Let’s talk about constructive criticism.
I think criticism, when used correctly, is one of the MOST influential tools that we can use to grow as artists and as people. When I first began my journey with photography journey 6 years ago, I didn’t take criticism well… and it held me back, for a long, long time. It wasn’t until I learned how to detach myself emotionally FROM the criticism I received on my work that I was truly able to grow into the artist I am now, and it’s also what will enable me to continue my growth through this project and through the rest of my life.
Before I understood how the constructive criticism process worked, I dished out the harsh criticism on others just as much as I received it, usually in the form of heated internet arguments and facebook comments that only ever made it to the draft stage. Hurt people hurt people, right? Or, more like people who allow themselves to be hurt about stupid things, hurt people. That was me. What I perceived as an attack and the reality I constructed around my own victim mentality every time I got a word of criticism on a photograph, resulted in an argument against some “anyone” behind a computer screen, somewhere else in the world.
My inability to take constructive criticism extended beyond my photography world, too. It leaked into my daily life, my client relationships, and my growth and success as a person on the whole. I couldn’t even deliver a set of client images for fear of criticism just as much as I couldn’t take criticism from my friend who thought I could do a better job of managing my time. It wasn’t until I learned the keys to both giving and receiving criticism that I truly began to skyrocket from where I was, to where I am now.
Let’s start with some of my core beliefs about perception, reality, and rumour. I’m a strong believer that there is a seed of truth in every rumour, and a lesson to be learned from every criticism, even in its harshest form. Sometimes, the words said and the lesson learned may not even relate to you, but there is always a lesson to be learned.
Growing the skill that allowed me accept, learn, and apply knowledge actually came from a conversation with Spotify’s customer support when I was 15. I was in high school, living at my parent’s house, and signed up for a free month of Spotify to test out the premium service. It came to the end of my 30 days, and I forgot to unsubscribe and remove my payment details, resulting in a very modest $20 charge for 2 months of service… remember what $20 is like when you’re still in high school? That’s at LEAST 2 super cheap dates with that girl from 1st period that doesn’t even think you’re cute.
My adolescent self wrote Spotify an e-mail, because I wasn’t ready to take on the subscription yet. First, I reached out and told Spotify’s customer service how much I enjoyed their service and how I had been using it consistently throughout the month. Then, I told them that I was a high school student and couldn't pay the monthly charge, and was wondering if they could reverse it. They responded with a message that essentially said “thank you for being so kind about our service. We’ve given you a free month for the kindness you showed to us in your response.” My 15-year-old brain exploded. I didn't see the insane customer service lesson at the time, but I'll touch on that in a later blog post.
Because of the way I handled that, and the way the company handled my request, the relationship has grown exponentially. When I turned 18 and started working, I looked at Spotify again. I’ve been a subscriber to Spotify premium now for over 6 years. I was valued and my approach was perfect.
Here’s the formula for how to criticize successfully:
First, tell the person or entity you’re criticizing what you like about them, what they’re doing, how they’re doing it… even if you don’t think you can find ANYTHING, pull something out. You always can. I know because I do this with people and companies sometimes that I just truly cannot stand to say kind
2) Suggest or Ask
Next, suggest or ask for something different that might work better and would be in favor of your desired outcome or vision. Explain why it would help or improve. Appeal to emotion. Appeal to their desire to feel important.
That’s the key here: all people want to feel important. It’s just a standard human desire… and arguably, a standard human NEED. If you understand this one simple idea, you can navigate a plethora of human interaction exceedingly well. That’s why companies like Apple or Southwest Airlines have incredible success in their businesses… they make people feel important. From the top of the company all the way down, people are valued, even through their failures. It trickles down to the customers in the same way that making someone feel important through your criticism can trickle down into their art.
"...all people want to feel important. It’s just a standard human desire… and arguably, a standard human NEED. If you understand this one simple idea, you can navigate a plethora of human interaction exceedingly well."
EQ, or “emotional intelligence: is likely the most IMPORTANT determining factor for success in any field or forge of life. This skill can raise that quotient exponentially.
Now, for receiving criticism: the most important thing to remember when hearing ANYONE say ANYTHING about your work is to remember that you are ALWAYS growing as an artist. We live in a culture where anyone and everyone with a brain and two hands and access to a keyboard, and thus, access to say anything they want to you about your photography or music or poetry or writing or art.
That open door for rejection and criticism stops a LOT of incredibly talented artists from ever posting their work to the internet. Don’t let it. I look at 100% of all criticism towards my work, no matter how harsh, as a learning point and a point of growth. I detach myself entirely from the emotional outcome of the criticism process, and choose instead to see all criticism equally, in a way that I can learn from EVERYTHING that people say about my photos.
"I look at 100% of all criticism towards my work, no matter how harsh, as a learning point and a point of growth."
When you can detach yourself emotionally from pixelated words on a screen, and instead see those pixels as a tool for growth, you can entertain immense personal and artistic growth.
So go out, and grow. Criticize and be criticized. Just do it well.
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I'm on a mission to show that the light will always pierce through the darkness.