Keep Creating Even in the Face of Criticism

“Do not give your attention to what others do or fail to do; give it to what you do or fail to do” ~Dhammapada

During the past couple of months I have been the recipient of some not so favorable reviews from a couple of music blogs regarding an album I recently released. In fact, two reviews in particular were not just critical but completely scathing.

Both reviews completely devoured me. I received the most recent one right before going to bed, and allowed it to completely disrupt my sleep. I woke up numerous times playing the words over and over in my head.

The next morning I was still unable to shrug feelings of worthlessness, inability, insecurity, and disappointment.

That familiar feeling of a door closing on my dreams resurfaced again. The voice in my head told me that I should just quit making music once and for all. I was convinced that I had deluded myself about my abilities and that, despite all my efforts, my music will never be any good.

“There are no failures. Just experiences and your reactions to them.” ~Tom Krause

The truth is I do have a lot of insecurity about my abilities as an artist. From an early age, friends and peers criticized me, along with parental figures that I expected support from. So today when I receive criticism, it reopens an old wound.

In the past, I’ve let feelings of inadequacy keep me feeling down for weeks on end. This time though, I didn’t want these feelings to dictate my entire day or week ahead. I wanted to shake this feeling immediately and not let myself drown in it any longer.

So, in my own form of meditation, I sat with these feelings and I realized I needed to be kind to myself, a friend to myself. After all, if I can’t be kind to myself, who will? I can’t rely on external praise or wait for someone else to make me feel better.

There are so many factors beyond our control. When we seek validation from someone else, we put power in that person’s hands.

Within moments, I was able to shift my perspective and see things in another light. I was able to see that opinions and preferences are completely subjective.

How is it that one person can love a certain style of music and not another? Or how is that the person sitting next to you has the exact opposite preference and opinion about music than you? Taste is subjective. People like different foods, different colors, and different weather conditions. We all differ in our opinions.

“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

I also write music reviews. When I thought about the criticism my music received, I initially told myself, “I’d never say those things about anyone’s music.” I then realized that whether or not I would say those things isn’t really the point.

The point is these words are just somebody else’s opinion and we’re all entitled to our own opinion. I then re-read the recent negative review I’d received and realized that the reviewer was simply speaking his opinion about a completely subjective piece of work.

Furthermore, by sitting with the feeling, I was able to see what I did was brave. I created something, put it out there for the world to ingest, and I opened myself up to criticism.

Artists are brave people. We share our creations with the world, and any time we create something and share it with someone else, it is subject to criticism.

When you think about it, it’s one of the most vulnerable states you can put yourself in. You might then think, why would someone want to do that to him or herself?

There a lot of aspiring artists who keep their work guarded, locked up in a drawer, unable to share it with the world. I know because I spent many years doing this. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve allowed myself to share my work.

I’ve realized the rewards of doing so far outweigh the negative criticism. The feeling of relief through sharing and releasing your creation into the world is reward enough.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” ~Nelson Mandela

We can give up, or we can choose to continue on our path. We can continue to create because we enjoy it, and become more authentic and more expressive with every creation, knowing we have done our personal best.

The rest is out of our control. The only thing we can control is our response to criticism, whether is it criticism from someone else or from ourselves.

“I have done my best. That is all the philosophy of living one needs” ~Lin-yutang 

Photo by lorraine santana

About Scott van Dort

Scott van Dort is a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist currently based in Los Angeles and is involved in various music projects including The Black String Theory. Scott is also a music reviewer contributing material to numerous music sites and a music business professional with over 10 years industry experience.

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    i respect artists and writers because they show me different worlds and remind me that this is not everything there is. the fact that they’re most exposed to criticisms by sharing something they created shows that they’re  really courageous people and makes me respect them even more. I avoid criticisms because they always make me feel small even if they’re meant to be “constructive”. Never, in my entire 26 years, have I managed to persist in the face of criticism. Then I ask myself, “what have i ever done that I’m proud of?” Nothing. Now, nobody wastes time to criticize me. What’s worse than being criticized is being not worthy of any criticism because you haven’t done anything out of the ordinary.You’re right though, when we seek validation from other people we are at their mercy. I love this post, it inspires me to take leadership over my life. Thank you.

  • Lucy@

    This is where I’m at right now as a writer, and now artist. I have been blogging about the “coming out” process on my blog as I prepared for my first exhibition this week.

