Episode Two


Feedback and Critique in Creativity

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Asking for feedback on your creative work is an interesting part of being a creative I think. A lot of the times feedback or critique can be hard to hear, but it's a lot about why and how and who you ask.

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Feedback and Critique in Creativity

Asking for feedback on your work is an interesting part of being a creative I think. A lot of the times feedback or critique can be hard to hear, but it’s a lot about why and how and who you ask. That’s today’s episode here on The Positive Creatives!

The Positive Creatives, woah-oh-oh;
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Whatever you create you’ll find inspiration here;
We’ll make sure your motivation never disappears;
You can chase your passions and live out your dreams;
The Positive Creatives. Exactly what you need!

Well hello there my fellow creative soul and welcome back to The Positive Creatives. I’m Adam, and I’m happy to say I’ve had a few nice messages following last week’s first episode. I’m not going to lie and say I was inundated, but big thanks to those few of you who got in touch to say you enjoyed it or found it useful or both!

So last week I talked about the Dunning-Kruger effect in Creativity, a quirk of human psychology which often affects us right at the start of the creative process.

I think one of my amazing life coaches Jake the Dog from Adventure Time summed it up best when he told Finn the Human:

“Dude… sucking at something is the first step towards being sort of good at something.”

He’s pure genius that Jake the Dog… And if you’ve never watched an episode of Adventure Time in your life you’re missing out on more life lessons than the latest best-selling self help book. And the same goes for Spongebob Squarepants. Seriously!

Right! In my ‘Listen, Read, Watch’ section at the end of the previous episode I recommended my favourite book about creativity – Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. And there’s actually a quote from that book that gave me the idea for this week’s episode.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler if you still haven’t read the book, but in there Elizabeth Gilbert says one of my favourite things I’ve ever read about creativity. And it goes like this:

If people enjoy what you’ve created, terrific.
If people ignore what you’ve created, too bad.
If people misunderstand what you’ve created, don’t sweat it.
And what if people absolutely hate what you’ve created?
What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud?
Just smile sweetly and suggest, as politely as you possibly can, that they go and make their own art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.

I’ve noticed a shift in my time as an official creative, from caring what we and our customers think of our work (if you’ve got customers), to caring what absolutely everyone in the world thinks of our work and probably actually caring hardly at all for what we feel about our own work, or whether our customers or clients like what we did for them. If we don’t ‘beat the algorithm’ and get hundreds of likes or a comment from someone we’ve never met who’s never going to really support us or buy our stuff then we declare that piece, that post or that content a failure.

Let me just say that you won’t hear me bash social media. I love social media. I’ve made and kept some amazing friends on social media, while also reconnecting and staying connected with some of my best friends from years gone by. Having such a simple outlet for my work is amazing – within minutes of completing something I can put it out into the world, and set the butterfly effect in motion. The issue is placing too much importance on the instant response you get.

Yeah of course there have been times when I’ve been like ” why is nobody liking this” and other times when my ego has been stroked far too much and I’ve thought of myself as the king of the creative world. But these days I’ve found peace in the sea of inspiration that is social media, I’ve learned to block out the noise – which I’ll talk about in a future episode, and I’ve learned to see the many positives of social media and a connected world.

So I’m not speaking negatively of social media. But we live in a world of instant feedback, and learning to embrace that, to cope with it, or sometimes most importantly to – as Elizabeth Gilbert so brilliantly says – ignore it and stubbornly continue making our art is vital if you want to live a positive creative life and not get distracted by or bogged down in the all-too-fickle world of instant feedback.

When I talk about feedback, I mean someone passing opinion on your work. It could be as simple and passive as hitting the heart button on instagram… it could be something more considered and active like leaving a comment or a review… it could be that you asked for feedback from peers… whatever it is it’s when you put something out there asking for people to tell you what they think of it.

And let’s be clear. When you put something on Instagram or one of the other social media platforms that apparently do still exist, that’s what you’re doing. You’re saying ‘what do you think of this, my tiny little bubble of followers?!’

Before I talk about feedback I want to go off on a mini rant…

I hate the word content.

I am not a content creator.

Content to me is a horribly throwaway word, and the very definition has this whole hidden meaning of here today gone tomorrow. It also carries this burden that you need to always be making content. Content is not art. Of course it can be art, but call it art, don’t call it content.

