Hi, my name is Carrie Brummer and here on Artist Strong I help creatives like you build your skill and develop your unique artist voice. Today I want to talk about how we can make critique, or receiving feedback, a more helpful and kind experience.
This system is something I’ve operated for a few years now and started teaching it in one of my free workshops after hearing WAY TOO many stories from creatives, self-taught and those who went to school, who shared horrible and even traumatic critique experiences.
I hope by sharing this framework we can all start growing and sharing and learning from one another, while also establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries with people who use critique as an opportunity to bully or belittle others.
Don’t offer feedback unless it’s asked for!
Think about it: who does it serve to give feedback to someone who isn’t ready or willing to receive it? Don’t assume because someone shares it on social media they want your feedback on it unless they specifically ask for it.
Don’t ask for feedback on finished artworks. (This has a caveat at the end).
To improve a current work in progress, it’s helpful to get feedback on your art while you are still working on it.
I encourage you to be mindful of asking for feedback on your finished work. This is for those of you who especially identify as a highly sensitive person (I have an article linked below on this important topic). Asking for feedback on a work we’ve already deemed finished sets us up for failure. All we will see are the things wrong we should have fixed despite saying this work is complete.
There will be situations and in schools where we do have critique experiences on finished works. It’s not a bad thing to do, but understanding how it works and helps inform all of your work is important. Knowing when you’re ready to receive feedback in those situations is also key.
Be specific in the feedback you seek.
When I’m online I have little warning bells that start ringing in the back of my mind when someone posts an artwork and writes, “Feedback is welcome.”
Every. Single. Time. I offered someone in the past feedback in response to that post, it was as if they hadn’t actually asked for feedback and ALL of the creatives in this situation responded defensively.
There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing with someone’s assessment of your art, but we need to also truly be open to hearing what someone has to say, too.
So, it’s much easier to offer and receive feedback when you clarify what you’re looking for.
Example: My painting feels unbalanced. What might help me fix that?
Example: I’m not sure it’s finished but I can’t figure out why. Help?
Not only does this mean you’ve spent time reflecting on your own artwork to improve it, the people offering you feedback know you genuinely want to hear other ideas about your art and how specifically they might help.
Don’t forget: people can be just as nervous to offer feedback as to receive it! We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings and that can stop people from sharing their wisdom that might be just the thing you need to hear about your art.
This leads me to my next step, four:
ASK for affirmation when you need it.
If “feedback is welcome” really means: “I want to hear good things about my art.” Why not share instead, “I want to hear good things about my art.”
There is NO shame in needing support and encouragement around the art you create. Let me repeat that one more time: there is NO shame in needing support and encouragement around the art you create.
Let’s start owning that art is a vulnerable, creative process and we are vulnerable, creative beings. If we need to hear what’s going well, ASK for it.
This also ties into my next piece of this framework:
Establish boundaries around your feedback experience.
Not only is it okay to ask for positive reinforcement around an artwork, it’s also okay to ask for no feedback at all. It’s also okay to ask for only positive feedback. We can literally say, “I’m not ready to hear what’s wrong with this work yet, can you tell me what you like about this piece so far?”
Lastly, and the one that can be the hardest to take is: despite having this easy and clear system to use, people still make mistakes. And there are also people who completely ignore the boundaries you’ve clearly established. This is the part where you have to decide how to handle it. And, if the feedback is worth listening to…
People who care about you can accidentally say hurtful things. That is different. But we also need to tell them so they can acknowledge the hurt and try a different approach the next time they offer feedback.
As for those who ignore your boundaries, my take is this: if people don’t respect you enough to listen to your boundaries, are their ideas really worth your time?
Brené Brown has created a wonderful resource on getting and giving feedback that I’ve embedded below as yet another resource and way to consider the feedback process in art.
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Now it’s your turn: what aha’s have you had from this conversation? How will you apply this framework moving forward to your artist practice? Tell me more in the comments below.