Taking Criticism (Like a Lady)

Friday, January 15, 2016

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After reading Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon, and loving it last year, it's probably no surprise to you that I snatched up his sequel, Show Your Work  (and when I say "snatched up" I mean "asked--and received---for Christmas." Hee hee). One of the themes he pressed in the small book is how to take criticism, which is something we talk about in the blogging community quite a bit.

"Develop a thicker skin," 
the internet says,
"Ignore the haters"
"Don't read your reviews."

In fact, writers get a lot of advice to ignore reviews completely, which I don't actually agree with. I feel that gives a writer too many ideas that she is well enough as she is, and that's just not how you improve your work, whatever type of artist you are. We need criticism to improve. (We're going to disregard unintelligent comments for the sake of this argument, because those don't count.)

Okay, you're saying, I get it. What now?

I think the best way to explain it is as 2 mountains: on the left is the work you've created, and on the right is the work you could create. The plunge between? That's the criticism. Gravity, or nature, wants to drag you down into this darkness, but by going there you're going to get stuck. What you think is a quick trip down to gather some of that knowledge and return usually only results in a broken bones and lack of will, or means, to return to the top.

See, the only way to truly cross to the other side is to build a bridge - that is, to create new work. You build your bridge with purpose: it's a conscious effort to conquer the stretch between you and what lies ahead, and you can't do that without also being conscious of and learning from the gulf between those two. You simply can't turn a blind eye to that gap and still make it to the other side; and those who do turn a blind eye to it only stay on the same mountain -- and what good is that?

Instead of ignoring criticism, and instead of drowning in self-loathing, make more art. The thoughts of critic came from somewhere, so don't disregard that. But if you're constantly putting out work, constantly building that bridge, you begin to get used to the rain falling while you work: it's part of the process. And though not every bit of criticism is constructive, if you're making new work, it doesn't matter what they say.

They're talking about yesterday's effort. Focus on tomorrow's.

"The way to be able to take a punch is to practice getting hit a lot. Put out a lot of work. Let people take their best shot at it. Then, make even more work and keep putting it out there. The more criticism you take, the more you realize it can't hurt you." -Austin Kleon, SHOW YOUR WORK. 


  1. This is such truth. Austin Kleon is a hero.

  2. Austin Kleon is just the coolest, isn't he? I discovered him about a month ago and I've found him hugely inspiring. Criticism is the hardest thing ever, and it's easy to get convinced that your work is the worst and you'll never get better...but, in fact, I think it should be the opposite! Criticism is necessary and helpful. I love this :D


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