As a creative person, I’ve received both good and bad criticism. At its worst, it kills the creative spirit. I know. I quit playing piano when I was fourteen because of negative criticism. At its best, it fosters creativity. It pushes the creative person to try something new, to explore different facets, to embrace the terror of the unknown. That criticism may be harsh at times, but it’s given in a spirit of good will. It isn’t given simply to be given.
The question becomes how to interact with and to give criticism to creative people. Unless you work with them regularly, it can be difficult to know what approach to take. When is encouragement needed? When is harshness required? Yes, creative people are people, but they tend to have some qualities and characteristics that differentiate their responses from the so-called left-brain people’s. How does one begin to critique a creative person?
- Don’t tell a creative person he or she is defensive. Many creative people can be defensive about their work (and anything else). Unless they’re completely oblivious to themselves, they already know this fact. Don’t preface your critique by reminding them that they’re defensive. They’ll go into full-blown defense mode and won’t hear a word you’re saying.
- Don’t treat a creative person like he or she is “sensitive.” Most creative people want to improve. They understand that harsh criticism is necessary for growth. They also know when you’re skirting the truth because you’re afraid of hurting their feelings. Some creative people may want to be treated with kid gloves, but most don’t.
- Do give a creative person some space. Don’t expect creative people to respond to the criticism immediately unless they’re working under a deadline. They need time to absorb the information that has been given. They need to work through which criticisms have merit and which ones undercut what they are trying to accomplish with their work.
- Do provide additional feedback, especially if asked for it by the creative person. Creative people who want to improve are going to come back to you for feedback after making some changes to the work. Respond honestly. If you don’t have time to respond to their questions, say so. Don’t ignore their questions or slough them to the side. Such a response can be even more detrimental than negative criticism.
Do you work with a creative person? How do you critique him or her?