Let me know if you agree!

The first point I want to make about the feedback process is to realise the reason you decided that something should go out on your channels is that you were proud of it, YOU thought it was good, and YOU wanted to put it out there. That feeling is priceless and should be bottled and celebrated. That right there was the moment of success. Don’t let it go unnoticed.

It actually doesn’t matter too much what happens next in a lot of ways. What matters though, is that you don’t spend the next hours or days refreshing or hoping for the validation that – for many of us – just never comes. What matters is that you get straight back to creating.

Feedback is absolutely an important part of the creative process, but the crazily transient world of social media isn’t the place to get your feedback. That’s where you publish, that’s your trophy cabinet of completed work. Remember what Elizabeth Gilbert said again : “If people enjoy what you’ve created, terrific. If people ignore what you’ve created, too bad.” Stubbornly continue making your art.

And of course remember the wisdom of Jake the Dog. Sucking at something is the first step to being sort of good at something. Never look back at your earlier work and label it as crap or whatever – that work helped you get to where you are now, and the work you’re doing now will help you get to where you will be in a couple of years time – with the power trio I talked about last episode:

Learning, practice and persistence.

Look back at your early work and thank it for its part in your creative evolution.

So basically, yeah, take the feedback from social media – positive, negative, abundant or non-existent. Listen to it or totally ignore it. Never believe your own press, good or bad…

Just. Keep. Making. Stay on your path.

Sometimes, though, you will actively want to ask for feedback. This is where things get a little trickier.

I’m going to stray into the murky world of Facebook here. Ah remember the good old days when Facebook was just a place that you said funny stuff or posted that you were having pizza for dinner. They were good days!

I think many of us these days use facebook for groups. And I do have a love hate relationship with facebook groups. Feedback is one of those reasons.

So let’s say you’ve just finished something or you’re in the middle of something. And you decide you want to actively seek feedback.

Before you do, you need to have a little talk with yourself. And the first thing you need to ask yourself is this:

Do I want to know what people think. Or do I want to know that people think it’s good?

I would hazard a guess, that most of the time what you actually want is confirmation that what you’re making is good. And because of this, you’re unprepared to hear actual feedback or critique.

Not everyone will like your work. That’s actually the beauty of creative work. If you’re asking your peers openly for feedback then they will attempt to find faults. It’s just human nature.

It sounds so obvious but if you ask for feedback, you’ll get feedback. And if you were actually asking for praise, get ready to not feel great.

So take a step back and really ask yourself – do you want feedback or praise. If you’re looking for praise then don’t ask for feedback. Step away from that Facebook group!

But I’m absolutely not saying asking for praise is bad. No way. That means you’re proud of what you’re making or what you’ve made. If it’s in progress, keep going, get that bad boy finished and out into the world with confidence. If it’s done, put it out into the world now with pride.

But if you actually truthfully want feedback – and usually this is the case when you kinda know it’s getting there but you’re stuck, something’s not right, you really feel like it’s missing something or something could be better…. there’s just not that same feeling of pride as when you’re looking for praise but you know you need some help or guidance from people whose opinions you respect… this is really healthy. But still there’s a conversation to be had with yourself, a little bit of analysis to be done first.

What do you love about it? Which bits don’t you want to change?

And what feels off, what’s missing the mark. Which elements aren’t ticking the boxes for you.

Then when you have done that you’re ready to ask for the feedback.

Wherever you post it – whether it’s in a close knit group of trusted colleagues or in a wider group of industry acquaintances, or in public on your social media, be specific in how you ask. Don’t just say ‘what do you think of this?’ because as I said your colleagues will tear it to shreds because as I always say – everything is subjective. Say specifically “how do you think I could improve A, B or C” or something that focuses them on the area you want or need help with.

But still know that everything is subjective, some of the answers may be painful, and it may not actually help. But usually if you go into the feedback process actually looking for feedback or critique and not just praise or an ego boost, then it won’t be anywhere near as painful, and you will probably get the help you need and be able to act on it not dwell on it.

As an aside here, if you’re someone who has a good following for your work, or you’re looked up to in your industry, then it’s even more important that you make sure you’re not just putting stuff out looking for praise. And if you’re really wanting genuine feedback, then make sure the people you’re asking aren’t fans of your work, conditioned to love everything you make!

