How Do You Deal with Feedback?

photo by Liz Kalloch

As creators, part of the act of creating is sharing the work with others.

I believe that there are several “acts” to creating, much like the arc of a play:

  • Act One: the creator makes something.
  • Act Two: the creator shares that something with an inner circle, and then (here’s the tension in the arc) the creator shares that something with a larger world, with people that she or he may not know personally.
  • Act Three: the creator receives “responses” to her or his creation, and deals with them in any number of ways (sometimes there is drama here, sometimes not) and then the creator goes on to make something else.

This arc kind of creates its own loop, much like the never-ending loop that exists in most of us creators: to keep creating. Whatever your work is – if you make things or write things, or design things, or invent thing, or decorate things (imagine this list going on and on, because I think creators come to us from a wide range of fields and disciplines) – if you feel a never ending need to create, then you know about this loop. That urge to create is never really silent.

Now, when you put your work out there, you’re going to receive feedback. What’s that saying? Oh, yeah, everybody has an opinion, and you may have received feedback whether you asked for it or not. It could have come in the form of any or all listed below:

  • You may have experienced great praise and accolades for a project or an idea.
  • Your work may have been noticed in a way that you had been hoping for.
  • You may have put your work out there and experienced harsh words.
  • You may have experienced non-interest, even boredom from others about your work.
  • You may have experienced either a huge boost or a lack of confidence as a result of these experiences.
  • You may have taken all the criticism and praise in equal measure and just kept on doing what you’re doing.
  • You may have experienced the need for a break, or a reassessment of your work.
  • You may even have changed what it is that you make, but I think that close to 100% of the time, you came back to make some more. Right?

So here’s the question:

When sharing new work (whether in process or finished) have you noticed that you carry a defensive posture while you wait for a response?

Have you held a defensive stance in the past and since been able to let it go? Or, do you share your work with an openness and a genuineness that floats over and above any need for defensiveness?

For me creating is more about the process than the end result so I am completely open to getting feedback. I’ll even urge with specific questions. I don’t get defensive because, as an artist, it is part of my job to share what I make and so you learn not to take it personally, you can’t or you’d never get anything done!

We all like hearing lovely things about what we make, but I value commentary equally because it creates a space for me to grow, to perhaps consider something I hadn’t even thought of before. Some remarks are constructive and some are not. The good thing is you get to choose which comments are viable and which simply don’t fit into your work.

With all of this said, it is crucial to get feedback from those whose opinions I value—sometimes they are artists, sometimes not. Art for me is not simply about the formal elements, it is about the experience of the content, so getting feedback from people who come from a different viewpoint is helpful and always fascinating to me!

Lisa Occhipinti is a painter, book artist and author in Venice CA. Learn more about all she does at locchipinti.com

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When sharing a painting, if it’s a gallery owner I don’t feel defensive. In my experience, they are thinking about their market vs. constructing a critical response to the work. If it’s an audience at my exhibit, I do get a little disappointed if people focus more on materials and my process vs. feeling the painting for themselves and letting it in on an emotional or subjective level.

With writing, I feel very open and non-defensive until I become the subject of psychological analysis by way of one of my characters. Generally, I hope, I really, really hope people listen for the wild and beautiful in themselves as they engage in my art and writing. I only get defensive when people don’t offer their authentic reactions (including criticism) but instead talk about the chemical compounds of paint and materials or what a sad thing it is that my character’s tree fort was mauled by a hungry bear and what that must mean about my personal past.

Niya Christine is fiction writer, painter and rabbit herder by night and a designer of media and technology by day. Her book of short stories, Bragging Bantering Bawling is coming out this fall and will be announced at: Native Writer

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When I was fresh out of art school I felt the need to defend or explain my work. Part of that came naturally from the critiques which were part of college. Over the years I found my creative paths taking many twists and turns through a variety of media and muses creating work for my own pleasure and not a class.

