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Help Desk 4 Creatives: Feedback

By Merritt Minnemeyer
arttimesjournal August 22, 2017

As people who live with creativity at the center of our lives, we tend to thrive on feedback. We pour our hearts into our work, and whether it is whimsical or solemn, the origins of what we create are deeply personal. When someone responds with praise or genuine connection, we may feel joyful, even validated in our efforts. If met with criticism – if you are anything like me – it can send you into a spiral of questioning your raison d’etre.

Ken Spear Cartoon

What is an artist to do? Working in a vacuum can be satisfying to a point, but if we are to grow and evolve in our art, we must challenge and be challenged. We seek out direction from instructors and masters, but an unsolicited opinion of our work can inspire all manner of mixed emotions in our sensitive psyches. So how do we accept criticism without losing hope and giving way to despair, resentment, and fear?

Katrina “Kat” Cole, a highly successful businesswoman who is known for her extraordinary acumen and achievements at a young age, has been quoted as saying “If someone offers you criticism, just for a minute – believe them.” This can be invaluable advice. Accepting the opinion of someone who you trust, and who is willing to tell you the truth as they see it, has the potential to change your approach, help you hone your skills, or alter your perspective in a way that will push you to grow. 

Let’s say that you have toiled over a score that has taken months to fine tune (pardon the pun). You combed through every chord, every off-beat of syncopation, every ritard, ad nauseam. Finally, you have found peace in your soul in the final rest. You show it to your mentor, a confidant in whom you have bestowed honor and a significant portion of your ego, and she responds with a tepid “Well, it’s ok…but here are the 43 ways it could be better.” 

You have a choice here: you could let the weight of her critique crush your spirit and curtail your future as a composer; you could totally rebuke her input and dismiss her as misguided and unable to recognize your genius, or…you could take a breath, listen intently for any morsel of truth that strikes you, and decide that, while the opinions of another should never be taken as gospel, perhaps she has a point or two worth considering. The next time you sit down with your opus, ask yourself “is she right?” Regardless of the conclusion you come to, giving the feedback by a respected colleague its due could be a key component to realizing the next plateau of your excellence. 

Ultimately, when it comes to the work of the artist, there is no single authority on what is “great art” (despite what collectors and auctioneers might have us believe). Your work is yours to create, and you are the authority on what is your best effort. Still, art is meant to inspire, to communicate, and to connect. Take feedback with a grain of salt, but take it all the same and use it as a tool to view the work through a different lens. You just might enjoy the view.

jeffrey Kafer cartoon

Merritt is the Grants & Funding Manager at Arts Mid-Hudson, an arts service organization serving Dutchess, Orange, and Ulster Counties in New York's Hudson Valley. She lives in Ulster County with her three vibrant sons, and two goofy pound pups, and one remarkably darling husband. Have questions or ideas for topics? Email merritt@artsmidhudson.org