Or even better – instead of asking your industry friends or contacts, ask the kind of people who buy your work who will judge it without trying to be an expert on the tools and techniques. That can be SO valuable!

The other thing to really bear in mind is your response to when other people ask for feedback. Ask yourself the same questions:

Are they asking for praise? This is probably the case, and if you feel like they are it’s probably best to say nothing. If you know them well, ask them straight out if that’s what they want!

Are they being generic in a ‘what do you think?’ kind of way. If so, begin by asking them what it is that’s bothering them instead of just giving generic feedback. Then you’ll be able to give a much more helpful answer.

After that, be specific and be kind. Remember the old sandwich analogy – make sure there’s a slice of positivity either side of your actual feedback if it’s not so great or won’t be easy to hear.

The next thing I wanted to quickly mention is industry awards. I have a lot of opinions about awards, good and bad. Awards have given me many amazing moments in my photography career but also a whole world of pain. There’s a Michael Jordan quote I love where he apparently said:

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career.
I’ve lost almost 300 games.
26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.
I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.
And that is why I succeed.

Now I’m a big fan of the brand of Michael Jordan and I know this so-called quote is just part of that brand, but it relates to my point about awards, I’m not just rolling it out for no reason or without explanation.

Over the years I’ve entered awards because I believe wholeheartedly in the work I’m entering. When I enter something it’s because I believe it would be a worthy winner.

But 99% of the time it doesn’t win. At times that’s hurt me so deeply and made me question everything about my work.

Know this: awards are not feedback. It’s become a personal mantra and part of the mantra here at The Positive Creatives, and I think this is about the tenth time I’ve said it in this episode that everything is subjective.

If it will hurt your feelings – or worse – make you jealous and bitter if your work doesn’t get the recognition you think it deserves then don’t enter. Ever.

My career has taken BIG backward steps for sure because of my reaction to not winning awards in the past. I’ve pulled away from friendships or stopped putting my work out into the world. I’ve stopped doing my work the way I want to do it and I’ve tried to do it the way I think it should be done to win awards. It’s a downward spiral let me tell you and it always leads back to the same realisation.

You need to stay on your own path and stay true to your own art.

Awards – for the most part – are a lottery of subjectivity.

You win some you lose some.

It’s irrelevant to the path you were on before you entered and it shouldn’t affect the path you’re on after you win or lose. The other thing I can tell you is if you’re entering awards for the wrong reasons – EGO – then it won’t even feel nice when you win! I’ll tell you some personal stories about that in a future episode!

So just as a quick summary about feedback…

Before you ask for people’s opinions on your work, know what you’re really looking for, think about who you’re asking and where you’re asking, and ask yourself how you’ll feel if you don’t get the answer you hope for. Then either step away and get back to work, or hit that post button knowing you’re ready to listen to the subjective responses.

Oh. And don’t forget your manners. Say thanks to anyone who gives you feedback or advice whether you agree or not. Because that’s what positive creatives do! And that person is just trying to give you the help you asked for.

Ok to finish I’ve got my listen, read, watch recommendations for you again.

Listen – This week is one of my favourite albums of all time, which is Songs for Silverman by Ben Folds. Ben Folds is one of the most unapologetic artists I know and I’m a bit obsessed with his music AND photography.

Read – A shorter read this week, a book called The Crossroads of Should and Must. A really concise look at the life choices we make and why. Give it a read.

Watch – I might dedicate a whole episode to talking about this one day, it’s called Sound City, and it’s on Amazon Prime. It’s the story of the cult recording studio in California, made and directed by another of my favourite people who I’d love to meet one day, Dave Grohl. There are an insane amount of creative lessons in Sound City, from the power of collaboration, the importance of community and not judging a book by its cover on the positive side, to what can happen if you choose to rebel against or not accept big shifts in your industry on the negative side which is actually more of a hidden deeper meaning in the film. You’ll hopefully see what I mean when you watch it. And you should definitely watch it.

Right, ok! It feels kind of funny after all that to finish an episode about feedback by asking you to let me know what you think! But genuinely I do want to know!! You can email me through the website, thepositivecreatives.com or message me on instagram @thepositivecreatives or you can just nice and quietly hit that subscribe or follow button.

Thanks for listening! And I’ll see you next time here on The Positive Creatives!

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