During those times I sought out like-thinking artists to review my work with and me with theirs. Something changed in the critiques from college days – deeper understanding and less competitiveness emerged with these varying groups of artist friends. Currently I find myself having a more difficult time accepting praise but much more comfortable finding out what perfect strangers think about my work, either in process or finished.

Susan Schwake is an artist, instructor and curator and is pretty excited about  just finishing her first book, Art Lab for Kids, coming out March 2012 by Quarry Books.

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Defensiveness never crosses my mind when it comes to my work. My creativity comes from attempting to answer a deep calling in my life  to say something meaningful and beautiful about this world through art.  I try to do this every single time I create a new piece of art. I am always hopeful that collectors will connect with what I do but I also understand if they do not. Sometimes it is hard to keep putting myself out there, nevertheless I feel extremely blessed to be able to make and share art every day.

Deborah Grayson is the owner of Deborah Grayson Studios and offers collectible works of art and unique accessories with a modern, soulful style.

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When I share new work with a professional partner, I have a rainbow of responses. If I am engaged with the new work and really excited about it, I look for a quick response. The longer the wait, the more likely my impatience will rise. The wait is less about worrying that they don’t like it as being disappointed that their enthusiasm doesn’t match mine.

When I am utterly responsible for a creative project – from dawn to dusk – I really own it. I get wed to it. I am far more inclined to want “MY way” in this context. I find myself defending my choices, explaining my reasoning behind the decisions that I made.

I think in these different circumstances I have an openness. I am “open” in that I am feeling anxious and would appreciate a response. And in the last example I am open in that I am willing to confess my resistance to letting go of my specific vision.

But, dang. Defensiveness is part of my process. Oh, I hate admitting that. But I’ll be open about it and tell you!

mary anne radmacher is an author, artist and “inspirator” who is feeling currently a little defensive about admitting that she gets defensive.

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As a general rule, I believe that most artist’s are sensitive about their work. It can be difficult to put your heart, soul and self out there in a very public way. When I first started sharing my words, images and jewelry publicly, I would want to hide immediately after doing so. There was an instance early on where I became defensive over something I created that was harshly criticized, but in order to evolve I had to let it go.

Over time I have learned to simply create for me knowing that if I resonate with something I wrote or made, that perhaps someone else will too, which makes it much easier to put myself out there. And if they don’t, I don’t take it personally because I know it’s not about me. Having said that, there are still things I am holding onto that I haven’t shared publicly yet, perhaps because somewhere there is that need to want to protect certain parts of myself.

Stacy de la Rosa is an artist, jewelry designer and mother to two muses.

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Once, in a writing workshop, a facilitator told me that one of my essays had too many things going on in it and said, “I mean, what’s this essay even about?!” I had already worked on the piece with several other mentors and had revised and polished it, but I’d never shared it with so many people at once.

I immediately felt my hackles go up; I was ready to fight, but I also wanted to cry. I think that’s where creative defensiveness comes from: the need to protect ourselves. In the end, I decided to take her words for what I thought they were worth and looked at the essay again to make sure all of the threads and themes fit together. I believed they did, and so I felt good about the piece.

Each time I share new work, I learn to do so with trust and love – in myself and in the work – and with the belief that as long as I’m doing my best work, I can gently let go of the fight-or-flight response when it shows up.

Jennifer (Jenna) McGuiggan is a writer, editor, teacher, and coach who spends her time online in The Word Cellar.

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As a professional artist for more than fifteen years, I have had my share of rejections, and I have learned to appreciate them as part of the process. It would be naive to think my work will only be met with praise, so the way I look at it is that if I’m getting rejected it means I’m showing up, doing the work, and then am willing to release it into the world. What it does after that isn’t up to me and isn’t something I can control.

This is not to say I am a robot who doesn’t feel deflated after an art show with only one sale, or after a licensee lets me know they’ll be discontinuing my product line. Of course I do. But that is part of the deal. Just as anything I create is impermanent, any success – or rejection – I have is also impermanent. My job is to do my best work and then release it. However it is received is not a reflection of me personally so approaching that phase of the creative process with my defenses up only creates tension for me.

