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Coping with the 'art critic', or criticism from your non-creative significant other - though

Do you have a significant other who doesn't fully appreciate your artwork or writing? Someone who regularly criticises what you do? Do you find it lowers your motivation to do art? I might have a solution for you here.

Most of us artists have significant others (partners/spouses, relatives etc) who don't fully appreciate our creative work. These people criticise it whenever we do something, or frown upon our spending on art materials. For most of us it is true that art is a hobby - it might be slightly different if it were a professional endeavour (usually you need a thicker skin in that case). Do we criticise their hobbies?

I'm going to call these people who criticise your art, non-creative 'art critics'. This criticism is a problem because constant criticism destroys creativity, and difficult creative work like art and writing needs a very comforting and positive environment to really flourish. Being creative is very hard work.

I think there are two sorts of people - those that DO art, and those that CRITICISE it (ie, the critics). You don't often see the real critics doing art. Critics usually don't realise how hard being creative is. They're too caught up in adding their opinion to and criticising everything that when it comes to actually being creative, they self-criticise too heavily, and don't end up producing anything.

Artists are themselves usually their own biggest critics, and we're always fighting against our own self-criticism - you usually know where a piece has gone 'wrong' (even if nobody else sees a problem). You might not know how to fix the problem exactly - which is when you should seek the help of other more experienced artists perhaps (this is a very good strategy and one I recommend).

The problem with external criticism from non-creatives is that it too easily reinforces our own inner doubts about our abilities and our artwork, and any reinforcement of that kind can be sufficient to tip the balance away from the enjoyment of doing art, into not doing art at all.

Don't listen to criticism from non-creatives - create a barrier around yourself by asking them if they could do better, if they would fix it? Perhaps even hand them the brush or the pen and ask them to 'do better'. Most often I suspect they will decline the attempt - because the reality is that they can't do better and they know it.

Critics don't know what they're talking about. They like to believe that they are 'acting in your best interests' by telling you 'what the general public will think' - but the reality is that they're just one person (believing they hold the voice of the public is very egotistical), and it is just their opinion (typically coming from a lack of creative experience at that). Art is very subjective - there will likely be many people out there who feel exactly the opposite.

I'm not saying be completely blind to critiques - constructive criticism, particularly the kind that is made by people with creative experience (other artists/writers), can demonstrate fantastic insight and greatly improve your technique or the aesthetic appeal of your work if you're able to take it on board.

Learn to differentiate constructive criticism from plain old criticism from the 'critics' though. Constructive criticism begins with positive reinforcement and follows through with real suggestions that might help improve the work. For example: 'I really like the way you've done this and this... perhaps you should try such and such as well'. It is usually overwhelmingly positive, peppered with little suggestions for trying new things. The key here is the little or step-wise suggestions - because people with experience doing creative work know how difficult it is to achieve anything at all. These people who know how to give good constructive criticism make fantastic teachers and you should hang onto them with both hands! You should learn how to give constructive criticism if you can too. These people want you to do well, and they want you to keep trying and painting and writing or doing whatever it is that you do. They don't feel threatened by the work you do.

Critic criticism is all about negatives. These critics elevate their own self esteem by denigrating your work, so positive reinforcement is usually out of their vocabulary. For example: 'I don't like the way you've done this...'. When these critics find something they don't like about your work, they feel it would be dishonest to 'lie' and say that they do like any part of it - they feel they are doing you a service by pointing out the work's flaws. They feel you should be appreciative of their criticism. They feel that their ability to criticise is a valuable contribution to the creative process. The blunt truth is - it is not. It kills creativity.

My solution to this problem is to make a blanket rule with your 'critic' or non-creative significant other to never say anything negative about your work. They're allowed to say things they like about the work however. It may seem unfair that they're not allowed to voice their 'opinion', but the reality is that their opinion is biased anyway. They usually have some form of vested interest in your work because they feel it reflects back negatively on them if it is not 'perfect'. It shouldn't, because they're not the ones producing the work - but remember that critics are usually very sensitive to external criticism of themselves.

If you can't make this blanket rule and have them adhere to it, then simply put a mental barrier up around yourself where you don't 'hear' anything negative that they say - ignore it, disregard it, throw it away. Or alternatively, maybe hand them the brush or pen and witness their reaction. :)

Have you found any other strategies that help you cope with criticism of your work from people close to you?

#artcritic #criticism #constructive #teacher #positive #feedback #negative #creativity #inspiration #motivation #partner #apr14

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Laura is a visual artist, veterinarian, conservationist and disease ecology Research Fellow trying to juggle a multitude of passions - and she's too stubborn to drop any of them! She is particularly fond of bush walking, rogaining, camping (especially with her mother, Jenny), bird watching and photography. She lives with her partner Pete in sunny Brisbane, Australia, and dreams of having an art studio in the rainforest!

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