Fat Girl Wearing Thin

Life beyond the loss.

   Apr 05

Self Critique

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.
Charles Schwab

Have a great weekend, everyone. 


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  1. Although I don’t think this was the point of Drawing Critique, if I were to take a class like that, I’d strive to bolster my self-confidence from the inside…to give myself the acceptance and validation I was seeking from others. And then, maybe(?) I’d be able to hear the criticism with curiosity and fascination, rather than with fear. Wouldn’t it be cool if the professor had taught the class the very same way, but by prefacing each class in that way.

  2. Roxie says:

    Thank you. Boy, I struggle with that one, too.

  3. tree peters says:

    I love that last quote. I believe that.

  4. Love the Yelp solution. :)

    I wouldn’t have enjoyed that class. Not for the negativity toward my work, but for the unwillingness to share positive comments. That’s just the way I roll. :)

  5. Lynn says:

    Criticism has its place, I agree, but it’s like your professor never heard of constructive criticism. Criticism masks so many things. Jealousy, envy, insecurities. I know I’m guilty of that kind of criticism.

    I love that restaurant board, too! Face the critics! Now if only I could take my own advice :)

  6. Kyra says:

    Interesting, many of my art classes were the same way. For me, instead of tearing down I believe in offering possible solutions. I think criticism is always bad saying you did something wrong. But ideas simply offer room for growth, saying there is more for you to possibly do. Something can always be done better, but that doesn’t mean it has to be told in a way to wound. I think the wounding part of criticism is a separate thing designed to hurt the target and make the dealer feel more powerful.

    My guess, if I was being charitable, is that the professors’ aim was to teach the student that there is always something more to be done and you can see a million problems with a piece if you try. Be prepared for that, because the art world is 2/3 full of people looking for problems and only 1/3 looking for actual beauty. Hold tight to that which you know is beautiful – IN SPITE of itself – and withstand the stones thrown.

    It’s hard as heck to do that with my art, almost impossible with myself. *sigh* But I think that’s the point. And if it’s not the point? It darn well should be! 😉 I believe in people supporting art and creativity, it should be a community of support. (I have a dream that some day that will happen. Maybe I should open an art community. Happy painting people!)

  7. Lynn B says:

    Wow, that sounds like a pretty harsh class. I could understand if the point of the exercise was to show what it is like to be on the receiving end of harsh criticism as a way to remind everyone ‘put themselves in the shoes of someone else’ before you destroy their efforts. I can understand the idea that maybe the professor wanted to emphasis that there is always room for improvement but I’ll bet it back-fired more often than inspired his/her students.

    I struggle with the same issues…and working on accepting compliments at face value…it’s very hard.

  8. didi says:

    Hmm. I am trying to picture how I’d respond to a room full of people only jabbing a piece of artwork that I love. Let’s say my favorite piece of art is getting ripped apart for the sake of a critique…
    Wow. Years ago I probably would have cried all the way home. Today though? I’d laugh and tell my classmates to suck it. I one hundred percent stand behind this piece of art. This is a part of me, and I think it is beautiful and totally me.
    I SOOOOO would have failed that fricken class. If I saw a piece of art I loved I’d never be able to pretend otherwise. I’d stammer out some nonsense that everybody knew was total baloney!

  9. Laura N says:

    Enjoyed this post very much. I shrivel under criticism. I’d have dried up like a husk and blown away. Yet, I am by far my own worst critic, as are mos of Us. The meatball sign made me laugh outloud.

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