Christine Mason Miller
Artist * Author * Explorer

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Yes and no, I think it depends on who I decide to ask. If it’s someone I love and trust and know that they will have my best interest at heart I usually take a deep breath before really asking and then let it all go waiting to hear the response.  I appreciate it so much when someone can give me honest feedback.  But I’m noticing that while writing this that I’m not one to really show new work to people or ask for a response.  So maybe that is my defense against any kind of feedback.

I think I have held a defensive stance more in my professional office job; but since taking up my Photography I have been less defensive and more into learning and growing. Again, I usually have to gather the strength or bravery to ask what someone thinks of something before I do it.

I would really love to get to a place of openness with showing my work because I feel like the people I see who can do this learn so much about their work and themselves when they can open it up to others critiques, outlooks and/or advice. It’s all based on fear and my goal is to kick fear to the damn curb.

Stefanie Renee is an emerging Photographer ready to take on the world or photograph a musician or two.

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It has taken me years of practice, but I’m finally at a place where I trust my creative voice and I love what I create so much that I mostly just expect others to enjoy it as well. If my style is not to their sensibility, I understand and I no longer feel defensive or let that impact my confidence about my work. What is most important to me at this point in my career is that I’m happy and fulfilled creating my art. When I love it, I’ve done my job. And if it goes out into the world and brings people a little extra joy in their every day, even better.

Marisa Anne is an artist, author and designer living in Los Angeles, California

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In a perfect world, I like to think that I share my work with openness but of course my emotions tend to get in the way and I end up hearing harsh comments resonate in my head over and over. I am a human being after all.  I feel so vulnerable when putting a new painting up for review or feedback. It is like exposing the core of my being. Oddly, I tend to appreciate and respect thoughtful criticism (after I get over the hurt) more than shallow or seemingly random praise.

Mary Beth Shaw is a mixed media artist and author.

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I’m sure we’ve all felt defensive about our work at one point or another. Remember those brutal art school critiques? Yet I think that once you find your inner voice and it comes through in your work, any criticism becomes constructive and welcome. You feel secure about what you’re doing but there are always ways to improve and dig deeper.

I have one friend who is always very honest with me about my work. After being with her, I go back to my studio, really think things through and do much better work because of her. Most of my feedback comes from showing my work on my blog. I appreciate an honest response that someone felt it worth their time to say something, good or bad. However, commenting on blogs and sites has become, frankly, safe. You don’t see too much honest criticism out there, which is rather sad but not surprising.

Kathryn Clark is a fiber artist living in San Francisco, CA. She writes a blog to inspire and inform other artists who work in the unique genre called Articraft: artists who use craft in their work and craftspeople who make art.

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If I really look at this honestly, it’s true that I desperately rely on the high-fives of others to help me move forward with a project. That means if I share something–a piece of writing, some artwork–I am needing some positive feedback which green lights me to move forward. I’d like to say that the feedback from others doesn’t matter, but it does. I want to know that my work resonates with them.

I’m sorry to say that I’ve back-burnered projects that weren’t automatically accepted by a publisher or which people seemed stumped by–especially if that feedback came in the form of silence or a form letter. I’ve let it silence me. At the same time,  I am completely receptive to feedback if someone can articulate what works about a piece or what’s missing. If the feedback is encouraging, then I’m encouraged to get back in there and try it again.

As a writing teacher and an editor I’m always coaxing people forward like a parent reaching their arms out to a child standing on the shallow pool steps; “Swim to me!” I say as lovingly as I can, “Swim to me!” Everyone needs a loving editor/friend/mentor to help them see what’s happening in their work.

