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Criticism stings. There's no way around it. When someone questions your creative choices or pokes holes in your carefully crafted work, it's only human to feel wounded. Who wouldn't bristle at being told their art "misses the mark" or their writing is "disjointed"? Feedback can cut to the core, especially when you've poured your soul into a personal project.
Many creators instinctively go on the defensive when faced with critique. It's an impulse born of pain. But resisting or resenting criticism seldom leads to growth. For your art to reach its potential, you must open yourself to outside perspectives.
This is easier said than done. Even seasoned artists struggle not to take negative feedback personally. As author Elizabeth Gilbert relates, "I"ve had reviewers criticize my books in ways that frankly enraged me...I wanted to find that reviewer and fight them in an alley." Though amusing in retrospect, her initial reaction reveals how viscerally criticism impacts creative spirits.
Playwright Eve Ensler affirms that critical feedback often leaves her "totally shattered." But she stresses the importance of letting these difficult emotions run their course before responding. Journaling, talking to trusted friends, or just allowing yourself time to process can help take the edge off destructive knee-jerk reactions.
Many successful creators have learned not to constantly seek praise, but rather to value constructive insight. Novelist Stephen King acknowledges, "If you can't take criticism, don't write. It's part of the gig." The path of growth means welcoming feedback even when it's hard to hear. As singer Billie Eilish notes, "You can't always just do what makes you feel good and happy. You have to listen to criticisms because that's how you grow."
One of the hardest things for creators to do is separate themselves from their work. Our art often feels intensely personal, making criticism of it feel like criticism of us. This instinct to take feedback as a personal attack makes it extremely difficult to receive critique objectively. But establishing boundaries between yourself and your creations is essential for growth.
Acclaimed author Haruki Murakami emphasizes the importance of this detachment: "You have to learn to look at your work as something that was created by somebody else. You have to grow this double-structure in yourself." Building this "double-structure" allows you to view your work with some degree of objectivity, creating the space to assess feedback on its merits rather than just reacting emotionally.
Many artists describe undergoing a process of disidentification from their art. Singer Sara Bareilles shares, "I"ve learned that what I do is not who I am. The work is the work. Me feeling like a failure if I don"t sell enough records is me taking on some mantle of success or value that has nothing to do with my actual purpose in this world." Freeing herself from these external measures enabled more authentic growth.
Letting go of our work can feel counterintuitive at first, even threatening, as if we are betraying some integral part of ourselves. But actor Michael Caine offers wisdom borne from experience: "One of the first things you learn as an actor is that you are not the character you are playing. The same goes when critics talk about your work." Creating healthy boundaries allows us to consider feedback thoughtfully rather than lashing out to protect our sense of self.
Some artists establish rituals to separate themselves from current projects, allowing fresh eyes and clarity. Writer Anne Lamott ends each day"s work mid-sentence, "forcing me to leave it at a place where I"m still hungry to go on." This makes it easier to resume work the next day from a slight critical distance. Other creators put projects completely out of sight for days or weeks before revisiting them to gain new perspective. The key is finding separation strategies that work for your temperament and process.
When receiving criticism, our instinct is often to scrutinize the critic. We look for signs of bias, faulty assumptions, or malicious intent. But fixating on the messenger can distract us from the real import of critique " the message itself. Feedback is meant to provide insights to strengthen our work, regardless of its source. The wisdom is in the words, not the speaker.
This principle was illustrated by the experience of novelist Jane Smiley with her book A Thousand Acres. A renowned literary critic panned the novel in a major publication, much to Smiley's dismay. She later realized, "His review wasn't wrong. He might not have been the right person to review that particular book, but his comments were valid." She determined not to let her bruised ego cloud the value of his critique.
Smiley's experience highlights the importance of evaluating feedback on its merits rather than rejecting it based on who it comes from. Journalist Doris Lessing echoes this: "You should pay attention to what people tell you about your failings. I have done this all my life, with the result that I have improved greatly." Lessing focused squarely on the constructive message in criticism that helped refine her craft.
Some creators establish guidelines for assessing feedback judiciously. Screenwriter Max Adams makes it a rule to "consider the note, not the noter." He explains, "A lousy note can come from a smart person, just as a smart note can come from a not-so-savvy person." By framing it as an issue of the note itself, not the noter, Adams stays open to insight.
Director Ava DuVernay stresses that truly useful critique stems from a place of care: "I listen to the notes that are given from someone who has my best interests at heart." Discerning which messages come from such a place, versus those arising from pettiness or politics, is crucial. Similarly, actor invocation tomarry emphasizes, "I only take advice from two people - my mom and my trainer, because they want what's best for me." Their sole focus is her growth.
Though often hard to swallow, feedback is one of the greatest gifts we can receive as creators. While our instinct is to resist or resent critique, recognizing it as an offering that fuels growth transforms how we relate to it. Feedback provides a precious chance to view our work through someone else"s eyes"a perspective we would otherwise lack.
