Promoting Passion Week 59: Let’s Deal With Criticism

Promoting Passion Week 59: Let’s Deal With Criticism

I received an email not long ago and wanted to elaborate on my answer here, because I feel certain that someone else is facing a similar problem. I know I have and will again. Here is what some of the email said:

“I was told the other day that I should start to produce some other art: being aware of not getting to comfortable with my style, that I am always doing dark stuff and should do something else. I would assume that you have faced a similar comment in your career and was wondering if you could share you’re opinion on this question – either in a future blog post or here.”

I included these pictures specifically because they all elicited heavy criticism when I published them. Some people felt they were inappropriate for young people to view, while others felt they showed lack of taste and poor judgment. Whatever the reason, those opinions were valid and heartfelt. At the end of the day it didn’t change my opinion of the images, but instead, over time, has added to the art pieces. I now see them as bringing about a strong emotional response, possibly resulting from a personal unsettling that they created within those who felt the need to write. For me, the art is heightened because of the social response.

That email got me thinking about criticism, but specifically how frequently people seem to tell artists what to do with their work. I really like the relationship between artist and public, if we could call it that, which social media provides. I welcome all feedback – good or bad – and try to learn how to receive it with grace. However, I’ve only gotten to that point by being able to understand a few things about myself and my creative process.

1. Understand what YOU like about your art. Be able to define that for yourself, be it in a string of words or in an artist statement.

2. Understand WHY you are creating art you are creating.

3. Understand that for each opinion, there is an opposite opinion. Listen to your own.

4. Growth is a natural part of the human experience. We grow and change as we feel the need. If you are holding yourself back out of fear, you know it. Change it. If you are truly happy with your work, keep going. Happiness is key.

5. For each friend lost, a potential is gained. The same is true of internet followers. Do not let your art be dictated by the opinions of others.

6. What is the goal of your art for yourself, and what experience do you want to give to others? My goal personally is to create worlds I wish I could live in. If I feel that way when I picture is completed, I have succeeded. My goal is to get others to question something about the world or themselves by seeing something different to everyday life. I do not get to decide if I have succeeded on that front.

7. Art is interactive. If you are sharing your art, you are inviting opinions. Let them come. Others interacting with your art create something even more special.

Have you ever faced a problem with criticism?
How do you deal with criticism?


Thank you Gabriel Isak for the email and for creating such incredibly beautiful art!

Model (top right): Olivia Clemens
Model (bottom left): Kate Berman

22 thoughts on “Promoting Passion Week 59: Let’s Deal With Criticism

  1. Hi Brooke!
    As I always do, I’d like to thank you for this post. This is very relevant to my life and art right now. First, I’d like to share a similar experience.
    About a month ago, I was excited about my first meeting with a gallery that was interested in representing me (I emailed you about advice). I went in prepared, thanks to you, and I was excited to see where this went. As I talked to the owners, they told me that since they already had someone who did similar artwork, they were afraid that that artist would lose sales because of the competition between me and her. They suggested that since I have an award for candid photography, I should stop creating conceptual pieces and take only candid shots. They told me several times that they would consider representing me if I changed. I left, upset and confused. This experience made me feel like what I do isn’t good enough. But now, a month later, I still have some doubts. Although I recently signed with another gallery, I am afraid that people will be confused by choices. This blog post helps me realize that I just need to take the criticism as constructive, not heartfelt (if that makes sense, haha.)

    Anyways, thank you so much for continuing to inspire me and others. I appreciate that you continue to share your wisdom and creativity with us.

    1. Hi Tea!

      Oh my goodness, what an experience!! I think that a lot of artists go through something similar when testing out with galleries, especially because many galleries have a specific feeling to their art and need to make each piece different *enough*, yet also related. It is a hard line to follow. I think it is important to remember that simply because they asked for different art pieces, they did not place any less value on your others. So take those beautiful conceptual images you create and keep on trucking, because they have a place somewhere and you don’t need to create something you don’t love for the sake of pleasing others.

