of existence and needing no justification for existence. Since my birth there has never existed, nor will ever exist in this universe, an individual identical to me. As an artist I have a gift to be able to express my thoughts and ideas in some more or less coherent forms in visual media. Through my creative art I strive to express my absolute uniquity.
  2. I am totally connected to every human being on Earth who has ever lived or will ever live. (An argument might even be made about being connected to every being, human or otherwise, animate or otherwise; but for the moment I won’t go there.)

I hold both to be true. I can empathize with other sentient beings because I am the same and share a life commonality, AND I am totally different. I partake of the One and the Many. I am particle and field. And, I hold these to be true about you.

In my opinion, this is the basis of self-esteem and self-confidence. If this self-confidence has not been ingrained in your thought and behavior from birth or an early age, then regaining and maintaining that confidence is not a one-shot deal.

What I’m presenting here is a component answer to the problem of criticism. It’s not necessarily an easy answer to live. It won’t be simply be “do this” and “think this way” and “poof!” negativity and negative words will never get to you. You may be at this art project for the rest of your life.

Personally I’ve struggled to regain and maintain that assertion of artistic and personal worth, a sense of worth beaten and bullied out of me at a young age. (Remember at the beginning I said that words could be as sharp as a utility knife blade? Nearly five decades later, I still have a scar on the back of my left hand that faces in my direction as I type. What did I as a youth slash into my flesh – a steel blade, or false beliefs? Those among you with scars — be they emotional or physical — let those scars be reminders of what was torn from you – and what you fight to reclaim every day of your life. Let the scars be badges proclaiming that the worst has already occurred, and you made it through at least this far. With some work, you’ll make it further.)

It’s especially important to return to this assertion during the bad days. There will be bad days, right? The negativity — like criticism — that comes careening like rocks at your head only amplifies the negativity – the false beliefs, the critical voices, the old stories — that you have inside your head, the ones that fester like putrid-smelling, way-laying trolls under bridges at night, or trolls who make snarky criticisms of your life.

You are unique in all creation, even to the farthest reaches of the Big Bang, and beyond. You have gifts to touch the lives of other beings on the planet, and unique ways you have or are developing to deliver those gifts through your art. So, don’t be heeding the trolls either inside your head, or those without.

It’s not always easy, yes? I want you to know — I get it.

Do you know someone who needs to read this? Please send them here. I want to hear your comments, and theirs. And I’m open to critiques. I’ll have more to write about these subjects in the coming days.

But this is just to get me started.