Criticism, negative comments and passive/aggressive behaviour are hard for creative people to cope with. Learn how to handle the negativity and criticism so that it doesn’t affect your creative process.
Some criticism is useful for a creative person
Launching your professional creative career takes a huge amount of self-belief. Good reviews, praise and compliments help maintain positivity. But, does criticism of your work hit a nerve? Why is that? For most creative people, some criticism has a grain of truth in it. And, this is why it hurts. When this happens, try to step back from it to get some perspective. Think objectively and dispassionately about the criticism. Listen for recurring themes. They’ll give you valuable information and insight. Sometimes, it comes down to taste and opinion and you cannot please everyone. But a recurring pattern shows you where you’re going wrong.
How to respond to criticism
Often it depends on who’s giving the criticism and the circumstances in which it’s given. Was it done privately or publicly? Was it designed to hurt or create drama? How personal is it i.e. a constructive criticism of the work or an attack on things about you that you can’t change? If you felt it was done respectfully, then let the person know you appreciate this. It’s an opportunity to cultivate emotionally honest relationships. Was it done offensively? If you don’t appreciate how it was given but you think it was well intentioned, then it’s best to tell that person privately. Treat the criticism and the way it was delivered as two separate issues. And if you sense it’s done from jealousy or bad feeling, just avoid the person concerned.
How creative people can handle criticism and negativity on social media
Sometimes people blow off steam and rant on social media. Maybe they just want to stir up drama, get a response or get your attention. Do you ignore it or respond? There’s a difference between letting off steam and criticism. And some people are trolls who deliberately say provocative things in order to get a reaction. Learn to spot the difference.
Strangely, many fans don’t think the artist concerned will ever read what they’ve written about them on social media channels. Some will lie outrageously and claim you were once their girlfriend/boyfriend. (Most people see through this, for the self-serving self-aggrandisement it is, fortunately…) Some will be racist, sexist, or downright mean. Conventional wisdom says to ignore them. But sadly that doesn’t usually stop them posting. Some artists or media figures have tried replying directly – sometimes more kindly than the person deserved – and this seems to make a difference in some cases. For instance, historian Mary Beard has been remarkably graceful towards her trolls.
Whatever you do, don’t react in anger and be abusive back. Once what you’ve written is out there - it’s out there forever as it can be screen shotted even if you’ve deleted it. And often it can open the floodgates to other trolls because they know they can get you to react angrily. Stand back and be amused or sorry for them for being so full of hate. Give yourself 24 hours if necessary. Be a good example and help create a culture where creative people are valued.
Negative aspects to the creative industry
There are some wonderful and talented people working in the creative industry. There are also bullies, eccentrics and ego-maniacs as well as those with addictions or mental health issues. Some people lie, use others and are two-faced in their ambition to achieve career success. Don’t label them too soon, but do trust your first instinct. Be wary if you’re unsure and look for proof from their behaviour. Limit your time around negative people – however young and in need of support you are, they aren’t going to provide the support and exposure you need. And they will attract the same sorts of people around them. Plus there’s a danger of absorbing their negativity and becoming insecure about what you have to offer when you are in a toxic work culture. That’s a big mistake. Be alert and protect yourself from it wherever possible.
The self-criticism that creative people indulge in
Perhaps the harshest criticism you’ll receive will be from yourself. I'd suggest you deal with your own insecurities first. I’m talking about not feeling good enough, experienced enough, undeserving of opportunities or just lacking confidence, and these internal negative voices can be your own worst enemy. Comparing yourself to your creative peers isn’t helpful as it leaves you feeling inadequate and inferior. And a true comparison isn't even possible or fair. You are who you are, and that's what makes what you do unique.
Try to remain aware of your strengths and weaknesses instead of verbally bashing yourself – make objective assessments when you’re feeling more peaceful if you can, and write them down to refer to. When others sense your insecurity, they are often tempted to reflect it back to you which is never a good thing. Increasing your self-awareness and confidence will allow you to handle the criticism and negativity much better.
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