      I am so proud of how strong you were through that experience – I had the same thing happen to me at one of my first gallery meetings – very disheartening! But you are on a beautiful journey, and these experiences teach more about your character that you can carry with you forever. xoxoxo And congrats on the new gallery!

  2. Love this blog post!! A couple of weeks ago I received a message saying they liked my work, but want me to do light and airy images again. I have been told my work is dark and twisty, which I personally love because that is what I love to create. The light and airy work she was referring too was my family and newborn images, that is work that I did for others not myself and I have stepped back from doing as much of that type of work.
    Normally I might have backed down and told myself oh no I need to go back to my other work, oddly enough I read the respone you left to my comment on your fear blog which helped me accept what she had to say, stand up for myself and not take it to heart, all of which I might not have done in the past, so a huge Thank you for that! =)

    1. Hi Nikki!

      It is so hard when someone wants you to do something different…I personally am I people pleaser. I don’t like upsetting someone or feeling as though I’ve disappointed anyone. So my natural tendency is to give in and do what someone wants. But with art, I decided long ago that it would never be worth it to do so. We can only change the world with our own unique visions, not with someone else’s vision. I think you are such an amazing individual – strong and brilliant – and I hope our paths cross soon!

  3. I love your way to write always about something what I really need to hear.
    Have been struggling with that same thing again…I am trying to grow, and then people pull me back and tells me I should do this and that and I shouldn`t that… yeah… I know it is up to me, and if I am happy with my work, then I should not listen to anyone else, happiness should be the key. Nothing less.

    Have a great week Brooke, and I love your darker side of art too…your work is always honest , and that`s what is important to me <3

  4. Perfect timing on this one Brooke! I finished a piece last night that I love but when I stood back and looked at it I thought it might be too weird.

    I started thinking of ways to change it then I asked my hubby his thoughts. He was shocked that I wanted to change it! He told me that it was honest and that some people won’t get it but that’s the beauty of it….it will only speak to those who want to listen to it.

    1. Your husband sounds like a great individual – fantastic advice! Indeed, I believe honesty is what emerges when an artist creates from within. Good for you for creating what you felt compelled to explore!

  5. What a great article. criticism is so hard to take.. even if they mean well.
    I submitted one of my pieces to a Photoshop magazine out of England. I was so excited to see my work in published! I went to Barnes and Nobles and found the magazine. I opened it to the reader’s submissions.. mine wasnt there. I was confused. They said it would appear in this magazine. So I went through the whole magazine. There it was.. In the section where the Editor will correct your image. He gave his criticism. He was nice.. but it was hard to read. So he had the corrected version of my piece next to my original. So that hit me so hard. Ill never forget that. I wasnt what I expected. I thought i was going to be in the readers submission section. It stung for a little bit. it was kinda embarrassing at first. He did have valid points.. but in the end I loved the original. I got some tougher skin since then. But criticism is a personal opinion. not a fact.
    Thanks Brook for this article.

  6. My father critiques my photography the most; He does not like disturbing images at all, and feels like I should photograph “happy” pictures. I disagree with him; Art is art, it’s a form of expression, and even when the photo is not portraying a personal state of mind or feeling but is rather created out of inspiration, someone else may still relate to it. Sometimes it is hard to for me to receive criticism from someone so close to me, but at the same time I use it to motivate myself and try out new things. Even if it doesn’t sit well with me sometimes, I love receiving criticism, comments, thoughts, and questions on my photography.

  7. The criticism I take to heart now is simply technical problems. If I am pouring my soul into a photo that means a lot to me – a journey on which I travel or something in my past that has shaped my spirit, then I’m ok with people not understanding.

    Sometimes I can’t figure out the technical stuff, or maybe I focus on that “one thing” that will make my scene happen and forget another aspect. If there’s a valid point to be made by constructive criticism, I’m all for it. If someone just doesn’t like my art or a piece, then that’s ok. It’s taken me a long time to get there, though!

