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Art in the Face of Criticism: How to Maintain Focus as an Artist or Creative.

An artist’s mantle can be a difficult undertaking—as the very pursuit of their craft requires vulnerability in the sharing of thoughts, beliefs, perspective and personal experiences that form the narrative of their work. With every creative work, an artist knowingly opens the door to criticism, whether justified or unwarranted, that can potentially derail focus and compound the weight of self-criticism and doubt. In a medium that is commercially dependent on public valuation, how can artists and creatives condition themselves towards objectivity in a pull-no-punches marketplace—or conversely retain their focus under the bright of fame and acceptance?

The key towards successfully weathering criticism (or praise) lies in an artist’s reaction—in their choice to utilize it towards the building of their craft and resolve, or in allowing their work ethic and morale to fall subject to opinion. The ability to regularly temper bouts of criticism can ironically serve to increase self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses—while sharpening reflexes and shortening periods of creative impairment suffered as a result. Criticism ultimately can force an artist to confront their doubts and recognize and embrace their individuality, talent and value towards self-acceptance.

Jazz master, mentor and icon, Miles Davis, spoke regularly on the benefits of boxing as a sport towards building his invincibility, self-awareness and intuition in his approach of his craft—an approach that runs parallel to the mindset and conditioning conducive to weathering criticism by peers, critics, audiences or the marketplace. The benefits of his regimen were noted in the following excerpt taken from his 1969 interview with DownBeat Magazine:

“It gives you strength. It’s good for your wind. I mean, when I go to play something that I know is kind of impossible to play, I have that strength, that wind. And it blows the smoke out of your lungs from last night.

A man in the street is no contest against what I can drop on him. Even if he hits me three or four times, he’ll be tired. I just tell him, ‘Go sit down and enjoy yourself.’

So you got to keep getting your balance and… I mean you just got to keep in time (with the body) so it’ll swing, or so it’ll sort of stay connected. It’s according to how you think. When you box, you gotta watch a guy. You understand? You gotta watch him, anticipate him… you gotta say if he jabs, I’m gonna stop it with my left hand. All this stuff has to be like this: (snaps fingers).”

The self-awareness and self-acceptance gained from bouts of criticism can subsequently serve creatives in recognizing and reducing the need for external validation. When an artist becomes strengthened in their resolve and the truth and value of their talent and vision, it results in an unshakable confidence—a quality exhibited by the Apostle Paul throughout his career arc and personal narrative, marked by the creative hallmarks of disruption, change and evolution. This confidence and resolve were echoed throughout his letter to the Galatians, as he worked to redirect their focus from competing voices of influence, who served as a distraction to their faith in Christ and the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven, per the excerpt below:

“Does this sound as if I am trying to win human approval? No indeed! What I want is God’s approval! Am I trying to be popular with people? If I were still trying to do so, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

For artists and creatives, the strength-training and conditioning from criticism can serve towards building the faith and perseverance that sustain morale through periods of silence and defeat. When anchored in relationship with the Creator, as the author of creativity, their faith and perseverance can result in the additional benefit of spiritual strengthening through his creative power and the regenerative sustainability of his insight, per the Prophet Jeremiah and the Prophet Ezekiel:

“If you are willing to go on living in this land, then I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not pull you up.”

“I will take the top of a tall cedar

And break off a tender sprout;

I will plant it on a high mountain,

On Israel’s highest mountain.

It will grow branches and bear seed

And become a magnificent cedar.

Birds of every kind will live there

And find shelter in its shade.

All the trees in the land will know

That I am the Lord.

I cut down the tall trees

And make small trees grow tall.

I wither up the green trees

And make the dry trees become green.

I, the Lord, have spoken. I will do what I have said I would do.”

Through the lens of self-awareness, confidence and self-acceptance, and partnership with the Creator, artists and creatives can utilize criticism towards progress and the successful pursuit of their craft.

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