How to Deal with Negative, Mean-Spirited Criticism Online

By Alyice Edrich in Art Business Advice > General Art Advice

Back in 2012, I received a very nasty email with the intent to inflict emotional harm. The person didn’t know me but was determined to make me feel bad about every aspect of my business—from my art to my writing to the design of my website.

She sent not one, but two emails telling me how awful my writing was, how horrible my art was, and how trite my website was, all the while explaining how she was better than me in every aspect.

I had never heard of this person before. . . we’d never met online and we weren’t even in the same circles, as far as I could tell. Yet, this person chose to be unnecessarily brutal and mean.

After reading the email over twice, I deleted it. I chose not to give her the satisfaction of knowing that I’d been wounded by her statements, even though I disagreed with them

I haven’t always been able to move on like that. When I first started out as a writer, and later as an artist, harsh critiques of my work (justified or not) left me in tears for weeks on end. But as any creative knows, to make in this business you have to build a thick layer of skin and separate your emotions from your work.

Below are four quick tips for dealing with harsh criticism, whether it’s warranted or not:

1. Accept the criticism for what it is

It’s important to understand that not all criticism is good criticism. If it is clear that the criticism is meant to inflict pain, then simply ignore it!

The harsh reality of our world is that some people find it necessary to hurt others in order to feel good about themselves. More often than not, the harsh words they share with you have absolutely nothing to do with you or your work, and everything to do with their own egos.

But if the criticism (harsh as it is) contains some very positive, and truthful, remarks about your art, there’s a good chance that the critic really does want to help you improve. In that case, it pays to at least hear the critique with an open mind.

2. Allow yourself a cool-down period

No matter what type of criticism it is, your immediate reaction is going to be to protect yourself—to go into defense mode. It’s okay to allow yourself that moment of “There is nothing wrong with what I’m doing, you’re just crazy!” But then you need to take a step back and check your ego at the door.

Whether you choose to walk away from the situation or simply take in a few deep breaths before replying, you need to calm down so that you can truly hear what’s being shared with you. Once you listen with an open mind (and heart), you’re better able to judge if there is any truth or merit to the criticism being offered.

3. Think through your response before you react

It’s not enough to allow yourself a period of cooling down, you need to really think about what was said and how you want to respond (and be perceived) before you say or do something you can’t take back—and could later regret.

4. Act on the criticism

If it’s clear that the intent was to simply make the critic feel better by putting you down, your best bet is to simply ignore the critique altogether. In most cases, the critic will realize he or she can’t get under your skin and move on.

In the rare instance that the critic lingers, you could respond with a simple statement, like: “I appreciate your insight.” A simple statement like this acknowledges the critic but doesn’t state whether or not you agree with the critique. And in most cases, it lets the critic know that no further commentaries on the same subject are needed.

The important thing is to not react by attacking back. It serves no purpose other than start an “I’m right, you’re wrong” battle of wits.

If, however, after careful consideration you see some merit to the criticism, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying “Thank you for pointing ____ out to me. I see where you’re coming from and ____ is really going to help me excel at ____.”

In the end, a critique only has as much hold over you as you allow it to have. Remember, constructive criticism (a.k.a. good criticism) is something you want because it helps you grow as an artist and as a business person.

Certainly, when the criticism is especially harsh it’s not enjoyable, but there can still be value to it. In some cases, it’s worth it to dig deep and see if there’s something constructive in it after all.


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