  8. Hi Brooke,

    Just wanted to say that I absolutely love your work, and thank you for another amazing promoting passion week 🙂

    As much as I do see how certain people can find some images confronting to look at, as mentioned, I find the four images you’ve featured above exceptionally beautiful. I’ve always found images more intriguing when they feature not only the conceptual, but the macabre as well – especially when they’re executed with the perfect balance of haunting and beautiful.

    You’re truly an inspiration 🙂

  9. You should keep on creating your art the way you are inspired no matter what others say. You produce beautiful images and I wish I had your technical skill. The photos above are not my favorite and maybe your critiques have the same feeling I get seeing them. I lost someone very close to suicide a couple years ago these images remind me. I don’t do ‘dark’ images. I want to make images that show strength in overcoming hardships but that is not to say you should change your style.

  10. hello

    As we all know criticism is a part of success n that nothing can be achieved in life without being criticized. There are people out there who even criticize through demotivating u before u even start what u want to or what u dream of. I have also faced criticism many times but i never payed much attention to it as I become week n start loosing the passion I have for the task. I always feel that everyone has there own perception towards things n its their (criticizers) perception through which they r seeing my work. So I just choose not to get bothered by it much….and carry on doing my work with the same zeal.

  11. I needed this today.

    I thank you.

    [facing criticism with my writing and photography is just a part of it, but reminding yourself why you love it is what I needed to hear. Others may not, but you do. And that is what matters]

  12. First off, I am slightly perplexed about the images not being appropriate for young people. Because they might discern a breast under the wet sheet? This topic fits right into my thoughts regarding art and art criticism. The criticism is related to something that makes the viewer/critic uneasy. Brava for maintaining your love for your works!

  13. I work in a totally different line, for I work with my voice, I’m a singer and actress yet I felt so inspired by this post because as an artist you’re trying to make your work available, you want everyone to see or hear it and in that spirit you may feel a lot of doubt about what you are creating and if it will be enough for others or even fit in their taste.

    What I loved of your post is the thought that there is a place for each art piece and style, and this is a journey to find that place. Somewhere there is someone who will love what you do. For someone and maybe for many it will make perfect sense.

    Thank you for sharing, your timing is perfect!

  14. Hi Brooke!

    I completely don’t understand the fuss over these images and why they shouldn’t be appropriate for your people.
    That said, it’s no one’s business to change the way a artist works. You, as the viewer/buyer may or may not like it and will therefore buy or not buy it, but telling someone they should stop producing what they love is just insolent.
    Happiness is key, you wrote it yourself. 🙂

  15. What a great post ~ and such enlightening responses from people. It kind of baffles me that anyone, especially a gallery, would suggest an artist change what they do. Unless you’re being commissioned for a piece, changing what you do defeats the purpose of creating art. Creating art isn’t about trying to fit into someone else’s arbitrary little box. (My latest image, “No More Games”, is actually about this idea.)

    To piggy-back on what Micky wrote above, my mom is the same way. While she doesn’t criticize my weirder stuff, she’s definitely someone who likes my “happy” pictures. But that’s her; that’s what she’s comfortable with, and that’s ok.

  16. As already said great post and one I’m sure a lot of people can relate. I remember your pictures started off very dark. I was just wondering what actually made you change your style? Was it prompted by criticism, changed with your artist or was it a natural change through personal emotions and experiences?

  17. Another thoughtful article thank you!

    I find if I really love a photograph before I put it out in the world then I am quite resilient to other people’s opinions, but if there is already a doubt in my mind then I find the criticism hard to deal with. So in a way it’s more a reflection of my own feelings at the time.

    I think it”s really important to remember that we all have different experiences and values in life and how we perceive the world can vary so greatly. Really it’s about being sure we can stay true to ourselves, which is hard in a social environment. Obviously it’s human nature to want to please others and be recognised for our work. I can see why some artists retreat from the world for a year!

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