Weighing Opinions on Your Creative Work
Opinions. We each have one. We each think we’re right.
And that’s the beauty of our human race. The fact that we each have a unique and personal reaction to the world around us. A response that allows us to accept or reject, to decide how we prefer life and the multitude of experiences available.
But opinion in art is another thing. And who you listen to as you seek feedback on your work is something you should stop and ponder. What is difficult about getting feedback is that every person responds based on their unique preferences. To the artist, the work feels personal. It is personal because it comes through you.
So who do you listen to?
People you trust who have experience and expertise in your craft.
There’s a big difference between someone “liking” your work and someone who has the insight to know if its elements are fully developed.
There’s a big difference between someone “not liking” your work and telling you what needs to be changed to improve the quality of it.
The danger is in allowing too many voices to influence you.
The challenge is in learning how to trust your own opinion most.
Think of a film – any film you’ve seen. You either like it or you don’t. You have reasons for why you feel the way you do. But those reasons may have nothing to do with the quality of the film itself – the story, the acting, the directing – you may simply like or not like the film because it doesn’t resonate with you. It’s not your thing.
Allowing people who are not qualified to give suggestions on your work the authority to do so, is like you not liking that film and having the director change it because of your opinion. (Now if you’re in a position to do that, wonderful. But most of us are not.)
So work needs to be protected while it’s being developed. And feedback needs to be sought from a few trusted sources who can inspire you, who understand what your vision is and who can suggest actions that will strengthen the work for what it is intended to be and not just make it something that appeals to their tastes.
As artists, we need to understand that when our work is made visible there are going to be people who won’t like it, it won’t fit their tastes or interest them. They will judge it as bad, poorly done, not get it or simply dismiss it – regardless of the actual quality. They simply won’t like it or you.
That sounds logical. But stop and really think about it. We’re wired to seek approval. We’re wired to desire that other people like us and everything about us. We squirm when people don’t. It hurts. No matter how much we tell ourselves not to let it. It hurts.
So going out into the world with our work is something we need to prepare ourselves for – and not just once, but every time we make ourselves visible. We need to know and realize that people are responding to their preferences about our work (and us). Even in industry awards, judgment is subjective and biased. There is no “God” who can tell you once and for all that your work is what you want it to be.
Public opinion has nothing to do with the work itself (or you).
Read that line again.
Now, it’s true that we must untie our ego from the work. Because it’s not about us; it’s all about the work. It’s about our performance. Not our souls.
We are curators, trustees, channelers – the work flows through us, but it is not us and we are not it. We are entrusted with bringing it forth and presenting it to the world. Just as children we’ve nurtured and equipped to go out into the world and make a life for themselves – the work is not responsible for ensuring that its parents have a life of their own. Our work is not responsible for our emotional well-being. It simply is what it is.
So, as you seek feedback on your work, ponder these things.
As you put your work out there, ponder these things.
And know that ultimately, to the degree of control you have over your work, you are the only one who can decide if the work is what it is meant to be. And that takes courage. The mark of a professional is the willingness to change the work if it truly serves the work, and the ability to discern when it doesn’t.
Because there will always be a different way the work could be done, the story told, the song sung, the painting painted, the performance given.
So choose carefully. And take ownership of your work.
And take these wise words from a man who lives them, as your mantra:
“Always be resolute in the things that touch your heart. Defend them, promote them, nurture them. Love takes courage.”