Making art of whatever sort is undeniably tough, and even the most skilled and seasoned artist is routinely plagued by doubt and feelings of futility. A creative life can be a lonesome and dispiriting one, and the risk inherent in putting your work out into the world—requiring as it does a supreme vulnerability—can sometimes be hard to face.
And then, having had the courage to publicly unveil a project born of passion and craft, one must then contend with the response of those who would criticize your work. This can be a delicate matter, requiring of the artist a measure of forbearance, lots of patience, and a thick skin. Putting your work up to public scrutiny means opening your work and yourself to misinterpretation, wrongheaded analysis, and snark of every description.
The recent months-long exchange between author Stephan J. Harper, whose ebook Venice Under Glass was reviewed on the site TidBITS, provides a great model of some dos and don’ts for effectively responding to one’s critics.
So, dear artists—below is a list of some recommendations, which, if you follow them, will help you reconcile the desire to defend your project and to accept as graciously as you can the subjective feedback of others:
1) You are a victim.
They are against you. And they are intent on destroying you, so act accordingly. You didn’t choose puppetry or interpretive dance or whatever; puppetry or interpretive dance or whatever chose you.
2) You are misunderstood.
Listen: Nobody doesn’t love the Persecuted Genius Ahead of Her Time. Embrace it. Own it. Sure, in other fields, you’d be dismissed as a tiresome shrew, but in the arts, it is your birthright to be a self-obsessed whiner baby—it would be unnatural for you not to be.
3) You are criminally undervalued.
This is an enduring and immutable truth—this must serve as the volcanic subtext of your every interaction, whether with your parents, who are stupid and conventional, or your critics, who are as it turns out, also stupid and conventional.
4) Perspective is for the weak.
If your self-published novel or the cassette single you’ve been selling out the trunk of your Prizm after gigs or web comic doesn’t find its rightful place in the canon, you must be unrelenting in your defense of it. In fact, you’d be wrong not to lash out. Remember: there are only two categories of response to your art: The Rightful and Overdue Praise You Deserve, and Craven Attacks From Those Seething With Envy of Your Talent, Who Also Secretly Want to Sleep With You, Probably.
Look here: It’s a known fact that obsessively cataloguing the injustices perpetrated by your growing list of enemies is at least as important as making anything. If Van Gogh was alive today, he’d be in a Twitter war right now, and if Dostoyevsky was around, you know he’d be responding point-by-point to Yelp reviews of his stuff.
5a) Never Sleep. Ever.
The hours between 1:00 and 4:00am are statistically shown to be when the greatest number of people are sleeping, unleashing a fusillade of exhaustive and barely coherent comments now will ensure that upon waking, your detractors will undergo a stunning reversal in their assessment of your work after wading through like four yards of your rantings. This technique is time-tested and sure-fire.
5b) CAPS LOCK IS YOUR FRIEND.
6) Take it personally.
Your worth as a human being is directly tied to prevailing opinion of your work. That’s a basic fact known by every artist who has attained the success that continues to elude you. When anyone looks askance at your work, you must regard this a personal attack of the most cowardly and unprovoked sort. Fight such response as you would a pack of dingoes making off with your child.
7) Be specific.
Where you see factual errors, go bananas—a thousand words or more for each is a good rule of thumb. Trot out every allusion and aesthetic precedent you can; obscure is good, obviously, but if you can also work in some bafflement and outrage for anybody not familiar with them. Your rebuttal should impugn a critic’s work ethic and lack of intelligence, as well. Bonus points if you can work in a dig on personal hygiene. And always close with a snide assessment of their sexual failings. Always.
8) Go big.
But, hey, don’t restrict yourself: as you work yourself into a richly deserved froth, you can totally extrapolate. Your rebuttal should serve as a springboard for your freewheeling rundown of the many moral failings on the part of your critic, and should include varied accusations: they have some political axe to grind, are laboring under some form of prejudice, are elitist/classist, etc. Use your imagination, and remember: There’s no such thing as a proportional response.
9) History will vindicate you.
Studies have demonstrated that there’s only two kinds of people: Present-Day Jackasses Whose Tiny Minds Are Ill-Equipped to Handle Your Shit, and Future Diehard Fans, Who, Though Unborn, Will Prove Clear-Eyed and Discerning Enough to Happily Walk Through Fire for You. It’s obviously crucially important that you defend your legacy against all Present-Day Jackasses.
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If you follow these simple tips, before you know it you’ll the entrenched, put-upon, beleaguered hate-hermit you always dreamed of becoming. Because remember: art of whatever discipline should remain a joyless and insular activity carried out by wild-eyed sufferers with nicotine-stained fingers.