Laurie Wagner teachers Wild Writing in the Bay Area. This work focuses on using intuition, creativity and instinct to unleash the stories that are waiting to be told. She also coaches writers on their projects, teaches creative nonfiction at Writers.com and produces the 27 Powers Traveling Writers Series where writers from all over the country come to her home in Alameda to teach. You can reach Laurie at [email protected]

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My first response was, Oh I’m so part 3, I have no defensiveness about sharing new work, I’m always happy to share stuff.

But then I thought about it more and realised that defensiveness comes out in all sorts of ways. Feeling anxious and nervous, and constantly checking twitter and blogger to see if people have commented on your posts is a form defensiveness. So is looking at other people’s work and thinking it’s all better than yours. It seems to be the easiest position to take, as sharing work is a vulnerable moment, where you are opening yourself up to the world, hoping the world will like what you do, so isn’t it wise to build up some defenses just in case? Or is there is another way, to be open, genuine and fearless when sharing work, easier said than done but I’m going to put it to the test.

I capture the souls of birds in paper. –Claire Brewster

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I always carry hope when I’m sharing something new. It’s a little butterfly in my belly. Sometimes I just don’t know if a song’s a keeper until I’ve sung it out there, felt it in the room. My belly butterfly knows when it’s right. If it’s not? I don’t need anyone else to tell me! I KNOW!

I’m so paranoid about the very fledgling song, that I usually have to sing it (in tears) for my husband first. Then I can venture forward. I don’t even know if that’s defensiveness or tenderness. Songs do evolve, so you can’t nix them if they’re just not finished. But that is something that will not leave me. Songs are so intimate. And I don’t mind that terror. It’s just part of it.

Then, if it’s a room, a gig, the real moment? I just go for it. I throw my whole whole heart out there. Sink or swim.

Jonatha Brooke is a singer songwriter.

How do you deal with critiques, with praise, and have you kept making what you make regardless of what anyone has said to you about your work?

Please share your stories with us.

13 thoughts on “How Do You Deal with Feedback?

  1. One of my biggest obstacles as a business-owner/creator is the no-response response. I’ll post teasers, questions, and photos of finished projects on Facebook, my blog, and Etsy, then sit back and anxiously listen to the crickets chirp. I think I’d rather have harsh feedback than none – at least it would mean people are paying attention, maybe even interested. The quiet is like rejection.
    I know, negative negative negative. I keep plugging away and changing my game in hopes of the elusive feedback, but I’d be interested in knowing how other creators deal with the non-response.

    1. Janice, I feel the same way. It’s the worst when you put your work out there to be seen and it’s completely ignored. I would actually rather have someone give me negative feedback about my work, than have it completely ignored. At least then I would have some inkling of whether or not it is something I should pursue, make more of, etc.!

      I do try not to take it personally — I know that on my Twitter, Facebook, etc. there are SO many people sharing their work that it’s impossible to comment on everyone’s posts (or even see all of them!). It sort of feels like shouting over the crowd’s noise. (but still, I’d like to be the person whose work is so fantastic that, even in a crowd, people can’t help but stop, notice it, and say something about it!)

      1. I love that you put that last part out there, Darlene. Art isn’t a popularity contest, but part of me still feels that it actually IS a popularity contest and if only Zack Morris would ask me to prom (because I’m an excellent artist, of course) I’d have it made.

  2. That’s an excellent point Janice. And you’re right, it’s so much harder to handle that than harsh feedback (at least there’s effort and processing there). I recently received a big enthusiastic response from producers and agents on a comedy film script I wrote. They wanted to read it right away. I sent off the packages that week and then the deep freeze….’silence’ for 6 weeks. Luckily, from past experience I know this could mean many things. Not simply the most obvious ‘I suck’ conclusion. But I’ve found that the ‘no response’ theme has become more the case in our culture since the information age has picked up. Do you think it might be that we are responding to so much input that to stop and process is becoming somewhat an extinct level of consciousness?

  3. I believe a little defensiveness is totally normal. After all, as a creator, we did conceptualize the project from the beginning, and saw the creation of that project through to it’s finish.

