Did you ever work on a drawing for hours, only to hear your best friend tell you the hand you drew looks like a deformed chicken wing? Did you ever write a story that you were really proud of, only to get the crushing advice from your professor to never write again? Did your mom ever tell you that you shouldn’t follow your creative pursuits, because there is no money in singing? If a prominent figure in your life ever gave you harsh critique, chances are that you are still hearing the remark over and over in your head. Outer critics can turn into inner critics painfully easily.
3 Brave, creative ladies share a painful memory that became a negative turning point in their creative history. Many years later, they are taking steps back towards their creative dreams. They share what they learned from the soul-crushing critique they once received. Hopefully their insights will help you realize that you’re not alone, and it’s never too late to follow your creative dreams, however scary they may seem. Here is how to deal with criticism.
Kirsten Elizabeth Gilmore
“Your proportions are off. Start again!”, my art instructor said as he snatched my painting rag off the table, dipped it in the turpentine, and wiped my painting clean off of the canvas. This was during the first class of a life painting course, when I was about 17.
I was mortified. I did not return for the rest of the course. What he was saying was actually correct–my proportions were off, and the best way to “fix” the paintings would be to start again. But the way he said it and the act of literally destroying my first attempts at painting this model eroded my trust in my own life drawing abilities for the next few months. I was already a perfectionist: his words just confirmed my own self doubt.
I made the decision to try again, enrolling in a different life painting course with a more supportive instructor. With some distance, and a new attitude, I revisited the content of what my first, critical instructor had told me: Measure proportions before starting. I learned to make “sight measurements” in the air with a pencil and thumb held at arm’s length before ever starting a sketch with a paintbrush. This time, with my own determination and the gentle guidance of a new teacher, I was able to approach realistic life painting without fear.
My advice to others would be to distance yourself emotionally from the critical person and take a moment to consider if the content of what that critic said held any useful information. Then, choose whether to use the advice while letting go of the negativity that came coupled with it.
In college my writing professor completely dismissed my writing. It was in 1980. I have this memory of him waving his hand and then making disparaging remarks about what I wrote and then completely ignoring me for the remainder of the class, while obviously lavishing attention on other male students. It wasn’t outwardly abusive but I remember being very traumatized. I completely shut down for the rest of the class.
I went to college to become a writer. That shut me down. I really had no idea what to do after that. I ended up with a double major: English and Art
I haven’t really conquered this critique 34 years later. I’ve made a study of creativity. I’m just now reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and I wish I’d had it then because I would have understood it wasn’t about me and also that it’s okay to fail. The main thing is to keep writing no matter what.
Let your soul be your guide and let the naysayers be the fuel to move your forward. As Taylor Swift so eloquently says: “shake it off!” ;)
When I was in college I wanted to be an English major. I was proud of my first creative assignment, and curious to hear what grade I got. Sad to say that I got an F, and the professor told me that I couldn’t write. The result: I changed my major and have been hesitant to write ever since.
Now let’s zoom in on 2015. I am eagerly pursuing writing a blog and coaching business. In order for me to communicate with my people I have to be able to convey what I want in words. What happens? Now the memory resurfaces, and fear takes a seat in my life.
I have started taking classes with Kris Windley, her site is With A K Writing. Kris has helped me transform my way of thinking about my abilities to write. She has defended me against my ancient professor who had continued to haunt me. Also going to Creative Live for April Bowles Olin’s course was really my “ Eureka I have found it” moment when I knew that I was going to stand up for myself.
For anyone who has been told similar things, remember no two pair of DNA is the same. We are unique, the way that we think, create, and express ourselves are our individual mark. Surround yourself around people who are going to lift you up and push you forward. At the end of the day we are all created in an awe inspiring way. Seek to find your purpose in life and pursue it.
Did you ever get critique that held you back on your creative pursuits? If so, what happened?
October 27, 2015 at 16:06
Thanks for sharing this, Marielle! :)
October 30, 2015 at 09:09
You’re welcome! Thank you for being willing to share your story :)