A Love Hate Relationship with Feedback

Whenever people comment on my work (be it writing or the occasional artistic creation), I subconsciously want them to love it. I think we all do. And should said critic offer some helpful feedback, I instantly have the same knee-jerk reaction. “I put so much time into this. Why don’t you love it?”

As an artist, I know that change is good. I makes the art better. But it hurts. I’ve learned that the more it hurts, the better the ultimate project. Doesn’t mean it makes abiding by the criticism is any easier. It’s damn hard. I find that time helps me accept it better. If I try to take on the comments straight away, I get defensive and the work suffers. Yet if I give it a few days or a week, then I struggle through it.

That being said, some comments you need to ignore. Just because one person didn’t like something, doesn’t mean you have toss the bathwater (baby and all) out the window. I usually gauge my revisions as to how many people responded to it (another reason to have a good critique group). The more that thought something was off, then it’s probably off and should change. Only one person. Then keep it.

A great example of reaction to feedback is from the great sculptor Rodin. He had just finished the statue of Honore de Balzac. The figure had long robes with the hands poking out in front. It was four in the morning when he finished and he roused his students in order for them to appreciate his masterpiece. (Honestly, what sort of criticism could you expect from sleepy pupils?)

Each and every student loved the work. They went on and on about the hands. “What hands…Master. Only God could have created such hands. They are alive!”

Something snapped in Rodin (he was an artist, you know). He grabbed an axe. Horror stricken, the students threw themselves on him, trying to protect the statue. Rodin overpowered them and with one swing, he chopped off the magnificent hands.

He turned to his bewildered students and called them fools. “I was forced to destroy these hands because they had a life of their own. They didn’t belong to the rest of the composition. Remember this, and remember it well: no part is more important than the whole!”

Monument to Honoré de Balzac, first modeled 1897 by Rodin

I guess that’s one way to deal with criticism. I know one writing group that has a shredder in the room. Just in case. I’m not saying hack your work apart. Take some time. Otherwise your work will end up like Rodin’s statue. To this day, the statue of Honore de Balzac has no hands. The long sleeves appear to cover the hands, but we know what really happened.

Tim Kane