Class reflection / On criticism

I loved the message of The Icarus Deception, and I found great inspiration from the book. That said, Godin’s makes many blanket statements that would have benefitted from more nuanced elaboration. One of these blanket statements was on criticism, “shun the disbelievers.” I’m glad that this turned into a discussion point for our class.

As artists, we should theoretically be open to criticism from anyone. It doesn’t matter where the criticism comes from. It should only matter whether the criticism is constructive and helpful. However, constructive criticism is more likely to come from your audience, the believers. These are the people who see good in your work and root for you to succeed. It’s important to closely consider criticism from your audience. Those who aren’t in your audience, the disbelievers, are people who don’t get it, don’t like it, or miss the point. They’re more likely to criticize in ways that are unhelpful. The emotional toll of their discouraging comments often outweighs the benefits of whatever constructive criticism they offer. Godin’s phrase “shun the disbelievers,” is generally a good guideline.

What are the risks of dwelling on criticism from disbelievers? The novelist Thomas Hardy abandoned fiction due to public and critical reception of his two final novels. Today, Tess of the d’Ubervilles and Jude the Obscure are regarded as classics. In a national survey, BBC ranked them both in the top 200 best-loved novels of all time.

As an artist, I’m painfully aware of my own shortcomings. I’m certainly more aware of my art’s flaws than other critics are. My mind focuses much more heavily on what I should have done better than what I did right. I believe this is true for most creators. It’s true for most everyone. We’re our own toughest critics.

We can improve our art through our own criticism. We can also improve through constructive criticism offered by peers, colleagues, and our audience. With all of this criticism to consider, how useful is criticism from those who don’t believe in our work?

We’re much more likely to improve through creating more art. By endlessly working, and prolifically publishing, our work gets better and our artistic voice grows stronger. We learn more through doing than through listening to negative criticism. That’s Godin’s core message.