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How to Accept Feedback Like an Artist

You may call it feedback, a critique, or criticism, which is having someone assess you on something you have done. Taking this feedback can be extremely challenging. Often, we take it as a comment on ourselves as people instead of our work and get disheartened. Sometimes, we become so nervous about not succeeding that we completely crumble at the idea of it. This can be even harder as you navigate living with someone in the same room, suite, or apartment for months at a time. As an artist, I have spent years receiving criticism and feedback from professors, fellow artists, friends, family, and random strangers on the internet that see my work. Everyone has an opinion and those opinions can be hard to hear, but we learn to accept that criticism. We can also learn to identify the differences between good and bad feedback. After reading this, I hope you will be able to do the same and gain new skills on how to give/receive critique. 

For an artist, there are 2 types of feedback: technical and conceptual. Technical feedback is much like how it sounds. It is a critique on your technique or skills used to create your art. This could be a comment on the texture of your brushstrokes, the quality of your cuts, or the proportions of your figure. This sort of feedback is more easily taken because it can be traced back to a hard skill that you are developing and can be easily improved through practice. Conceptual feedback is criticism of the abstract. It is assessing the success of the idea inherently and not just the skills used to produce the end product. This may look like asking whether or not the concept chosen was an effective story-telling device, or being asked to explain every individual creative choice and how it adds to the experience. Often, this is the most challenging feedback to receive because humans have a tendency to take it more personally than technical critiques. 

You may be wondering, “What does this have to do with me? I'm not an artist." While we aren’t all artists, we all face times of criticism and feedback. We can all benefit from improving how we take and utilize that feedback. This is an especially effective skill to develop when living with others, knowing that you won’t always see eye-to-eye. Below, we will talk about a few strategies that artists use to receive and respond to feedback.

Strategy 1: Listen, Process, Respond

Step 1: Listen. Listening is an important part of taking feedback. It can be so easy to get distracted by a harsh comment and zone out of the conversation, but when we listen we can connect with the goal of the conversation.

Step 2: Process. The act of processing is possibly the most important part of taking feedback. This allows you to take the time to clear your head if you didn’t initially receive the feedback well. It also permits you time to craft an intentional response, whether that is accepting or refuting the critique given.

Step 3: Respond. How we respond to feedback is what affects the experience most. Most feedback is meant with good intentions for growth or to create a comfortable space for all involved. Try to remain respectful and if you feel like the experience is pushing boundaries, be transparent. Reinforce your boundaries and advocate for your needs.

This strategy allows you to maintain a sense of respect in the conversation and can permit you to make real progress through whatever situation you find yourself in!

Strategy 2: Deconstruct, itemize, Prioritize

While you should always do your best to listen, process, and respond, this strategy accommodates the thought process in real time more than others.

Step 1: Deconstruct. If the other person is providing a series of critiques, don’t be afraid to stop them and ask specific questions point by point. You can’t grow or adequately respond if you don’t understand what they are sharing with you.

Step 2: Itemize. By understanding the depth of each point, you are able to organize what's required of you and the other person. This can be a useful tool as you structure a plan moving forward.

Step 3: Prioritize. Very rarely, feedback comes singularly. It is unrealistic to expect yourself or others to adjust your actions instantaneously. Create a list of goals and rank them from most to least important. Be fair, realistic and allow for mistakes. 

This strategy can be more flexible and I find it the best way for me to ensure that I completely understand what problems others might be facing with a project. I can also be aware of everyone participating, ensuring that you are all stakeholders in your team. 

Strategy 3: Mediate, Negotiate, Appreciate

Step 1: Mediate. Mediation is a tried-and-true method of conflict resolution. This allows you to have a neutral party meant to help maintain the sense of respect and open communication needed to work through feedback. Find someone who can be that neutral party and ask them to hold all parties accountable as you navigate the process.

Step 2: Negotiate. Feedback isn’t always realistic for everyone involved and sometimes it is disproportionate for one person. Go into the space willing to negotiate what changes you need from the person and what timeline that looks like.

Step 3: Appreciate. The act of giving feedback is very personal and more often than not it can hurt someone’s feelings. By ensuring you express your appreciation for one another it can help ease the tension, maintain the relationship and build a good habit of showing your appreciation for others!

This strategy is more effective for stronger feedback or for groups who have a tendency to react, then process. Be intentional about what strategy you employ based on the relationship and personalities of everyone involved. 

These are just three of many ways to accept and work through feedback. It is a tricky process but we are all capable of doing it with respect and ease if we practice. Now you have some new strategies in your tool belt get out there and accept feedback like a pro!

Sam Dalton
Outreach Housing Ambassador