Criticism: Roadblock or Road Map? – Day 83

Criticism can be a Roadblock or a Road Map

Criticism can be a roadblock or a road map. Our reaction to it lets us know whether or not we’re working with integrity.

#83 – Criticism and rejection are an inevitable part of an Artist’s life. What’s important is how we deal with them and what they can teach us.

In the very beginning of my career as a sculptor, I found a strong resonance to working with natural materials – particularly dried gourds. But a couple of well-intended comments influenced what I thought I should be creating as art. “Why don’t you work with a more noble material?” a colleague asked at a particularly vulnerable point in my career. Convinced I needed to create more “serious” work, I began working in plaster to be cast in bronze and exploring the human form.

Whenever I received compliments on this work, I felt like a great artist. When my work was criticized, it crushed me. It wasn’t until years later, after I returned to working with gourds and natural materials, that I found that criticism didn’t hit me in the same way. Neither did compliments. The integrity and resonance in my work was so strong, it rose above what anyone thought of it.

By then I was submitting my portfolio for exhibitions and grants. Rejections offered me the opportunity to ask why my work wasn’t selected and most jurors were very generous with their feedback. Sometimes I received great insight into how I could improve my work or my proposals. Most times, however, the work simply wasn’t a good “fit” for what the jurors wanted.

The experience also prompted me to take one of my more “challenging” sculptures and actively search out people’s opinions to see if I could get to some sort of consensus about what people really thought about my work. I asked as many people as I could – artists, collectors, friends, strangers – and encouraged them to be brutally honest.

I was surprised at my findings. There was every sort of reaction, from “This is a brilliant!” to “I don’t like it at all.” And there were some for whom it had no effect one way or the other.

So that was my lesson in the subjective nature of art.

Now I use criticism as a road map. If I’m not working with integrity and creating just to please a market or what I think others will like, criticism and rejection will always sting. But every time I’m working in complete harmony with my talent and vision, then I’m able to use criticism constructively, allowing it to show me areas where I can improve, or I’ll simply let the critique slide if I feel there is nothing substantial there for me. It’s amazingly liberating.

Of course I love to hear when people resonate with my work. It gives me hope that there are those who can appreciate the beauty of a “humble” material and take the time to learn more about the art created from it.

But what counts in the end is how I feel about the work. When it has integrity, criticism and praise are both the same.

Gourd artwork by Serena Kovalosky
“The Last Sacred Place” by Serena Kovalosky. Photo ©Serena Kovalosky. Photo credit:

Serena Kovalosky’s artwork can be viewed at: Serena Kovalosky

Description of the image included in this post:
The Last Sacred Place
Serena Kovalosky, New York, USA
Gourd, pyrography, brass alloy gilding.

The 365 Days Project

In 2012, Serena Kovalosky committed to writing an article a day for 365 days as an exploration into the lives of artists and the value of creative thinking in our society.

Experience the full evolution of the project! Click below to read the entire collection of articles.

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