  • We are entitled to have an opinion, yes, but some opinions are more valuable than others. I agree that artists have to be brave. An artist puts out a piece of work, an expression or a point of view, and that work is easy for some people to criticize. I tend to think that those who are criticizing are likely not putting their own work out there for the world. It’s easy to pick something apart, but quite hard to put pieces together into art and then share it with the world.

  • JamesSimon

    Scott, I applaud you for not only your creative endeavors, but for your ability to come to terms with what others thought. I’ve been an artist all my life, or rather an “expressionist” as I’ve been involved with art, music and writing. I also teach and what I tell my students, fashion students, is that being creative is the most difficult thing because there are no answers at the end of the book. There are no RIGHT answers, only opinions. We should ALL respect each person’s opinions and respect the work of others. I haven’t heard your music and I may not even like it, BUT I RESPECT it.

  • Mine the criticism. Find something to take from it. It has you writing about your reaction to it, something in you reacted to it. Not worthlessness, you are more than that. There’s a part of you that sees the best you, the heroic, perfect, talented and gifted you. You do possess all of that, all the goodness. You are not a fraud. You are true. I wish I was half as brave as you are. I am paralyzed with fear and cannot for the life of me get my writing “out there”. I blog and it stops there but I want so much more. You do what I only dream of doing. Good work, I say. Keep up the hard and good work.

  • We cannot change others view but we can change ours. By changing our perspective, the problem we perceive suddenly is not a problem anymore. I totally agree that “When we seek validation from someone else, we put power in that person’s hands.”.

  • George

    Thank you for a wonderful message. I have loved art my
    entire life. I was strongly discouraged in my artistic interests. I have some
    talent but I do not have the courage to create. I am wracked with self doubt,
    self criticism and fear therefore I do nothing but berate myself as a coward.
    Trying to create is not a comfortable experience for me. I wish it was. I envy
    people that can just tune out and let their mind and body flow with the
    creative spirit. I refer to myself as a person who collects art supplies that
    are not used. I have almost resolved to sell my collection of art supplies and
    do other things.

  • Dan

    Someone once gave me well intentioned advice based on his opinions. It made me feel sick for weeks. I defended my project, but could not shake his doubt. He later apologized and said good criticism should come from experience not from opinions. Here’s a thread:

  • Scott

     Hey Dan – thanks for sharing and thanks for the thread. Initially I wanted to defend my efforts too – I think that’s probably the natural response for most of us. But I learned that one person’s opinion is exactly that…one person’s opinion!

  • Scott

     Hi George – glad you liked the post but saddened to hear you’re been discouraged in your artistic interests. You owe it to yourself to give rise to that side of you, to express yourself through art, or just create for the sake of creating. The hardest part is starting. I agree with you too that often creating can be an uncomfortable experience, which is probably more reason we should do it, right? 🙂

  • Scott

     Amen to that!

  • Scott

    Thanks for the lovely words, Roberta. Your bravery is shown in this very comment – you’ve shared your thoughts and words with the world. Don’t underestimate your blog either – it’s powerful. If you want to do more than writing your blog, you know you can and you’re capable of pursuing that choice! Thanks for the encouragement.

  • Scott

    Thanks James – you’re spot on – “There are no RIGHT answers, only opinions”. I can’t imagine throughout history how many musicians, fashion designers, writers and painters have been told that their work has no currency and then left their pursuits behind. Opinions could also just be just preferences; I like the colour blue more than red but does it mean it’s better? Nope. I’m glad you’re teaching your students about creativity and criticism – good work you’re doing. Thanks for the comments, encouragement and respect.

  • Scott

    Best of luck to you with your first exhibition, Lucy. Needless to say, you’ll learn and grow so much from your first exhibition…the first of many. Enjoy it and be proud of the work YOU have done. Nothing else should really matter, right?

  • Scott

     That’s a really good point, Jonathan – in the past I’ve received other criticisms but they were valuable and constructive and even if hard to swallow, it was useful and helpful. “t’s easy to pick something apart, but quite hard to put pieces together into art and then share it with the world” – exactly right, Jonathan!

  • alleykat_

    Thank you! 

  • Scott

     Thank you Pauline – I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and likewise, thank YOU for sharing. As cliched as it is to say “life is short” and I think we all need to share our creations in whatever form we wish to express it while we can. I found the only way I could move beyond the feelings associated with people’s criticisms was to explore WHY it triggered that response and WHY I might react the way I do to criticism. Best of all was realizing that their PERSONAL OPINION actually has nothing to do me!

