An Artist’s Job is to Move You (in Either Direction)
I was part of a show recently and so far have read three reviews of it. And even though I was an opener at the show, I was mentioned in all three of them.
Two of them said really nice things about me, and it was clear they understood what I was going for with my art. The other one clearly didn’t. And of course, it’s always the one that doesn’t really get it that sticks with an artist, despite the accolades that outnumber the criticisms.
So it made me think: what’s the healthiest way to deal with criticism?
The first step is to ask yourself if you actually agree with the criticism. Maybe the thing being reviewed wasn’t your best work. Maybe it was an off-night. Maybe the content didn’t resonate with the folks you were trying to speak to. If any of these apply, then the criticism can be turned into praise. Specifically, you’re better than this.And you can work toward a better version of yourself for the next run.
But occasionally, you’re met with the feeling that you were criticized just for being you. And some of the greatest bullies in my life have made me feel this way. That, despite my best efforts to be myself and do what speaks to my soul, someone didn’t like it. Or more specifically, didn’t like me. That stings.
Now, of course, I am not my work. Someone criticizing my work isn’t necessarily criticizing me. But my art is so much a part of my being that it feels that way sometimes. And as much as we pretend that we can avoid feeling shitty about the criticism, and that it doesn’t matter… it does matter.
So if you’re ever in this scenario, it’s important to remember that there’s a weird circular game at play. An artist only makes art that is worthwhile if they are being vulnerable. But it’s the vulnerability, the act of letting someone else into the deepest and darkest parts of the artist’s brain and heart, that makes it hurt so much when the critics start their pummeling.
Sometimes, even if for a brief moment, it can make an artist feel like giving up on your art.
But the solution has always been to continue making new things, and to become even more vulnerable. And when you do that, it is gauranteed that at least one person won’t like what you do (probably more). Finding a hater means you’re making good art. If everyone walks away from your art with a feeling of neutrality, that’s worse than getting haters.
Some of the best art is the stuff that people hate. Like the movie The Room, which is so bad that it became a cult classic.
It’s an artist’s job to move hearts and minds. If an audience member is moved, in either direction, then they are moved forever… and the artist did their job.