Years ago, when I was new to this whole photography thing, I was very confident about my work. Why wouldn’t I be? Showing it to close family and friends– they loved it! Asking if there were any problems with style, technique, etc…the reply was always–absolutely not ! My confidence grew and grew. It grew so much– in fact, that I decided to join a professional photography group–to hang out with the big guys- you know–share ideas, techniques, and all those things–like inspiration from each other.
Now all so comfortable with my abilities, I posted a favorite–this photo that everyone had bragged about–of a bird before a storm blew in—and I eagerly waited for positive feedback.
What rolled in next was a bevy of critiques that I, in my ‘new photographer-everyone loves me’ bubble, was ill equipped for. So like any newbie might be, my feelings were hurt and I considered whether I should just quit–but I didn’t. Eventually though, licking my wounds, I thought about how I might better myself as a photographer–that had fans outside of my immediate circle–of family and friends. This meant improving myself, while maintaining a positive attitude and confidence.
Taking criticism is hard! It can do one of two things. It can crush you. (Never let it do that!) Or it can push you! Explore yourself -without losing any confidence–and find ways to improve. Use it to push yourself to be more!
But how do you use criticism to improve without getting bogged down in the negative?
1. Consider who is giving the criticism.
Is the criticism coming from someone qualified to give it? Is it from someone who you respect/admire? Do you value their opinion? If not, brush it off and continue on.
2. Learn the difference between constructive criticism and plain old criticism.
First off–are they actually offering advice, or encouragement on how to improve? Or in contrast, are the comments mean-spirited or meant to hurt you?, If you find yourself responding to the criticizer and find them being dismissive, arrogant or rude, with no advice in methods for your improvement, then it is unlikely anything can be gained by continuing a discussion with them. Remember to question yourself–What is this criticism offering me? If the answer is nothing– then there is no benefit to you in taking this to heart concerning your craft.
3. Don’t take it personally.
This can be difficult after putting your heart and soul into a project, but remember, criticism only becomes personal if you first allow it to be. It takes practice in distancing yourself from what is being said, but with time, it gets easier.
4. Don’t get defensive.
When you receive criticism, do not take it personally or get defensive, thus putting up impenetrable emotional walls. This makes it impossible to take advice, and prevents a a clear perspective towards evolving in your work. Remember, this isn’t a battle– just an opportunity to grow.
5. Really Listen– If you find this is constructive criticism- then think about not only what was said, but what you can change for the better. Take a step back, be honest with yourself and study your craft again– this time, not as a beginner, but as a more experienced artist, and critique yourself. Remember, no matter how good you get, there is always room for improvement, You can get better!.
6. Jump into the fire! Ask for more critiques from others.
Sometimes others can more clearly see areas that we need improvement in and this is vital for continual growth. The more accustomed to asking for and receiving advice, the easier it becomes to accept well meaning criticism, and apply it for improving your skills.
7. Make a Plan. Once you have come to the conclusion that there is room for improvement, it is time to start the process– Make a game plan.
If you must, take a break, study your craft and improve your skills. Seek advice from acquaintances, and ask other artists, of whom you admire, how you might improve. Network with the experts and seek inspiration.
8. Remember that it is all subjective and what one person likes another may not.
Even the most renowned artists have had their critics and so will you. In the long run, it is not the criticism that is so important as it is what you decide to do with it. Make it count- take a breath, take it in and use this knowledge to make what you do better. Just keep on working on being a better you–but never lose site that everyone, including yourself, has special talents, as well as their own opinion–of what real talent is. It is up to you to develop your own style- and with time you will do just that!