Frankly My Dear…

A guest post about criticism by Melanie Rothschild


Both the giving as well as the receiving of criticism, critique and opinions is a practice which deserves solid consideration.

Insensitive criticism can be deadly. It can essentially shut down creative confidence. The world is full of stories about people who as kids heard messages which pretty much massacred all hopes of creative aspirations. People who are in a role of regularly delivering opinions should probably be licensed. At the very least we would all benefit if they had serious training to sensitize them to the critical role they play in the creative lives of those under their jurisdiction.

At the same time feedback can be extremely useful in giving new perspectives as well as amplifying our own thoughts. Cultivating your inner navigation to know what opinions to take to heart and when it’s appropriate to dismiss misguided observations is a skill which requires practice – and a lot of it.

My dear friend Inez, when she was alive use to visit me all the time in my workshop. Her opinions meant so much to me. Somehow, they almost always spoke aloud what I was feeling about my work deep down – in both positive and negative directions. I think she knew the weight I gave her opinions and being the tender friend she was, she had a wonderful phrase she’d say when something didn’t appeal to her . . . something which still enabled me to maintain my enthusiasm for whatever the piece was.

constructive criticism

Sitting with Inez, c.1990

“It doesn’t speak to me.”

Over time I’ve come to realize just what a brilliant and nuanced phrase this is – and how helpful it was to me many, many times. While it communicated to me that she didn’t particularly like something, it left me in a state of mind where I could register that feedback but still have room for my own opinion. Sometimes when she’d say that something didn’t speak to her I’d realize that I wasn’t really feeling too proud of the work myself. Other times, if I still felt enough conviction about something, it might propel me to make a few changes. And then there were times when I’d recognize that Inez and I, while I deeply respected her opinions, didn’t always agree. The point is I never felt squashed.

She communicated feedback without judgment. It was an outlook which was there for me to take – or to leave. It was brilliant.

constructive criticism

“Inee” – acrylic paint on wood . . . named after my dear Inez who rescued this from the trash.

I miss sharing my work with Inez and hearing her enthusiasm as well as her brand of feedback. In the missing of it, I realized that she left me with an important gift. She helped me to understand what good, constructive criticism feels like.  And by comparison, what constitutes non-constructive criticism – messages I might not want to integrate too deeply.

That high quality brand is hard to come by in the world of feedback. But awareness of what useful and appropriate criticism can be like, helps to set the standard for just how desirable feedback should feel.

In short, I’d say that a good critique leaves you with some new perspective and with your creative energy in tact – and maybe even charged up.

Melanie Rothschild is a self-taught artist whose elaborate interior accessories have been sold in stores throughout the United States including Neiman-Marcus, the shops at the Smithsonian Institution, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center and hundreds of others for almost two decades. Her work is shown in fine art galleries and has been licensed to Target. She considers moxie, an irreverent nature, and a respect for mistake-making to be the tools of her trade. Melanie has a master’s degree in the Study of Creativity and an undergrad degree in Anthropology. She is from and lives in Los Angeles. “Like” Melanie on Facebook today! Melanie’s first book  The Art of Mistakes will be published by North Light Books in the fall of 2014.

Click here to see more of Melanie’s artwork and a short preview of her documentary, MISTAKE.

U3040_CM_InnerHeroArtJournal.inddFor more about constructively considering criticism, check out The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal by Quinn McDonald.

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