Criticism can be painful, but man can you learn from it. The trick is to get what you can from criticism and grow. Don’t focus on the negative. I’ll be the first to admit that not all criticism is worth the air that’s used to produce them (or the paper and ink…). A lot of time it’s just negative thoughts with nothing constructive involved. But then there are times where real gems can be found.
Back when I was in school, our instructors often had us put our assignments up along the wall so everyone could see how we each interpreted an assignment. The instructor would then walk along and provide critique. For those first several months, in my mind, these were the worst minutes of the class. I would tense up and dread finding out what I was doing wrong and be embarrassed that the whole class would hear.
One day we were sitting there as one of the instructors was critiquing a student’s assignment and pointing out various things that might have made the picture more powerful. Not once did he say the picture wasn’t any good, or that she failed to grasp the point of the assignment, but the student became very agitated and argumentative. I just remember sitting there and thinking, ‘Why is she so defensive? All he is doing is pointing out options that could possibly make the image better, or at least change the tone of the image.’
A few minutes later we reached my assignment. He studied the shots I had taken, and like the other students, preceded to tell me various ideas he had that might make the images more interesting or powerful. Like my classmate, I immediately became defensive and words of why I couldn’t do something like what he was suggesting began to flow from my mouth. As my excuses, and they were excuses, tumbled forth, in my mind I’m thinking, “Why am I being so defensive? All he is doing is pointing out options…” A bell went off in my head. I immediately stopped talking, looked at my photos and listened. Really listened, and not just to what he had to say about my work, but all of our works. And you know what? He was right. If I was able to do what he suggested, the pictures would have been better, more powerful, or more interesting.
From that point on I started to look at what I am doing and think of what might make each shot better. My work has improved and has become more interesting (at least I hope it has…). But that doesn’t mean they are always the strongest they can be.
I’m always willing to grow. So, if you ever look at my work and think, ‘Ya know, this is a great shot, but if she had done this instead, it’d be even better’ – let me know. Doesn’t mean I’ll agree with what you say, but I’m always willing to listen. Because, in my mind, criticism is good!