The Takdown

There’s a big difference between critique, criticism and judgement.

These three barriers have always played a factor in my continuing struggle to express myself, or even share my art, writing and design. In art school, I was taught that critiquing was a part of the process. Over twenty years in the graphic design industry has helped build a thick skin, but thickness can only run so deep. A thick skin has helped in dealing with criticism and judgement, but again, it still plays a factor in my ability to express and share.

Critique in the creative field is useful information. While I can’t help but take some of it seriously, I understand that in most cases, its not personal. I learned early in college that critiquing is meant to make the project better. I’ve learned to accept critiquing as part of the process, and in most cases I seek it out in many stages of a project. I feel that type of feedback contributes to a better creative outcome.

There is such a thing as ‘useless critiquing’ which I’ve also learned to detect over the years. This is something that just comes with experience. At the same time, I’ve learned to critique other’s work. I do my best to give useful information that will help the artist. It’s never about the person.

Criticism is where we get into dicey territory. The difference between useful critique and criticism can sometimes be blurry. Here is where it starts to get personal, because criticism usually has a negative tone. Most people who dish out criticism are not trained artists. That’s not to say that a trained artist can’t criticize. This is where I feel the line is blurry. I’ve dealt with criticism as a designer as well, and I’ve learned to detect the difference between the two. That doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

Criticism by others has hindered a lot of my personal creative output. I feel like criticism is the unfiltered version of critique, because a lot of initial emotions are expressed when someone is critical of a piece of art. They make that opinion known. Part of my personal barrier in this instance is my own brain telling me that someone will not like this piece of art, design or writing. While I feel like this is different from the stabbing knife of the self-critic, I feel they work together to stab at my love and enthusiasm of the piece of creative output I’m trying to share.

Judgement is criticism’s partner in crime. I understand the dictionary definition of judgment does not cover this. I’ve been in many situations where I’ve seen people judge others for their creative output. This is the worst type of criticism because it’s often harsh and useless. They make fun of the artist or person who dared to share a piece of art, writing, a song, a baked good, or anything that was made by hand, with love and curiosity. There is a special type of sadness involved in this, because often the people who put these judgements into the world are people who don’t make anything. They will never pick up a brush or an instrument. They don’t know how to appreciate anything. All they know how to do is point, laugh, and try to take the artist down.

I’ve personally experienced this many times in my life. I feel like I’ve heard it enough that it seeps into the part of my brain that helps build that barrier. It’s an emotional pain that lingers and doesn’t let go. It helps the inner-critic stab at the meat of my enthusiasm and love of art and writing. Judgement offers a chance to easily let go my desire to express. It takes over and hinders my ability to create. It cascades into a type of shame that being vulnerable is a sin.

Vulnerability takes courage. What I often forget is that I can’t control what others will say. There will always be people who will criticize and judge my creative output. They will say what they feel, whether its good or bad. If it’s good, it will serve to help me connect and create more. If it’s bad, I have to make sure that what is being said is useful critique. If it’s criticism and judgement, then I have to learn to create a new barrier; where I let their negativity wash through me (much like fear) because at the end of the day, I made something and they did not.

Luis Vazquez @vazquez