Author Elizabeth Gilbert likens helpful critique to "someone handing you a lantern and guiding you down a rocky, tedious pathway that you might not have found on your own." Though the passage seems daunting in the moment, we emerge wiser once we complete it. Similarly, Oscar-winning screenwriter Josh Olson stresses that insightful feedback "illuminates dark corners you didn"t even know were there." Bringing these weak spots to light equips us to refine our skills.
Many artists emphasize that feedback is most constructive when focused on the art rather than the artist. Philosopher Karl Popper noted, "We should attempt to expose and eliminate our prejudices, our subjectively personal distortions of thought, rather than our mistakes." Sharing impressions of how the work misses the mark proves more helpful than assigning blame.
Pop singer Billie Eilish reflects on receiving feedback about her music and performances: "People aren't mad at me, they're mad at their experience. All I can do is put my artistic expression out. After that, it's all subjective." This mindset helped her stay open. Director Ava DuVernay echoes this principle: "Understand that people's problems with the film are usually not based on you. It's about their viewing experience." Feedback provides a window into that experience.
Creatives who have embraced critique as a catalyst for growth emphasize that we alone choose how to receive it. Actress Viola Davis asserts, "The problem isn't the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem." Deciding to perceive feedback as nourishing makes all the difference. Author Elizabeth Gilbert agrees: "Whenever criticism becomes stressful, it's a sign your perspective has become distorted and needs adjustment." Reframing it as a gift readjusts that lens.
Cultivating a growth mindset is essential for creators to fully benefit from feedback. This outlook frames critique not as a judgment of fixed traits, but as vital input to expand skills that can always improve. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, a pioneer in mindset theory, explains that those with a "growth mindset believe talents can be developed through effort; brains and talent are just the starting point." This stands in contrast to a "fixed mindset", where abilities are seen as set in stone. Creators who see skills as malleable remain resilient when faced with criticism.
Actress Viola Davis embodies this attitude, sharing, "Doubt is part of my process. You have to get comfortable with it, and you have to push past it. If you"re in a fixed mindset, that doubt will eat you alive. You'll think, 'Do I suck as an actor? Am I horrible?' But if you're in a growth mindset, you use it to empower yourself." Viewing talent as something she can continually strengthen through effort, Davis stays open to feedback. She advises creatives to stay curious: "Ask 'How can I grow?' versus 'Do I suck?'"
Comedian and podcaster Marc Maron also stresses the importance of a growth outlook when receiving critique: "You have to have a beginner"s mindset. It"s about saying "I don"t know" versus "I know." A beginner's mindset makes you teachable." Rather than assuming mastery, we recognize there is always room for improvement. Maron continues, "Don"t get too comfortable. Comfort kills comedy and kills growth. You need friction and tension." Feedback provides this important friction, keeping complacency at bay.
Cultivating growth mindset requires self-compassion. BrenÃ© Brown, research professor and author of Daring Greatly, observes that without self-compassion, vulnerability becomes difficult: "If we want to make vulnerability less terrifying and discomforting, we have to make it less dangerous to talk about feelings of inadequacy. We need to normalize not just sharing the highlight reel but also all of those imperfections." Brown"s research shows creatives who related to themselves kindly remained more open and resilient.
Film director Ava DuVernay exemplifies Brown"s ethos, stressing, "You cannot abuse yourself into a piece of art...I"m kind to myself and I"m kind to others." From this place of compassion, DuVernay receives critique as fuel for development rather than an attack on her worthiness.
Bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert likewise focuses on self-care while creating: "I nurture myself and nourish myself with gorgeous ignitions of pleasure and beauty and friendship and nature and travel and rest." This grounds her in herself apart from the work, allowing space for growth.
Establishing a clear creative vision is vital for artists to fully own their work and evolve on their own terms. Knowing your guiding principles and aesthetic goals helps insulate against both internal doubts and external critiques that might otherwise derail you. Cultivating this inner compass enables you to evaluate feedback objectively while staying true to your voice.
Renowned author Stephen King considers having a creative vision foundational: "Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story should be, it gets tougher when doubts creep in." Defining the essence of your story or vision first gives clarity for revisions when outside influences loom.
Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro echoes this priority: "As artists, we start disconnected from the final form. We have a primal vision, and then we shape it." Honing technique comes later. Novelist Chuck Wendig agrees, advising writers: "Begin at the beginning. Find your story"s heart, its heartwood...The heartwood at the core of your story should be strong. Know what it is before you start." An inner vision guides choices.
But cultivating self-knowledge and conviction takes practice. Songwriter Sara Bareilles urges, "Write for yourself first. Stay connected to your truth, not somebody else"s idea of you. That's how you nurture your voice." Feedback only helps when grounded in this personal truth.
Actress Viola Davis stresses the power creators gain when their vision is defined: "Own everything about who you are. There will only ever be one you." Comparison kills uniqueness. She continues, "Be bold enough to use your voice...People may not understand what you do, but they will hear your boldness and your daring." Inner clarity spurs courage.
Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody cautions against overreliance on feedback to shape vision: "Turn down advice when your gut tells you it just won"t work for your script. Sometimes feedback misses the mark or isn't right for your story." Conviction matters. Actor Michael Caine agrees: "You set out with an idea that you want to accomplish, and you don't let anybody divert you."
Yet vision also evolves through experience. Rock musician Bono notes, "What changes the world is when somebody knows their geometry, their circle. You can trace it back to a single person with a single idea." But he stresses this takes time: "Experience shapes a vision as much as dogma." Integrating lessons learned allows vision to ripen.
Novelist Stephen King affirms vision often clarifies over a career: "Write with conviction even if you're not quite sure where the story is going. Stories have a kind of internal guidance system, a Global Positioning System inside them. Characters tend to tell you where they want to go." First drafts explore; vision consolidates. Film director Ava DuVernay agrees: "My vision gets clearer each time I tell a story...Each project shapes me."
Navigating critique conversations diplomatically is an art form in itself. When challenging feedback strikes a nerve, it"s all too easy to become defensive, heated, or passive aggressive. But allowing the exchange to degenerate into personal attacks or stubborn silence squanders an opportunity for mutual understanding. The most growth occurs through dialogue where both parties speak and listen with care and humility.
Mastering the art of diplomatic dialogue requires insight, patience and grace. Author Elizabeth Gilbert stresses the need for self-restraint when emotions run high: "I"ve learned not to immediately run my mouth off in response to critiques, but rather let them sink in." Allowing gut reactions to subside before responding thoughtfully prevents escalation.
Leadership guru Peter Bregman echoes this ethos: "The highest forms of communication happen when we're able to stand in someone else's shoes and see the situation from their perspective." This fosters empathy critical for resolving conflict. Psychologist Daniel Goleman likewise found that "the most effective communicators matched their different emotional styles to each communicative challenge." Adaptability matters.
Whether talking in person, on the phone, or by email, the medium affects the exchange. Given the absence of body language cues, written communication raises special risks for misinterpretation. Actress Viola Davis cautions, "Do not send emails when you're angry. Don't text when you're angry. Pick up the phone or request a face-to-face." Adding these personal touches reduces escalation.
Humor can also help diffuse tension when used judiciously. Author Anne Lamott relates, "Often I'll defuse a hot critique by looking at the person, raising my palms, saying "Ouch!" and laughing hard. This lets them feel heard while disempowering the attack." Shared laughter builds connection critical for unpacking disagreements.
Listening actively and asking clarifying questions also fosters understanding. Journalist Doris Lessing noted, "It's much better for people to clarify what they're saying and make sure you've understood, than for you to take umbrage at what you think they said." Seeking clarification prevents false assumptions.
Feedback only strengthens our work when we use it as fuel for growth rather than rejection of our efforts. Many artists highlight that a key difference between masters and novices is their attitude toward critique. Rather than resisting criticism as an affront, experts recognize that feedback reveals areas needing improvement. They let it guide and invigorate their journey toward excellence.
Authors often emphasize the need to actively mine critiques for insight. Novelist Stephen King reflects, "If you get negative feedback, don't let it defeat or distract you; evaluate it, learn from it, and make adjustments." Determining which critique provides truly constructive suggestions separates meaningful messages from distracting background noise. King continues, "You cannot hope to please all readers all the time, so don't even try. But you should pay attention when thoughtful critique points out patterned weaknesses in your work." Weigh feedback on its merits.
Acclaimed author Haruki Murakami turned early rejection into motivation: "I took their criticism seriously and tried to absorb it in order to improve myself. It was like eating something bitter but good for me." This humble willingness to learn helped hone his voice. Murakami stresses we all possess blind spots: "You might think you have attained a level of achievement, but such complacency will lead to your decline." Critique pricks complacency.
Screenwriters highlight using notes to refine storytelling. Oscar winner Josh Olson reflects, "Often I"ll completely disagree with a note, but still understand there"s an issue to address." Pinpointing the story weakness behind a problematic note proves key. Max Adams, script consultant for major studios, explains: "My advice is to step back and look at the bigger picture of what a note is trying to address. This helps determine if the feedback gets at something missing or unclear in your storytelling." Critique identifies weak spots.
Oscar-nominated screenwriter Scott Alexander emphasizes specificity when mining notes: "We have to keep asking questions and pressing for clarification until we understand notes on a concrete, practical level. Vague impressions alone won"t cut it." Listening for subtext helps determine which insights will have the most impact.
Singers and musicians also highlight the growth critique can spark when processed as creative input. Sara Bareilles shares: "Criticism is a tool that helps me rethink how I want to express myself." Gathering outside perspectives stretches her art. But she cautions, "I try to suss out whose input will actually help me grow versus just shape me into something I'm not." Assessing the source proves key.
Rock icon Bono reflects: "I need outside voices to help me move through creative problems. But choosing which voices to listen to is an art in itself." Those grounded in the music itself usually prove most constructive. Criticism centered on commercial success or public approval rarely inspires artistry.