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Develop a Thick Skin: Your Stories - Part 2

by Natalie Cheary

Develop a thick skin: once you put your art ‘out there’, expect people to make a judgement on it.

One of the hardest lessons for an artist to learn is that every customer – every person buying a ticket to your exhibition, workshop or show or taking your work home in a branded paper bag – is a potential critic. Performance poet Rob Gee shares a very personal turning point for him as an artist:

“When I was 20 I got booed off stage, missed the last train home and spent the night under a bridge. After a few hours indulgent wallowing, it occurred to me that I was still in one piece and it didn’t actually really matter. I was never scared of audiences again after that.”

Rob, who is currently touring with his award-winning show Forget Me Not, continues“I still go into the flight/fight response before a large or potentially difficult audience, but that’s more about focus than fear. Obviously in overcoming all this, a robust ego comes in handy. The phrase I’ve found most helpful over the years is “you’re only as good as your next show.” So, if you having a rough time one night, it doesn’t matter; and, conversely, if they love you to bits, it doesn’t make you bulletproof.” Feedback is what keeps us on our toes. 

The birth of social media has given everyone a platform from which to judge your work. While it’s important to engage with the press, bloggers and public to promote your work, it’s equally important to develop a thick skin when it comes to social media critique. If it’s complementary, thank them. If it’s of the ‘not my cup of tea, thanks’ kind, shrug it off. If you can learn and improve from it, take it on board. And if it’s inflammatory, seek advice and deal with it.

Rob continues:

“A thoughtful bad review can be really helpful, especially when it’s for a new show. The worst bad reviews are when the reviewer actually gets it; they just think its crap.”

As an artist touting your wares to the public, you’ll probably have to deal with the odd bad review. Do it with humility, good grace and a desire to improve on every piece of work. Graphic and Product Designer Anna Lisovskaya, of studio Fox & Co and workshop My Workspace, advises:

“Be open to the ideas of others. Too often we see feedback as criticism. Suck it up: you’ve asked for feedback – you can’t expect for all of it to be positive. It is the negatives that drive us to improve and search for solutions. So allow yourself to thrive on that.”

Composer and Lyricist Jed Spittle of Manic Music Productions also advocates the importance of feedback, particularly if the project has personal resonance.

“Never underestimate the value of critical friends,”he advises, “particularly if you’re personally close to your creative project.”

Jed’s latest musical “Madeline and Joe” deals with the impact of IVF on a relationship, something Jed understands only too well having experienced the procedure at first hand. By road-testing the show with the help of a respected arts organisation – in this case the mighty Curve Theatre – he and the team were able to fine-tune the show in response to feedback and constructive criticism.“It is really important to get other people’s perspective on your project, especially if it is something written from the heart, and we leapt at the opportunity of doing a showcase as part of our workshop process. Fortunately the Creative team at Curve were unbelievably supportive – both by giving us the opportunity to present the showcase to a select audience but also by offering constructive criticism. This has undoubtedly improved the show and helped us bring it to another level.” When constructive, feedback can be the best thing that happens to your project.

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