Painful Criticism: Learning How to Bounce Back

Painful Criticism: Learning How to Bounce Back

Criticism is someone’s opinion or perception. It can come in the form of positive feedback where you leave feeling inspired, or it can be hurtful and be a negative an uninformed opinion. As a creative entrepreneur, you will encounter both positive and negative criticism during your career. The positive criticism is great, but what happens when you receive some tough or painful criticism?

If you ignore the fact that you are upset from a piece of tough criticism, it will not go away. Burying hurtful criticism only makes it fester and can eventually lead to a creative block. This blog post outlines some ways to begin tackling painful criticism.

Evaluate Your Critic

After you have received some unwarranted or not-so-positive advice, the first step is to reflect on your critic. Ask yourself these questions to begin evaluating the value of this advice:

  • Are they educated in arts? Is the person qualified and is their criticism coming from an informed place?
  • Are they trying to help and provide helpful (but maybe tough) feedback OR are they trying put you down or hurt you?
  • Are they really talking about you and your work? or are they trying to argue something larger perhaps about the curator, a style of art, or the theme of an exhibition?
  • Are they just say thing something to sound smart?
  • Are they trying to put you down because they are a blocked artist themselves?
  • Are they your audience or your fans?

Paving the Way

If you are a fan of Stranger Things or Harry Potter, then you are probably familiar with both stories where the Duffer Brothers and J.K. Rowling had a difficult time getting their creative projects launched. In both instances they had many rejections and critics along the way but in the end became almost a viral sensation with now millions of people watching the show and reading the books.

Consider that you could be on a similar path, creating work in a new style. Experimentation and risk are key to the development of the next great work and wont go without criticism. Be diligent like the Duffer Brothers and Rowling and keep trying regardless of what your critics say or how many rejections you get. You owe it to yourself to create the work you really want to make.

Writing a letter

Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist Way, suggests writing a letter to the critic. Now this letter is intended for you, not intended to be mailed. This letter will most likely be in defense of your art and may have statements that sound more like the words of a  5 year old’s tantrum than a refined creative argument. This exercise helps voice your inner artist’s perspective, which usually is the voice of a child. It can come out pretty silly but will be helpful in processing some hurtful criticism.

Finding Support

Reach out to close friends/artists for support. Every artist has received painful and hurtful criticism at some point in their career. Confide in a close creative comrade who understands you and supports your work. They will be able to help you through your criticism.


Rejection and criticism are two very different things. Ask yourself if what you received from your critic was rejection. Think of rejection of “Not right now” or “Not a great fit” as opposed to your work isn’t good. Getting a “no” from a gallery or creator could be as simple as, “your work isn’t our gallery’s style” or “we are booked with with next year’s exhibitions already.” Sometimes the no means not right now. No also makes room for a different and perhaps unplanned “yes” to show up. Take a “no” as a speed bump in your creative path not a stop sign or a breakdown on the side of the road.

Flexing Your Criticism Muscles

The more criticism you hear the easier it gets. The first 2-3 critics, bad reviews or unwarranted statements hurt a lot and it will  take time to heal. Don’t skip or rush this process. As you get more reviews, it will get easier to flush out what is noise and unhelpful criticism and whats beneficial feedback. Whatever you hear, you get to decide the validity of the advice given. Only you have the power to lets someone’s critique bother you or make you upset.

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