Feeding Critics

First the oil painting, then the story that inspired this art and the update. Do YOU feed your critics? Everyone has critics, whether you do creative work or not.

Watch me paint “Waves of the Sea“, 2 minute time lapse

“‘Waves of the Sea’ is inspired by Scripture about trials and perseverance. James 1:2-6 ~~~‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.’ ~~~Through it all, never give up. When the seas are rough, during a storm, and whenever troubled times come, a lighthouse guides us home. Faith over fear, perseverance through trials.”

- from book "50 Oil Paintings Inspired by my Christian Faith" by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

Update to the above story…

I was still active on social media when I painted “Waves of the Sea“. I was often censored and throttled, so I was mostly seen only by a small group of people who quickly became friends. When I shared my art, I was sharing stories of encouragement. I knew some of the people who looked forward to my new paintings were going through a difficult time or were facing hardships. Some deal with chronic pain and suffering, or are grieving a loss. These are heartaches that no one can fix. There is no money to repair what is broken, and no words that can express the unfairness of life’s cruelty.

Sometimes, when there are no words, art is a balm for the raw places in our soul. It’s a language that transcends our struggles to communicate. We can express empathy even when we don’t know who will view our art, and we can’t possibly have foreknown their private pain. 

Even if you are too young to have heard a real life record (vinyl album) screech to a halt on a record player, we’ve all heard that sound as a meme for the uncomfortable jolt when there’s a sudden end to a pleasant experience. That’s what happened when a stranger popped into the thread under my “Waves of the Sea” video. The unsolicited critique was that I should have painted the sea in a more realistic manner, softening the waves around the coastline.

I often ignore unsolicited advice from self-appointed critics, but if I am approached in a place of visibility where others are watching/listening, I always represent/defend myself. Because the comment was made publicly and subtly implied that I lacked the skill to have taken that advice on my own accord (an accusation levied at my professional ability to perform my job), I responded publicly. I did so briefly, but clearly.

                                  HOW TO HANDLE CRITICS

  1. Ignore them.
  2. If comments are made in public, counter any false or misleading statements with calm and professionalism.
  3. Take any useful feedback under consideration, but don’t give them the power and energy to dim your light.
  4. Outshine them!

 

In the case of “Waves of the Sea“, the critique was mild and relatively harmless, but it still met my criteria for a response because the person hijacked a public thread with misleading comments about my work. So, I explained that the painting is a metaphor and that I often paint in a way that might look odd or unrealistic in order to illustrate a point (the waves were meant to be exaggerated and otherworldly). The conversation was brief. The critic was polite, but the thread that had- until then- been warm and welcoming to others was now cold and dead. The record had screeched to a halt.

Because my intention in sharing my paintings is communication and connection, I’m not much interested in unsolicited critique. I don’t put much stock into with what others think I should do. I have lived too many years of my life under the expectations of others, and that life was not fruitful. Their ideas were not better than my own. But, the problem at this point was not what was said, but that this person disrespected the conversation that this painting was having with those who needed it.

The earlier in life that you reach spiritual confidence, the sooner you are free to live the purpose you are destined for.

I learned that it is not always best to ignore critics. Sometimes we must fight. Why? Because the petty vindictive monster that drives people to jump in, tone deaf and arrogant, will destroy what we build up. We must fight for the good that we are destined to do for others. When I fight back, I protect my lines of communication to those who need me. I protect my purpose, my vocation. I protect all that I work so hard for.

 

I have discovered that it is not virtuous to be passive. It is irresponsible. I am trusted with talent and relatively good health. I must use it, to honor those who have gone before me and cannot serve. I can’t let those who destroy what others create simply run right over me. More is asked of me than this, whether I like this role or not.

 

It is not virtuous to be passive. It is irresponsible.

 

I don’t work for critics. The purpose of my art is language. I am not motivated by “experts”, judges, the art world, or the system. I am not persuaded by the latest groupthink or trend. I don’t care if “intellectuals” think my work is insipid (well of course it stings a little bit, but not enough to change my ways). I work for those who feel something from my art. Ultimately I work for God: I follow where I believe I’m lead. I chase what I feel is my purpose, not what others tell me to be.

Know who you work for,

and why.

Never take orders

from a boss

you’ve not permitted

to be your authority.

Always keep it professional, calm, and truthful of course. Out class them at every turn, but don’t let them walk all over you and your life, work, etc. Never let them win.

Unsolicited advice is mostly harmless (but not entirely, I’ll address that later). Only take the advice that you agree with, even if they are “right” and you are “wrong”. Otherwise, your creative vision is hijacked. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t learn techniques for how to improve your craft, or accept life coaching to improve your relationships, work, etc., but that you should keep the final say- the “veto power”.

