Any time you put a piece of creative work out into the world you open yourself up to feedback from others. Feedback of all kinds. Today we take a look at several different types of feedback and how best to respond to the good, the bad, and the downright mean.
Impressionist master Edgar Degas said “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” While we can (and should) do some art for ourselves, the true magic lies in sharing a story visually with other human beings. Animation is a brilliant way to tell an audience a story, but no matter what type of art you do, chances are good you won’t be the only one to see it.
When someone inevitably views your art you will quickly discover your work does not exist inside a vacuum. If you put something out into the world, the world inevitably sends something back to you. Sometimes what you get back feels great, when it’s a rousing “Wow, this is amazing!” Sometimes it makes you wonder why you bothered in the first place, when a complete stranger’s response returns “Don’t quit your day job.”
Whatever the case, the ball comes back to your court. YOU get to decide how to deal with the feedback you get. Handling it maturely is the mark of a great artist, and a wise human being. Let’s break it down:
Whether it’s a simple Like on Instagram or a lengthy blog comment saying how much you inspired another human being, who doesn’t like positive feedback? This sort of encouragement should be enjoyed! In fact, sometimes we forget this and need to be reminded to appreciate the positive vibes, rather than just take them for granted. After you’ve let them soak in, think about your next move.
When You’re Famous
If you have 150,000 social media followers and every single one tosses you a simple “Great job!” comment on your latest piece, you’re truly blessed. Unfortunately to respond to each and every one might take you a month and a half straight. In that case, consider an overall “Thanks everybody” style comment, to let others know you appreciate the time they took to encourage you. Staying silent, especially with that many followers, can make you look rather elitist, as though you have better things to do than talk to “the common folk.” If there’s the option to Like a positive reply, that can let the sender know you read what they said and appreciate the encouragement, even if you don’t respond one on one.
When You’re Not-so-Famous
What if you aren’t a social media rockstar, though? Most of us are excited to find even 10 people following us, and each one is precious. In that case, every comment means a lot, and it pays to let folks know how important they are! Remember that they’re human beings like you, and take a minute to reply directly to their message. These moments don’t come every day, and you never know where it will lead. I once left a comment on a great blog I stumbled across, the author replied, and now several years later we have a lasting friendship and even send the occasional Christmas present back and forth.
But There’s a Dark Side
One might think an endless supply of positive feedback would be great, but the old adage “Too much of a good thing can make you sick” exists for a reason. Truthfully, there are downsides to positive feedback. One is that if it’s all you receive, positive feedback can skew your view to an extreme. Extremes are rarely wise. It pays to remember that no matter how much you increase your artistic ability, there’s always room for improvement. Don’t let good feedback go to your head, otherwise dealing with some of the negative kind can really wreck you.
For every positive, there is a negative. Inevitably you’ll receive feedback that isn’t encouraging; what then?
For the most part, remember that the person on the other side of a comment isn’t actively trying to hurt you. (More on that below under “Ugly Feedback.”) You have no idea what’s going on in the life of a negative commentator. They might be having an off day, full of challenges, and you just happened to get the brunt of their frustration. (That doesn’t make their negative comment right or okay, but it helps you to understand and care about them.) Or it’s possible they are an artist themselves, and are more than a little jealous of your work. I won’t lie, I myself have made such mistakes in the past where I was over-critical of someone because of secret jealousy. It’s an ugly thing, but it does happen.
In either case, there’s not much to be done with negative feedback. If there’s something to learn from it, great. Accept the criticism and add it to your list of things to work on. If not, remember once again that the ball is in your court. How you deal with it speaks volumes, so deal with it well. Thank the person for leaving a comment if you’d like, or simply walk away and move on with your life. The only way negative feedback can hurt you is if you let it. Keep in mind that nine times out of ten, the person didn’t intend to come off as mean. Text is a lousy form of communication sometimes, because you can’t read a person’s tone or expression. Trust they weren’t trying to bring you down and get back to work.
First of all, it’s important to understand that “positive feedback” is not the same as “constructive feedback!” While we all love being pat on the back, real constructive feedback makes you feel good about your work AND provides you something to take forward as you strive to improve.