  • I haven’t heard that Friedrich Nietzsche quote in some time. It’s lovely to come across it again. The part in this post about sharing and artists guarding their work had me thinking of a short screenplay that I recently sent to some people, for feedback. 

    These have been some of the most stomach-knotting weeks of the year for me. But if I had to do it all over, I would still choose the feedback and any criticism that may or may not come with it because receiving it can help me learn more about my writing, grow in developing my material and improve. That tops letting criticism affect how I feel, on any day of the week. 

  • Hittman

    This article inspired one of my own – an expansion on the idea: 

  • Don’t give up, George. Instead, tell yourself that it’s OK to suck.  

    Because you will suck, for quite a while, before you find your creative groove.  It takes a while.  For most of us it takes a LONG while.  And once we hit that grove we’re still plagued with self-doubt and insecurity.  That’s not a bad thing, though.  We are, and should be, our own harshest critics.  

    No artist, in any art, is good at first.  It usually takes at least a year to get even slightly good at something, and getting better is a life-long endeavor.  Until then, stink up the studio with lousy art, knowing that every gawd-awful piece you crank out brings you one step closer to being good at it.     

  • Gemma Weirs

    I agree with the insights give in the rest of the comments, but wanted to add that the person with the opinions need to bear in mind the artist has feelings too. It’s not a one-way street.

  • Connie

    Yes, people can give constructive criticism, but some people take it to the point of ensuring they wound, which I cannot accept. Everyone has an opinion but you need to take a moment and make sure it will not crush the soul of another. Scott, I truly admire any artist for your work whether it’s art, music, etc is exposed to the world and is a true blessing. It takes much courage to expose your gift.

  • Scott

     Thanks, Nicole. It’s a great Nietzsche quote isn’t it? That’s great that despite the fear you experienced, you’d do it all over again. The key is in the sharing and the release of your work, everything after that is subjective and out of your hands, right? All the best with your screenplay too.

  • Scott

     “Everyone has an opinion but you need to take a moment and make sure it will not crush the soul of another” – I 100% agree with you! Unfortunately not everybody does take that moment to consider others; what I’ve learned is that how someone chooses to respond is out of our control and really can’t afford to affect our decision to share one’s work. Thanks for the kind words too, Connie!

  • Scott

     Totally agreed, Gemma.

  • Scott

     It would be nice!

  • Thank you for your article. I often don’t want to put my work out into the universe because I fear that it might be rejected. I think many of us have this fear:( I recently read a critics review of Taproots new album and came away feeling a little smarting for them. It was not so much about her opinion but more about that way she voiced her opinion. Yes we all have an opinion but I believe it is important to voice it in a respectful way……. Tearing someone down or putting the boot in is not cool in my world. Thanks again. Karina.

  • Zugwanda

    What a great article, you really nailed it.  There’s a terrific quote from this very site that goes, “There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally.”-Don Miguel Ruiz.  As an artist you really get the opportunity to practice that skill and experience that freedom.  I never thought about it like that.  Thanks!

  • Admin

    Another ‘i’ blog I skipped through it just sick of people writing there life story when one line could tell us! Boring

  • Mandamosherlist

    Scott, I completely relate to you and have also experienced the crushing feeling of reading bad reviews ~ it takes a brave soul to share their art and I too remind myself of that ~ some people don’t like Bob Dylan’s voice although he changed a generation’s thinking so…what can you do but charge on 😉 thank you for sharing! Where can we hear your music?

  • breathinglight

    Thank you for a very helpful post….especially your describing what “sitting with your feeling” actually means. Your insights from a painful experience are helping me heal, too.

  • Isn’t there a Rumi quote that goes something like this: Out beyond the ideas of right and wrong, there is a field.  I will meet you there.

    I love that notion and believe it is one of the toughest to accept and live day in and out.  We often assume others criticizing us are somehow “in the know” which is often, just an opinion.  Not sure how we get conditioned that way but knowing an opinion is just that, it may lead us to that field where Rumi awaits. Glad there are fellow strugglers out there!

  • nice article! i think one needs to mind one’s own business and to learn to care less about other people’s opinion.  otherwise, we will be miserable. 

  • Spetsnaz

    Art is the one thing, I think that humans can not fully grasp. What I mean by that is their is no right answer as to who is the best.

  • Amanda

    Thank you! Love this.

  • vkr

    Excellent article! Loved those quotes specifically, good picks!