How to Survive a Negative Digital Art Critique

"Feedback is the breakfast of champions."

Kenneth H. Blanchard, leadership expert and author

Whether you are just starting in digital art or have years of experience under your belt, two things are certain: first, you want to get better. And second, you will need to take a fair share of criticism along the way. Original insight, guidance, a fresh look at your work - those are all valuable benefits of having your art critiqued.

And since we already talked about how to give constructive criticism, let's look at it from the other side, too.

Because getting a negative comment is tough...right? Our egos get in the way and a defense mechanism kicks in, preventing us from accepting criticism at its face value.

How can you approach a critique of your work with open ears and embrace even - or especially - the negative comments?

#1 Listen and Grow

The CG Cookie tutor crew knows that not everyone is receptive to feedback: "The number of people who refuse to accept feedback is staggering," says Jonathan Williamson. "But they are only hurting themselves. You don't exist in a vacuum and you absolutely need the input of others."

Jonathan Gonzalez agrees: You can't sharpen your skills and talent if you keep them hidden away because you fear what others will say. Just put yourself out there and have thick skin." 

#2 Change the way you feel about criticism

Why is feedback so important? Jack Canfield, the author of "The Success Principles", sees it as an incredibly empowering tool:

One of the most useful projects you could undertake  is to change how you feel about negative feedback (...) To reach your goals more quickly, you need to welcome, receive, and embrace  all the feedback that comes your way.  

"I love criticism," says Senad Korjenić, a CG Cookie user and Blender artist. "I need the opinion of other people to see what can be fixed. When working in Blender, I always show my work to people who know nothing about rendering, because they immediately notice what makes my images unrealistic - and I can improve my work."


"Raspberries" before and after community feedback, image by Senad Korjenić

#3 Assume the Best Intentions

"It’s easy to assume that negative feedback is coming from someone trying to belittle my work or promote their own superior knowledge, especially when we all know that there are trolls out there!" says Kent Trammell. So what can you do? "I've learned to turn it around," says Kent. "I simply assume first that people are trying to help, which helps me to interpret their feedback with positive lenses. This 'innocent until proven guilty' approach helps me to keep an open mind."   

To ensure you are not a negative troll yourself, follow a few basic tips on how to give genuinely useful feedback on digital art

Best defense against trolls: a positive attitude.

The best defense against trolls: keeping a positive attitude.

#4 Don't Fight it

Feeling the urge to argue with a negative critique? "The rule of thumb is: if you're finding yourself getting defensive against feedback, you're probably wrong," says Jonathan Williamson. "You're likely defending your work for the wrong reasons, like your pride. But that is not how you become a better artist." Kent agrees: "I know for myself that fighting negative feedback hurts my ability to learn from it. At the end of the day, it is just my pride getting in the way of my growth." Take a deep breath and ask yourself: is there a chance that the critic is right?

#5 If you really, seriously disagree

Sometimes, a critique can just seem way off. "If I'm on the fence about whether something is a good recommendation or not, I do a quick search about the critic," says Kent. "If they have an impressive body of work I’m much more likely to be very thankful and humbled that they’re offering insight. If they don’t have any discoverable work online, I still thank them but kindly interpret their insight with a grain of salt."

#6 Be Proud of Your Work

"This is just something I threw together quickly, I know it sucks."

How often have you seen comments like this in an online forum?

A self-depreciating, overly-modest attitude is a way to shield ourselves from criticism. Unfortunately, it does our work a whole lot of injustice.

"If you go into a studio for a job interview and tell them, 'Here's my work, it's not very good, though...' you are definitely not getting hired. Similarly, don't be self-dismissive and don't sell yourself short in the online space. The tone with which you present your work definitely impacts how people perceive your work," says Jonathan Williamson.

If you're ready to put your art out there and share it with the world (as you should!), why not put your best foot forward and present it with confidence and a positive attitude. After all, if you don't stand up for your work, others won't, either.

"This is my first sculpture - it's far from perfect, but I'm really enjoying what I've learned so far and would appreciate your feedback."

Sounds much better, right?

A Little Inspiration

"When all is said and done, it is usually ourselves who are our own harshest critics," says Jonathan Gonzalez, "and if that is your case, it's actually a great sign! There is a Zen Pencils comic that I like referring to from time to time," says Jonathan. "It explains that what makes you feel critical about your own art is your good taste - and that is something to be proud of, and keep working hard until your skills can match the visions in your head."

Do you want to open up to feedback? Join CG Cookie Community Forums to give and receive friendly peer critique.

This article first appeared on CG Cookie blog in 2015.

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