How to Deal with Criticism in (not only) Blender

Having run Blend Swap for going on 9 years now and running the Blender Market since it's inception, I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that I've reviewed hundreds of thousands of models. 

While many people take my reviews and move forward, there are many artists that take offense to me handing out constructive criticism.

The good, the bad and the ugly of critique

I'll let you in on a secret: if you want to be a professional artist you have to learn to take constructive criticism as well as non-constructive criticism. Chances are, at some point you're going to have a boss or a client that hates something you created and tells you to change it in no uncertain terms. Take it from me: I went to a school for graphic design and worked in advertising for 10+ years and these things do happen. 

I get it. it sucks to have this amazing little idea that you birthed and helped grow just torn apart. Or be told that it's sucks. It's a blow to your ego for sure, but that's part of the game and the quicker you can learn to deal with it the better you're gonna be.

If all you want to hear is how great your art is and how talented you are, take it home to your mom, because this isn't the profession for you.

It's not about you, it's about your work

You are not your work; you just created it. Those are not the same thing, and your work doesn't define your worth. Don't get to stuck on the fact that something didn't work. You are going to create hundreds of thousands of creative products over your lifetime and not all of them are going to be a crowd pleaser.

When receiving a harsh critique, my go-to approach is to take a step back, breath and try to relax before saying something I'll regret. I used to jump the gun and get angry at a creative director telling me something wasn't good. But my job was to accept it and make the required changes and many times after my initial temper tantrum I came to realize that the suggestions truly made sense. 

But not always: sometimes, I hated the suggestions. When this happens you need to pick your battles, because some are worth fighting and some are not. 

Prune your art critics

Not all critics are going to be constructive, especially if you're posting things online. If it's not constructive, give it no time. DON'T FEED THE TROLLS! 

Everyone has different tastes and perspectives. You need to decide which critics make sense to you and your art and what don't. How do you decide that? See who the critic is: an average Joe in an online forum, or an artist whose style and skill you respect? Your uncle, or a creative director with 30 years of experience? Evaluate their feedback in the context of its worth to your work, because not all critique is created equal.

Look at negative feedback as a challenge

One trick that really helped me when an idea or design would get shot down was to look at the critique as a challenge. I would ask myself: how do I create the result which the client or creative director wants, but still stay true to myself as an artist? 

This can be a great way to grow. It gives you a set of limitations and makes you create something new within given boundaries. 

Artists have some of the biggest and most fragile egos of any profession that I know, which can impede our growth when not checked. Approach criticism with an open mind and honesty and it will make you a better artist in the long run. What's the alternative? Becoming a jaded artist who thinks they always know best and ends up realizing that things no longer bring joy.


What are some tips and tricks that you use to deal with criticisms?

Comments

  • Alberto Gonzalez 15 days ago

    Great read 😁 I take most criticism as a compliment. Like wow, I succeeded in having someone take their time to criticize my work. Challenge accepted 💪

    • varkenvarken 15 days ago

      @Alberto: :-) that's a very constructive way to deal criticism! I also try (like @Curtis) to help people make their critique smart by asking *what* does not work (I am a coder not an artist so 'does not work' == 'I don't like it'). People who don't take the effort to provide meaningful detail are not worth your time, people who do are, even if you do not agree :-)

    • Matthew Muldoon 15 days ago

      Really great attitude to take towards criticism.

  • Curtis Crum 15 days ago

    How about "it sucks" from "Or be told that it's sucks." Sorry, I could help it. 

    One technique I like to use is "please provide feedback on the x, y, and z aspects of this model" instead of "what do you think" in general. That way you can ignore all the comments about things you never asked for. This generally works, unless you are still looking for general feedback. I specifically asked someone what they thought of a game's interaction level and they told me it was a cool "retro" game. It hurt my feelings because I didn't think of it as a retro game, but it helped motivate me to redesign the whole look and feel.

    • Matthew Muldoon 15 days ago

      Really great idea to ask for specific feedback like that!!

  • Hans Erickson 15 days ago

    Mathew

    Thank you for the share.  Having to attend classes and putting up your work for critiques means thickening your skin and listen to what is being said without uttering the words "Yeah but....."  My rule of thumb has been to listen to the class and take notes and if I hear the same thing more than once maybe I need to take notice.  Those fresh eyes always seems to find the things I overlooked!  I enjoyed the read and it was a good reminder that it is NOT about me but IS about the work!

    Hans

    • Matthew Muldoon 15 days ago

      Hey Hans, Design classes for me and I think many people are a trial by fire for criticism, but it's also usually constructive and structured really well in a classroom. I remember getting my design worked torn apart, in a good way, at our weekly design critics class.

  • unkerjay 15 days ago

    Is the criticism constructive?  Does it help you grow or does it get in the way?  On the flip side, is it deserved?  There's two sides to every critique.  There's criticism that's deserved and that's not.  That helps one to improve or not.  


    If it's deserved but not constructive.  Take it in stride.  If it's neither deserved or constructive, consider it in that context and let it go.  


    I don't take criticism well.  But, I also understand when it's well intentioned, deserved even.

    And I try not to take personally or to heart that which isn't.  And I've received enough positive from those around me to know the difference.

    Not having that, anything can be taken personally, it becomes a real chore.

    What I've learned, be who you are, be true to yourself.  It will attract those looking for the same, and you're more likely to get constructive, helpful feedback.  And it's more likely to be authentic.  If they're still around, it's more than likely because they care about you and your work. For that reason don't put up a wall of pretense.  It won't help.

    My life in a lot of ways is a mess, but, I've been married to the same woman for 34 years.

    She knows me better than anyone.  And she's still around.

    I trust that more than any criticism, except from her.

    • Matthew Muldoon 15 days ago

      Great points.

  • Maciej Szcześnik 15 days ago

    Hi guys! I've been working in game dev since 2004, both on AAA projects and on indie ones. I've been a team member and a team or a project leader. This article is a good read for all the people working in creative industries. 

    Criticism is both important and inevitable. Having said that, if you want to work in game dev (or in any big studio really), make sure to watch the "Playing Hard" documentary. I don't want to spoil the whole thing, but one of the creative leads says an important sentence that goes something like this: "I have no more time to describe why this is wrong, I just want them to change it". 

    And it happens to often, especially when the company faces strict deadlines and overtime. Unfortunately it's also understandable. Leads, studio heads and all the other managers on different layers of the organization are also only humans. They are not perfect at planning, team management, project management, decision making nor giving proper critique. They should take the time to address the problem and at the same time assure their team members of the value of their hard work. But it's not always the case - and it becomes more rare at the finish line. Everyone is simply extremely tired. Imagine working on the same thing for 3 to 5 years, trying to make it the best as it can be (and always aiming for something even better). 

    Sometimes critique comes from other departments (designers are criticizing art, animators don't like gameplay, and marketing hates something about the story). It's not always valuable. Especially late in the project, different departments tend to wage wars against each other, just to lower the work load of their teams (and push that work to others). Working on big projects is always a mix of hard work of talented people, and some in-studio politics (unfortunately). 

    So just bare in mind that working in large studios on large projects will make you receive a lot of criticism, that is not always 100% fair nor well defined ("this is crap, change it" is often what you get). You need to be assertive to get the proper feedback and try to take it easy. It's hard as hell :-).

    • Matthew Muldoon 15 days ago

      Hey Maciej, Thanks so much for your perspective, while I've never worked on games, I can attest that a lot of the same things happen in advertising agencies, video production companies, and I would assume many other creative companies working with clients or sales and marketing. I'll have to check out Playing Hard also!!

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