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How to deal with discouraging comments about your art

encouragement Oct 05, 2021

When you start to explore your creativity, it’s pretty likely that you’ll tell someone about it. Whether it’s a friend or family member, or you decide to post your art online, most people like to share something they find joy in.

Unfortunately, exploring our creativity seems to bring a loooooot of unwanted and negative opinions! The last thing we’re wanting to hear when we’re telling people how passionate we are about something, is that it’s “silly” or “a waste of time/money” or that they ‘don’t get it’, or we’re not a “real” artist.

What is it about art that causes so many to shame the people who find joy from it?

Why can’t we simply do something because we enjoy it, and why can’t the people closest to us just be happy for us?

On Instagram recently I put up a question box and asked “what’s the most discouraging thing you’ve been told or heard about art?” And these were some of the responses:

  • Drawing is for kids
  • That’s a nice little hobby (dismissive)
  • You’re not a real artist if you can’t draw from memory / if you didn’t study art
  • Tracing is cheating
  • Digital art / crafting / abstract art isn’t real art
  • You should never paint from a photograph
  • Calligraphy / lettering is just scribbling
  • Art isn’t a real career
  • What is it? (re: abstract art)
  • It will end up in the trash at some point, so why bother?

Before we go any further, I just wanna say - everything above is absolute rubbish in my opinion. Art is for everyone. You’re a real artist the second you start making art. Tracing is a tool. Any art is art. You can do art however you want to do art. People can interpret art however they want to. Art is a real career. And if everything ends up in the trash why bother doing anything? PHEW! Glad we got that out of the way haha.

I’m not sure whether it’s because I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of shaming in my life, but I feel this relentless protectiveness over beginner artists or those that are lacking confidence and facing unnecessary criticism when it comes to art. I’m so incredibly passionate about encouraging people to explore their creativity, and not to listen to hurtful words like the ones above. It broke my heart to read these responses, and to hear how much they’ve impacted the people they were said to, to the point some people confessed wanting to quit art.

I want to try and offer you a few perspectives and tips on criticism and how we can handle it as artists, because unfortunately for us (especially those of us who take things to heart - guilty!), art and criticism go hand in hand. And unfortunately not everyone can keep their opinions to themselves.

The thing about art that I want you to remember is that it’s so open to interpretation, preference and opinion. Dita von Teese said it well “you could be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches”.

And I’m sure as you’ve been on your journey, you’ve resonated with some art, and not loved some other art. You may not have felt inclined to pass that feedback on to the artist, but I’m sure you’ve developed some preferences. Sometimes just acknowledging this can help us understand the minds of others when they blurt out hurtful things.

When it comes to those closest to us, they can sometimes say things out of fear or protectiveness, even if it doesn’t come across that way. They might be trying to stop us from getting our hopes up, in case whatever we’re planning doesn’t work out, or maybe this new passion is taking your time away from them, and they just don’t know how to communicate that.

Here are some things I’ve found useful for dealing with unwanted criticism or outright trolling in the moment, depending on how comfortable you are responding and how well you know the person:

  • Agree with them flat out. “Drawing is for kids” “So true!” What are they even going to say back to that?
  • Disagree without explaining. “Tracing is cheating” “I disagree, but to each their own”
  • Let them know you weren’t asking for opinions, if you’re comfortable enough doing so. “You should never paint from a photograph” “Thank you but I wasn’t asking for your opinion”
  • Call them out on it. “How is that comment kind or helpful?"
  • Give them absolutely nothing to work with. “Art isn’t a real career” “Okay”
  • Have some fun with it. “That’s a nice little hobby” “Thanks! Your job is cute too”

And here are some things that help me afterwards:

  • Process your feelings. Why did that comment upset you? Was it because it was so unexpected? Was it because it was cruel? Was it because it triggered a fear you have? Take the time to unpack your feelings instead of internalising them. When we internalise other people’s beliefs about ourselves, it can completely change the way we see ourselves and our place in the world, and not for the better.
  • Think about where the comment was coming from. Is it from someone you admire/want to be like (in terms of art)? If not, does their comment hold any weight then (even if you love the person who gave it)?
  • Does the person giving criticism just have a poor way of communicating their feelings? Might they be scared your new passion of art will take you away from them and they’ll lose your attention? Are they protective and want to prevent you from being let down if you don’t achieve your art goals? What other reason might they be saying these things?
  • Are they just being cruel? Sometimes unfortunately in the world of the internet, random people just spew mean words. Almost all of the time it has absolutely nothing to do with you. I’d encourage you to think about your own mental health and if a comment is rude or cruel from a complete stranger, just block and delete them and move on. It’s not worth thinking about for a moment longer.
  • Try to separate yourself from your art. This has probably been the most helpful to me. I have always been someone to take things super personally, so if someone didn’t like my art or gave me feedback I wasn’t asking for, I would feel like a massive failure. I wanted my art to be so perfect it could only receive praise, even though logically it’s impossible to please everyone. The moment I started seeing myself separately from my art, and realising whatever I create is just a creation and not a representation of me as an artist, it made it so much easier to deal with negative comments. Just because I made art that someone doesn’t like, that they think is “bad”, or that they have suggestions on how to improve, DOESN’T mean it sucks or that I’m a bad artist or that I’ll never make something “good” or that they'll like. What I created was just the product of a moment in time where I did some art. It doesn’t have to be any deeper than that.

Please remember that when people say hurtful things, it’s a reflection on how they feel about themselves. And more importantly: opinions aren’t fact, and you can absolutely disagree with them!

Make art, have fun

—Emma