When I was majoring in graphic design in college I had a class that was titled: Drawing Critique. It was a semester of insane project deadlines and when it was time to submit the artwork, part of our grade was standing in front of the class as fellow classmates critiqued the work of the student in front of them. Rule Number One: No compliments allowed. If you didn’t have something bad to say, you didn’t say anything at all. And if you chose not to say anything? You’d be docked half a grade. Oh, and if you thought you could get out of critique by not showing up for class that day? Again, you were docked half a grade.
I hated that class. HATED it. To me, it was much worse than than Public Speaking because not only did I have to stand and listen to 15-20 of my fellow students say harsh words about something I worked hard at creating but in return, I had to say the very same things to the classmates around me.
I sat uncomfortably and watched as incredibly talented artists stood – some with stunning pieces of art, while others ripped them to shreds. The walk back to was always filled with either frustration and angst, embarrassment or just plain hatred on their faces. No one left unscathed during Friday critique.
Looking back, I think about what I was supposed to learn from that class. How to develop a tough skin? Take criticism like a champ? Probably; but I also think that my professor didn’t want there to be any shining students. He wanted all of us to be on the same playing field – as equals. Still, I never understood why we weren’t allowed to follow constructive criticism with something positive about the work. Was that such a crime?
I think the point of Drawing Critique was to teach us that there is always room for improvement. Always.
Believe it or not, that class has had an effect that’s stayed with me to this day. I think it’s one of the reasons why it is still difficult for me to accept a compliment. When someone tells me that they like my artwork or that I look nice, I wait for the ‘….however’ to come. When it doesn’t, I’m all ready to lend a hand and come back with my own critique so that I can ‘even things out’; I don’t even need a roomful of students to do it.
My hair looks nice? Maybe, but did you see my dumpy clothes?
You like my clothes? Possibly, but have you seen how lousy my hair looks?
You like my paintings? I can find you an artist who does a much better job than I.
Can I blame all of my adult insecurities on an art class? Mmm – okay. Just for today.
I’m not saying that criticism has no place in this world, because it truly does. But with criticism should also come commendation and praise. Otherwise you end up with people like me who fight with the words, ‘Thank you’ at the age of 43.
There will always be someone out there who’s more than willing to ‘help me’ by telling me that I’m doing things wrong or that I should be more like someone else, but I’m making great strides on that front. I don’t have to obey a professor’s rules in exchange for a good grade anymore. My self esteem is worth much more than an A+.
I love this photograph:
Lesson: Laugh it off.
And to my college professor, I leave this quote:
I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.
Have a great weekend, everyone.