The important thing to remember about constructive feedback is to be open to it. I’ve seen far too many artists who are so insecure that they lash out at people who offer thoughts and advice on how to improve. Responding with “I didn’t ask for your opinion, so shut up” is unwise. By making your work public you actively invite audience participation, good and bad. If you don’t want feedback at all, hide your art under a rock. (Don’t hide your art under a rock; learn to deal with feedback!)
Plus, the person on the other end of the comment is trying to help. As artists, we can’t see our own blind spots. But we’re excellent at noticing flaws in things we didn’t create. It’s fantastic when someone notices a spot to improve your art and shares it with you. Hopefully they do so in a kind and compassionate way. If not, though, you can still take the advice with joy and thank them. Consider this a great thing: Not only did someone reply to what you made, they offered you a way to become an even better artist! For free!
Misplaced Constructive Feedback
Alas, much like butt holes, everyone has an opinion. Sometimes a person will offer what they feel is constructive feedback, but for any number of reasons it isn’t actually helpful. Maybe you didn’t intend to tell the particular story they perceived and gave advice on. In this case, you know at least one audience member didn’t get the point of your art, so maybe a change needs made. Another possibility is they aren’t quite as far along in their own artist journey, so their advice is just plain bad advice. You have to be careful about putting feedback in this category, because there’s a fine line between knowing advice is bad and being so egotistical you think you are right and they are wrong. Still, sometimes you need to know that a piece of advice wouldn’t be an improvement.
Whatever the case, keep in mind that the person really was trying to help you. Thank them for taking the time, even if you gained nothing from their critique. Take a minute to double check that there isn’t anything to learn from the feedback, and then let it fly away on the wind and start your next piece of artwork.
Mean, Ugly Feedback
I wish this category did not exist, but thanks to the anonymous nature of the Internet and the brokenness of human kind, sometimes the feedback you receive will be flat-out awful. You don’t have to search hard for examples of this sort of hateful vitriol, it is far too common. And boy can it hurt.
The natural reaction is to be defensive, which inevitably leads to going on the attack. We get hurt, and we want to hurt back. This in turn hurts the other person, which puts them in the same “hurt, so hurt back” position, and the cycle continues until we die bitter and cynical. This is not an exaggeration, plenty of people throughout history have feuded until their last breath.
Life is too short for this way of being. Love is too wonderful to give up in place of hate and anger. I know it sucks, but please consider being the bigger person if and when you meet someone who is throwing mud and curses at your work. You have the power to stop this ugly cycle of hurt.
One of the greatest pieces of advice I ever received came from a former police officer. He said “Wish them well. All of them. Especially the ones you don’t like.” This is exceptionally hard to do, but it can be life-changing.
Consider what it means: When you wish someone well, you wish for them the freedom from whatever dark thing caused them to be terrible towards you and others. Chances are good they had something awful happen in their past that led them to being vicious towards you and your work. By truly hoping for the very best for them, you are hoping for healing, which leads to them being filled with joy instead of darkness and adding positive to the world, rather than cruelty. That sounds like a pretty great thing to wish for others, wouldn’t you say?
This takes hard work. You will still feel hurt or angry or sad at first. We’re only human. But like art, if you practice wishing others well even when they’re mean, you will get better at it. And an amazing thing happens when you start to improve this skill: The hurt and anger and sadness that happens as an immediate reaction begins to lessen, each and every time. A day comes when such comments don’t even bother you anymore, and then all the power the cruel person thinks they have is completely gone. It has been vanquished, all because your desire for their happiness beats their hope for your disappointment every single time. It’s true! Give it a try, and be the one to break the cycle.
No Matter What the Feedback
Whatever thumb-ups or thumb-downs, hearts, stars, horseshoes, or comments someone gives you as feedback for your work, celebrate. What you created caused a response in someone, and that’s an incredible thing. Learn from any feedback you can learn from, enjoy the praise when it comes, and wish well all the miserable cranks who get their kicks from trying to tear you down. As an artist, your work has the potential to inspire the world. Be excited for feedback, because it means you’re out there creating art and people are seeing it!