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“Here, I Made This. I Hope You Like It….” Feedback Vs. Criticism

Creating is simply the act of making something new. However, simple doesn’t mean easy. The creative process can be lonely, intimidating, and fraught with self-doubt. Then comes the hard part...sharing what you made with others. 

Do I Have to Share?

That depends. We’re all creatives. We make things, right? We make conversation. We make plans. We make promises, and we make babies. We have absolutely no problem making or sharing these creations. However, when we intentionally create something that will evoke a reaction or even a transformation in others, when we start acting like artists, things change.

Therein lies the rub. All artists are creatives, but not all creatives are artists. Artists create with intention and motivation. They put their creation out into the world. They ship and they deliver the goods.

Artists must share their creations. That's the only way they will get the feedback required to develop and improve their art. Aspiring and advancing artists must hold their work out to an audience. "Here, I made this. I hope you like it." And when they do, all bets are off. 

What Happens Next

“A thing is neither better nor worse for having been praised.” – Marcus Aurelius

Sure, they may love it. Hopefully, they’ll at least like it. If not, perhaps they’ll say, “That’s nice.” But they may very well say, “I don’t get it.” Or, “What’s the point?” Maybe even, “I hate it!” How does that feel? Depending on how much you’ve invested in your art it could hurt a little, or it could be devastating!

Tips On Turning Pro

So you made it. You were clear on your intention and motivation. You invested every bit of your talent and emotional labor. You held it out to others and said, “Here, I made this.” And, to yourself, quietly said, “I hope you like it.”And they didn’t. Not a bit. “What the hell is that?It sucks!”

Time to separate the dilettantes from the real artists, the amateurs from the pros. Here’s how:

  • Make sure you’re clear on what it’s for. “Art for art’s sake” is an amateur’s hustle. Art has a purpose. If you don’t know what your art is for, you didn’t make art.

  • Make sure you’re clear on who it’s for. Art must have an audience. It is your job to find it. If you think your art is for everybody, it’s actually for nobody, and it’s not art.

  • Make sure you’re clear on the change you’re trying to make. If your creation is made simply for attention or to make a buck, then it’s not art. Art connects, communicates, and changes those who come into contact with it.

Okay, Now What?

You’re clear on what it’s for, who it’s for, and the change you seek to make. You put it in front of the right people and...?

They didn’t love it. They didn’t like it. They didn’t even get it! Is that their fault or yours? It’s easy to say, “Heathens! You don’t know art when you see it!” But, it’s very likely that you didn’t do your job fully.

Did you do all the work? Did you do it well or at least well enough? Are you sure this is your audience? Did you share it properly? Did you need to deliver something else?

Don’t let these questions swirl around in your head. Ask your audience! Remember, it’s for them! If you’re looking for recognition or praise or hoping to get picked, or perhaps even to make a little filthy lucre, then you did not have the right intention or motivation!

Mean People Suck

Just in case you weren’t aware, haters gonna hate. There are trolls, hacks, cranks, and critics out there. They don’t like themselves and they sure as sh*t ain’t going to like you or anything you share. They’ll go out of their way to make you aware of their disdain. Unsolicited criticism is not helpful and not worth your time or emotional labor.

 Being a hater is its own karmic consequence. If you can, empathize. If you can’t, smile and say, “Sorry, but if you didn’t like it, I guess I didn’t make it for you.”

Get Back to Work

What to do next? Get back to work! Take a step back. Hold it out in front of you and take a long objective look. Should you scrap it and start over? If not, what’s worth keeping? What should be eliminated? What needs refining? Decide. Then get back to work. That’s what artists do.

An artist, who is a pro, understands that quitting is not an option. Artists pick themselves up, dust themselves off, gird their loins, and get back in the arena. It’s an infinite, not a finite, game. It requires patience, practice, and persistence. Shun the fixed mindset. Adopt a growth mindset.

Here are a few more parting thoughts. A sense of humor doesn’t hurt. Humility is essential. Purpose is required.

That’s it. Good luck. Have fun...and most importantly, get to work.

Oh yeah, and enjoy the process because that’s all we have. Remember the wise words of Samuel Beckett, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

 

Key Takeaway from Chapter 3 and an Exercise

Key Takeaway

Before art can be significant, it must have a proper motivation and intent. What’s it for?  It then must be created with skill, emotional labor, and a clear purpose. What is the change you seek to make? Finally, art must be performed or placed in front of the right people. Who is it for?  You then must take note of the response.

Art is always a collaborative activity because there is always an audience. Learn to love feedback and shun criticism. Develop your ability to discern the difference.

 An Exercise

 Epictetus famously stated, “It is impossible for anyone to begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows.” Feedback reveals the elements of our art that have missed the mark, need further development, or should be discarded.

By the same token, unhelpful criticism is, well, unhelpful!  The Stoics encouraged the memorization of short maxims to have on hand for difficult moments. “They are nothing to me,” was a line Epictetus encouraged his students to use when confronted with something unpleasant, but also unimportant.

 So, when the critic delivers mean-spirited venom, simply smile and say, “Your opinion is nothing to me,” or, “I didn’t do it for you.” Even better? Smile sweetly and say nothing. This drives trolls crazy! All they really wanted was to watch you cry.

 Remember, the pursuit of excellence and mastery in your craft takes courage, but it begins by taking a healthy dose of humility. Take your craft and your art seriously, but not yourself.

Go Further

When you receive well-intended and helpful feedback, be sure to say “Thank you.” Even when listening to the feedback hurts.

 When you receive hurtful criticism, take Epictetus’ advice to “endure and renounce,” but also forgive. The Stoics believed that people are not intentionally mean, just ignorant and out of alignment with virtue. Keep in mind Marcus Aurelius’ reminder to himself, “Tolerate ignorant persons, and those who form opinions without consideration.”

Fail often, fail fast, and fail forward. We need your art. Ready? Me, too! Forward. March!

Go Even Further

This is the third chapter of The Stoic Creative Handbook. Check out the entire handbook on Amazon!

Keep flying higher!

Scott

Thanks for Lending My Work Your Valuable Time and Attention!

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