As Henri Matisse once said…..
‘Creativity takes courage’– Henri Matisse
And indeed it does! If you have created something and you have been brave enough to put it out into the world for everyone to see, do you already realise how brave and amazing that is?!
However, now you have put yourself and said ideas or creations out there for all to see, in whatever way, you might be dealing with some criticism. In fact, at some point in our lives, we will have all been criticised. It’s a universal truth. And this criticism could have come through a professional setting or in a personal way.
All my life I have been involved in the creative industries and actually, I think that has really helped me to understand the difference between constructive criticism and just plain insults. As a child, I entered many violin and piano competitions and also performed in a variety of youth orchestras until I was about 18. I also entered a lot of art competitions so I’ve had both sides of the artistic criticism!
So this post is inspired by all of this, seeing my friends suffer due to horrific online insults and some first hand experience I hope can enlighten you on navigating this topic.
“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”– Aristotle
Either way, sometimes criticism can feel like a bitter pill to swallow. I think it’s especially so in this internet age where comments are thrown around like no tomorrow without deep, human thought. And also because sadly people feel they can express themselves without consequences on the internet.
But dealing with the right sort of criticism positively is an important life skill. But in order to do so, we need to understand the loving, or not so loving intentions behind any criticism you receive. Otherwise, no matter what is said, or how it is said, it will be difficult for us to accept and process.
Fundamentally there are two types of criticism: constructive and destructive. In understanding to recognise the difference between the two types, it can help us deal with any criticism that we may receive.
The two types of criticism can be identified as follows:
- Constructive: You can either use criticism in a positive way to improve those we admire/love or just simply feel we can help.
- Destructive: Or we can use criticism in a negative way that can lower the individual’s self-esteem and cause upset, stress, anger or even aggression.
Dealing with critical people
“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”– Don Miguel Ruiz
I’m sure all of you reading this sadly know someone who leaves a trail of negativity and toxic overly critical thoughts wherever they go. Sadly, these individuals take pride in being toxic and critical, and ultimately there’s often nothing you can do to change this type of behaviour.
This point is echoed in the life-changing read ‘The Four Agreements’. In this book, Don Miguel Ruiz stresses the importance of ‘taking nothing personally’ and how it can free us from the constraints of negativity that can severely impact our lives.
I now understand, through Ruiz’s teachings, that truly nothing others might say or do, is because of you. It is because of their own ‘dreams’ and thus their own world of understanding.
Before I read ‘The Four Agreements’ I was the ultimate people pleaser (to be honest it’s still something I have to actively work on, but I’m getting there!). Usually, this sort of character trait meant listening to all criticism and changing everything about myself to suit the needs of others. That’s quite worrying, isn’t it?! And you know what’s even more worrying, and deeply ironic? I never ended up pleasing anyone by doing this.
But here’s something I know with certainty: No one is perfect. And when we are confronted by toxic negativity or destructive criticism we must take a step back, accept that it is nothing to do with us, and distance ourselves from this energy.
Often, underneath all the complicated layers, these individuals are they themselves extremely sensitive when they get criticism, but feel perfectly entitled to give criticism whenever the need arises. It’s often a common case of “do as I say, not as I do”, which is what these negative people follow to protect themselves or feel superior over others.
You may have heard the quote, ‘you receive criticism from your friends, and you are insulted by your enemies’. Well, whilst enemies might be a slight exaggeration there’s something in this quote.
Because ultimately if someone is ‘offering’ advice that doesn’t contain an ounce of advice or steps to help you move forward, empower you, or lift you up, then chances are they are insulting you. This is an example of destructive criticism.
And if you do come on the receiving end of this, address it accordingly and then refer back to the loving words of Don Miguel Ruiz in that: “Nothing others do is because of you. What others say is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”
How to identify constructive criticism
“Any fool can criticise, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”– Dale Carnegie
As well as taking part in the physical act of creativity I have also studied art history and music history since childhood. I later went on to study music and art history at University.
As a result, from my years of experience analysing and critiquing creative works in depth as part of my studies I have a true understanding of constructive criticism.
And in my opinion, my end formula for artistic or architectural criticism that was instilled in me is that it should only come forth when coupled with a solution. As you can see this gets the full bold, italic and underline feature treatment because I want you to remember that.
So, if you see something, whether it would be a dress, a painting, a building, or whatever it may be, if you have a problem with the design of a building, style of music, someone’s blog post or Youtube video, don’t mock it, don’t insult it and don’t spew your negativity onto it and that person. Instead, simply present your constructive, loving, well-thought-out and informed alternative and let others draw their own conclusions.
Here’s a real-life example I experienced. This one comes to you through my years of working at Beauxoxo. Of course, creating and designing fashion pieces is simply inviting criticism, both constructive and destructive, just as any creative will also understand.
Throughout my time at Beauxoxo I’ve actually only ever been blessed with 98% of constructive criticism. I honestly don’t know how I’ve been so lucky to experience this, but I’ve always been beyond grateful. And I’ve also been so appreciative for all the times I’ve reached out for ideas and suggestions on how I can improve my brand and the outpouring of loving solutions and ideas.
So this brings me to the one time I didn’t experience such positivity or loving, constructive criticism. It was a few seasons ago now where I was uploading my new summer collections of Turban Headbands. I just couldn’t think of the name for the headband you see photos of in this post.
As a result, I decided to head to social media to seek out some ideas and solutions. The only question that I needed a solution to was, ‘I’m looking for a name for this new turban headband, does anyone have any ideas?’.
I received a ton of amazing suggestions for names and it ended up being called ‘China Rose’. It was such a beautiful name, and one I’m so grateful for my community for suggesting! However, in the midst of these amazingly helpful, constructive responses I also received a destructive toxic response, degrading the print of the fabric to a ‘dishrag’.
Constructive Criticism CAN be transformative
The story above is to illustrate that everything in life really comes down to intention. In that example, it didn’t meet the constructive criticism criteria because, whilst not the worst insult per se, it was certainly not a relevant, necessary comment. And it also didn’t find a solution to the question I was asking.
Fundamentally, I believe that we all have a responsibility to engage in a sincere, loving and thought-out discussion that can help each other grow in this wonderful world we live in. And constructive criticism can do that. I know for sure for me personally constructive criticism has helped shape me into the person I am today and I am extremely grateful for that.
Because ultimately, criticism is meant to build an individual up; whereas destructive comments and insults are meant to tear someone down. We criticise because we care about the person; we insult to make us feel better about ourselves by comparison.
I truly passionately believe we all have a unique voice to offer the world, but if you are not diligent you may end up using that voice to cause unnecessary pain.
And to all my amazing creatives out there being so bold and brave: You are not creating your work for critics. Always create for you. But if you do find that a piece of work is met with derision and snark, put another in its place, continue to grow into your voice, even in the face of destructive criticism and bitterness. Know when to recognise the two sides of the coin and grow with the right loving support.
What are your views on this topic? Have you ever had to deal with criticism of any kind and how did you deal with it? Or have you had to deal with the insults that people pretend are criticism as discussed above?
Let me know how you handle all forms of criticism as I think it’s one people will have different opinions on! xoxo