Whether it be writing, painting, photography, music, acting, or any other calling to create art, there will be critics along the way that stop us dead in our tracks. This is explained beautifully in The Artists’ Way by Julia Cameron, who provides a guide to getting us unblocked and onto creating the art of our choice. I personally, have had many critics along the way who have used every tactic imaginable to stop me from being creative. Some confront harshly with words that are meant to inflict deep wounds. Others are much gentler in their delivery but use a tactic that is equally effective. No matter how it’s carried or why, the result is that artists are left unable to write, sing, paint, dance or act because critics deliver lethal blows.
In terms of criticism, I first make the distinction between true criticism and helpful feedback. Helpful feedback is something that I can use to propel my work forward. Criticism leaves me in shock. Helpful feedback gives me something to think about; a new idea, a new way of looking at things, even if I don’t like it, it is helpful. Criticism stops me from moving at all; it leaves me immobilized. In the face of true criticism there are two important aspects I have learned to assimilate into my own creative process. One is to recognize when I should reject the criticism and two, when to work with it so it helps me grow. With the help of Julia Cameron’s book, which I use over and over again, I have often emerged more creative and much stronger for having had unkind criticism thrown my way.
I first ask myself if the person delivering the criticism is extremely successful in their own right. I look at their work and I examine closely the notion that they may be a mentor for me. If the person has written more books, or sold more songs, or has acclimations far greater than mine, then I pay attention. If this is not the case, then as Julia Cameron points out, the person is most likely a “Blocked Artist”. This is someone who wishes they could write. Wishes they could paint. Wishes they could do whatever it is they are criticizing but either don’t have the talent or the determination to develop it. Blocked artists are very dangerous for artists because they act like artists and they carry an air of superiority but have never really proven themselves in the art they are criticising. Having determined the category within which the critic belongs, I move forward with the criticism as a spring-board to learn something new or, I move away with complete disinterest in feeding a negative force.
Secondly, I look at how the message was delivered. Was it in a kind and loving way? Did the person use degrading language? Did the person have to back-track once their true intention was revealed? Did he or she apologize? If the blow was unkind in any way I quickly disregard it. It’s most likely that the comment was about them and not about me. I don’t try to analyze it or give it any energy at all; I decided years ago that unkind advice has no place in my life. I drop it and move on.
Lastly, I think about all the times critics have helped me move forward. They have helped me turn away from certain paths to find a better place to develop and present my writing. Without rude, mean-spirited, harsh critics I would not have found my way or pushed myself toward being better at what I love to do. Critics have actually helped shape my career because they provide a fork in the road of creativity; one road is stagnation and the other is the artists’ way. The way that has something positive to share, something that uplifts or helps others, something that feeds curiosity, expands the mind, frees emotions and makes me feel joyous in every aspect of my life.
With Love and Gratitude,
Teresa L. DeCicco, PhD is the author of “Living Beyond the Five Senses” available at the “BUY NOW” button at the top of the page and in bookstores everywhere