Sunday, January 6, 2013

Thick Skin

Dennis Overbye, in his book Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos wrote, “The reward for a new idea is not applause but argument from people who take you seriously enough to try to destroy you.”  There’s a lot of competition in science. (Apparently a lot of animosity too).

Part of the process of teaching art is the formal critique.

Here’s the thing about critiques. Any critical comment about your work that makes you uncomfortable, anxious, or wince internally is something you already know. You probably just didn’t want to hear it or admit it to yourself, but there it is. Someone went and said it out loud.

 Rhinoceros skin. I’m pretty sure the slings and arrows of outrageous critiques 
would bounce off this stuff.

Elbert Hubbard* said, “The best preparation for good work tomorrow is to do good work today.”

So here’s the other thing. It’s important to do good work, to develop a strong sense of who you are, how your work is made, and what your work is about so that when criticism does come, you can respond from a position of strength and calm rather than react from doubt and uncertainty.  And remember when others are critiquing your work, regardless of what position they may hold in the art world, they are most often talking about themselves.

Alligator skin. This one would likely bite back.

Elephant skin. The Elephant represents strength and steadfastness. 
Pretty handy in a critique.

*Elbert Hubbard also said, “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” 
Thanks Elbert. I guess that’s a pretty good defense against criticism too. 


  1. Back in the last century when I taught at LSU, I was conducting a class (group) critique (undergraduate) when a female student started to cry and blurted, "Why are you being so MEAN to him!" referring to the student whose work was being discussed. My reply was, it was not meanness to him, but it was rigor and seriousness about his work because it was good enough to deserve such. So first rule is to be clear that critque is not personal and the discussion is about the work,not the person. Also one of the major problems in our nation's political life - demonizing the person instead of assailing their argument. I dont quite agree with you about those who criticize "are most often talking about themselves." They of course talk from their knowledge and opinions. But my experience is that critique of student work (especially graduate level) often led me to a fresh slant of view, not known until the critique experience.

  2. Interesting topic. Love the "thick skin" images.