Let them hit you

Displaying your art for others to view is a daunting prospect. Whether it’s a painting on the wall, a story on a website, or a song on iTunes, once you put what you’ve created into the public sphere, interpretation is up for grabs. And trust me, everybody is a critic.

Initially, you’ll hear the work is good. This is because the first people who critique it love you. Soon, you’ll display the art for others to examine. Then you’ll produce more. After some time of fighting the resistance, you’ll have a body of work that garners more attention–either because it’s good or for the simple fact that there’s more of it to be seen.

At this point, you’ll experience some criticism. This is natural and beneficial. Everyone wants the positives and (some delicately worded) negatives.

Here’s the thing: Many of the negative comments will not be delicate. In fact, they’ll be uncomfortable.

This reminds me of Fahrenheit 451. A man named Faber warns Montag that making mistakes is OK–even when other people call you on it. Here’s an excerpt:

‘Listen. Easy now,’ said [Faber] gently. ‘I know, I know. You’re afraid of making mistakes. Don’t be. Mistakes can be profited by. Man, when I was younger I shoved my ignorance in people’s faces. They beat me with sticks. By the time I was forty my blunt instrument had been honed to a fine cutting point for me. If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn.’

Faber’s not talking about creating art, but he might as well be. Some people are born geniuses, but most of us need to make bad stuff and get knocked around a bit so we’ll learn. Then we’ll make good stuff. The kind comments are swell, but the unkind comments stay with us. The trick is to learn from both positive and negative constructive criticism.

So let them hit you. Put your heart out there. It will make you strong. It will hone your “blunt instrument.” You’ll learn–and most importantly–you’ll get better.