    Despite a sometimes defensive posture, I love criticism (and I miss daily peer critiques from college).

  4. Such a wonderful question Liz and I’m glad that I am not the only one who posts and waits anxiously, checking feeds to see if there is any response. I didn’t think I was being defensive in that act but, I am definitely looking for approval. Being a designer for other people’s businesses for over 10 years has jaded me a bit, everything I do in that arena is looked over and approved by someone before the work may be completed. But my artwork is a totally different beast and way more personal. It’s just me … out there. Not me out there speaking for someone else. So when I create something for my etsy shop or a commissioned piece I wait anxiously for feedback … but silence is more common in this arena. Even when I get approval, I am waiting for more. For constructive criticism like that of which I had in college (I miss those daily critiques too Nicole!) This is one reason why I like to get to know other crafters / artists through social media, blogging and in person. To chat, to critique and to share our experiences so that we all get some real sound feedback that can help us to grow and succeed.

  5. I really enjoyed this question and the answers that were given. As a marketing strategist I don’t think I’ve ever been very open to feedback, and yes, I think when I got it (most people didn’t dare) I was defensive.

    Now, as a photographer I relish feedback, particularly from other photographers and artists. Interestingly, I most appreciate what they don’t like, and find most hesitant to give any negative feedback. What I can’t handle, however, is no feedback. I’ve sent photos and they dropped into the black hole, never to be heard from again. That I can’t stand!

  6. Oh my gosh, it feels so good knowing other people are rowing the same boat as me. It feels good and makes me a little angry at the same time. Why is so much talent going unremarked upon? Are WE somehow unremarkable. I don’t think so. I guess the best place to start is at home.

    What kind of feedback have you given lately? Have you offered a comment to someone you would normally pass by? Obviously empty compliments are, well, empty, but maybe speaking up should be added to the list of kind acts we try to perform each day.

    Anyone with me?

  7. Thanks everyone for all your thoughtful comments, and for sharing in a real and authentic way your feelings about both sharing your work and having it commented on (or not commented on).

    Niya brought up a great point: “But I’ve found that the ‘no response’ theme has become more the case in our culture since the information age has picked up. Do you think it might be that we are responding to so much input that to stop and process is becoming somewhat an extinct level of consciousness?”

    I truly believe that the non-response is in most cases due to media overload for most all of us. In addition, most artists, entrepreneurs and self-employed people are spending a good percentage of their time self-promoting, which once the work is done, and the promoting is done, there is little time to be looking at what everyone else is promoting.

    And that said, still I say, Janice, yes, I’m with you! Taking time to stop in and visit a few people to see what they are up to, and if moved, taking a moment to comment on what they are doing. It’s important I think because it helps us to remember in those quiet moments that we are really not alone.

  8. And to think I almost didn’t leave a comment here :) for exactly the point you made Niya. Existing almost entirely online for the last 5 years, I can definitely see a change in the amount of feedback happening, both giving and receiving. I have heard this theory once before and definitely agree that we are just inundated with so, can I say? too much these days. Even though I think the intent of all of this esp. social media was to connect with others more frequently and with more ease – I’m not sure it is. Sometimes I find myself feeling stressed because, as my circle of online connections and content grows, I can’t comment or connect as much as I used to and yet I still genuinely want everyone to know how much I care about how they are doing and what they are up to. Some of it also has to do with so many people checking in online via Iphone’s etc. It’s just not as easy to leave comments via the phone.
    I find now that I connect and stay up to date with friends and colleagues in short moments ‘sound bites’ mostly via twitter. And then what’s also interesting is that lately I have just been picking up the phone to connect with those closest to me, a lot more.
    Because of the speed at which everything is moving online, I think it is accepted and just understood now that no comment or feedback means we’re still there, listening following along – and we still love you and what you create :)

    thanks as always Liz for a thoughtful post and follow up discussion

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