 

While most critics aren’t dangerous, always be alert. I’ve been “cancelled”. I’ve had death threats against me. I was told, “Good thing your dad didn’t live to see you grow up”. Mobs gave 1 star ratings to my public selling areas to ruin my career (and succeeded, I never sold again on those sites that they brought down to 1 star averages). I’ve been hacked, my work deleted, and a devil posted in its place. I’ve been censored, blacklisted, and slandered. I’ve been put on a public list for others to destroy. I’ve been hated and despised for no reason. I’m not thin skinned. I can take it. They can’t break me.

Truth be told, I don’t respect the opinions of people who are driven by hate and malice, who would seek to hurt and punish people they don’t even know. Had they even looked into who I am, and what motivates me? No. They don’t bother to research those they seek to tear down. It’s usually nothing personal. If you are being attacked, please know this. It’s seldom about you… do they even know you?

We feed our critics when we validate their attacks

by accepting them as truth,

by becoming emotionally defensive,

or by passively leaving in defeat.

Critics may hide behind socially acceptable excuses such as:

  • “I’m only trying to help”
  • “It’s just advice, take it or leave it”
  • “Just my opinion”


Or, they may flip the bully>victim dynamic to paint their victim as the bully:

  • “You don’t have to get bent out of shape!”
  • “Don’t attack the messenger”
  • “If you can’t handle criticism, you shouldn’t be (putting your work out there, saying something controversial, etc.)” In other words, blaming you.


Don’t fall for these shaming tactics. Ask yourself:

  1. What do I owe this person? (probably nothing!)
  2. What do they owe me? (politeness? What standards of social interaction do I have for myself, and do they meet those standards?)
  3. Does this exchange feel like “help” or harassment?
  4. What motive does this person have for approaching me? 
  5. Is this person dangerous?


Ultimately, we all deserve the right to surround ourselves with pleasant people whose advice we welcome, and limit our interactions with people whose “help” or feedback is meant to disrupt, hurt, or even endanger us.

Now, when it comes to mild criticism, like the kind I received about “Waves of the Sea“, it looks harmless on the face of it. It’s just advice, right? No. It broke the conversation that was meant to be healing and helpful to others. I work hard to serve humanity in this one small way, and someone was tone deaf and arrogant enough to ruin it in one tweet. How do the negative nellies have so much power? We can’t just roll over and let this pattern go unchecked, because trust me, it will only escalate.

It must be a spiritual phenomena because people will come out of the woodwork when I’m low and beaten. If I let the negative voices overwhelm me, it invites more in. When I imagine myself as strong, invincible and unsinkable, with a light that covers and protects my energy, and most of all I consciously work to maintain an honest motive to connect with others in a healing and positive way, the critics seem to wither away. When I am weak, they are strong. When I am strong, they are weak. 

Thoughtless people prey upon those they think will not defend themselves. They are spiritual and intellectual cowards. I wish I could teach you how powerful you are, but you may have to learn it through experience, if you haven’t already. Life is the best teacher, but it’s so painful and slow… if only the wisdom of the elders could be inherited by the young! Well, many have tried to tell us. I’m hoping that my children can learn these truths faster than I did. I would have been free so much earlier if only I’d known that I was more powerful than I realized.

But, if being raw and honest… I was set free when my mom passed away. She was my biggest and most hurtful critic. She often said she was angry to have been pregnant with me, but never once- not even when I took care of her every need when she was ill- never once did she add, “but I’m happy I decided to have you.” That one phrase would have been so healing. I never heard it. I made the choice to let go, forgive, and accept that I will never have closure unless I create closure for myself.

As the years passed, I learned that I didn’t need to hear it. My family is happy I was born. And *I* am happy I was born. I need neither the approval or permission of anyone to be joyful. I don’t need to be loved by anyone to be given worth, but I’m grateful to those who do love me. When we finally understand that we do not live under the authority of anyone but ourselves (for even God has granted us free will to choose who to serve), we stop letting critics disrupt our life’s purpose.

Stand your ground. Protect all the good things you are meant to do and share. Invest in yourself, your energy, and your inner light. These are treasures that do not belong to you, but are meant to bless the world. It is our responsibility to defend the treasure we are entrusted with.

If each of us holds steady, we’re like a lighthouse in a storm. We can shine a safe way back to others who are lost at sea. No matter how hard the waves rage and crash, may we persevere, and hold our light steady.

"Waves of the Sea" oil painting by artist Natalie Buske Thomas
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