Critique! Simultaneously one of the most useful things for growth for us as people and piercers, and also one of the hardest things to hear. Critique is essential no matter what field you work in, what job you do, how long you’ve ben doing it, even just as a person critique is an important factor in growth. It also something most people struggle with hearing. It’s incredibly hard to hear critique, and learning to become good at hearing it (and giving it) is almost as hard as learning from it. Today I want to talk about critique, how to give it, how to take it, and how to make the most of it.
Before I was a piercer I was a fine arts major. And in art school, critique is the word of the say every day. I had one professor who stood out to me greatly- Professor Adams. I took a summer course in figure drawing with him. The first day he told us to be relaxed, this was just about warming up and assessing our skills. Our gestures were all loose and easy, we were talking and laughing. He gave a little instruction here and there but mostly felt out where we were at. After break, the mood changed. He came around with a red paint pen and absolutely obliterated every last students work. Crossed out what was bad, redrew what was off, tore all of us to pieces. Many of us, myself included, cried. At the end he told us, his class was listed as figure drawing, but it would end up being a class on critique. He said if we couldn’t learn to handle hearing what was wrong and what needed to be improved about our work, we would never make it as an artist. And if we couldn’t separate our work from ourselves, we would never learn to take critique. His class was hard, and I often went home and cried. But I also learned so much about critique, how to take it, and why it was necessary.
Critique on your work is not critique on your person
This is possibly the biggest lesson Professor Adams taught me, and also the hardest. Critique on your work is not critique on yourself. You can do a bad piercing and not be a bad piercer. You can do a bad piercing and not be a bad person. Learning to separate your work from yourself, and hear cirque and feedback on just your work is essential. It’s also incredibly hard. Much like artists, our piercings are a part of ourselves. We are fiercely passionate about what we do, we love it, for many of us piercing consumes our lives. So critique on our piercings often feels like critique on us- as piercers and as people. But we have to learn to separate that. We will make mistakes. We will do bad piercings. Being told that and hearing feedback on how to improve that is essential. If you are hearing critique and find yourself getting defensive, or feeling like this is as attack on you, take a step back and take some deep breaths. Remind yourself that you are not your work. Remind yourself it is ok for your work to be flawed. And, remember-
People Critique because they Care
Boy, this one was hard for me to grasp. Why would someone rip my work to shreds if they cared about me? Well, the opposite of love isn’t hate, its apathy. If someone doesn’t care about you they don’t care if you make mistakes or do bad or less then ideal work. They let you go along in life fucking up and doing things wrong. It’s when someone cares that they take the time to tell you hey, this could be better! Try this technique next time? Have you considered this tool? That sharing of education and feedback is to help you grow and become better. People do that because they want you to become better. Yes, even when it’s hard to hear. If someone really didn’t care, they wouldn’t help you improve. So when you hear critique and you feel yourself becoming defensive, remember it comes from a place of caring. The people in my life who tell me when something is off or wrong do so because they love me, and they want to see me become the best piercer and person I can be. Even when their truth hurts.
Stop your first reaction
It’s normal to have a knee jerk defensive reaction to critique or negative feedback. It’s a perfectly human response to those things. But, we don’t have to allow it to be our actual response. When you ask for or get critique, you don’t have to respond right away. When I message someone for critique sometimes I give myself a rule that I won’t respond for an hour. This time gives me a chance to cool down from my initial reaction, and process what they are saying logically. It helps me not lash out, and to instead respond with a level head. WhenI come back I often find that the person was right and giving me valid feedback, and I’m able to take that rather then become defensive or argumentative.
Be the Bigger Person
Critique helps, but sometimes it hurts. Sometimes it is harsher then it needs to be, or in the heat of an argument contains attacks on someones person along with real feedback on their work, particularly on the internet. But just because it may be said or come off that way, doesn’t mean we have to take it that way. Separate yourself from the critique and hear it as critique on your work or your actions. This allows you to respond to the actual critique, and not anything extra.
Particularly online, if you feel attacked it’s easy to want to attack back. You can’t let someone talk to you that way! But stooping to their level doesn’t make you any better. In fn fact, handling yourself with grace and focusing on the critique makes you the bigger person. And in a public setting, others will see how mature and well you are able to handle yourself and admire you for that. You will also feel better about yourself because you didn’t stoop to insults or lash back out.
I also like to thank the person criticizing me. Oh yes. No matter if they were harsh in their words, or if the critique stings. They still took the time to give you that feedback which can help you grow. So that think them for that! This also forces you to be humble to the critique. Sometimes it’s so hard for me to thank someone criticizing me. But, it makes me be humble, and I’ve often won critics over with that. People are surprised I was willing to thank them even when they were incredibly blunt and harsh. But they are giving me their advice and education, for free. I’m going to thank them for that.
Be 100% Honest
Critique is worthless if you sugar coat it, or don’t tele someone the full truth to protect their feelings. How can they fully grow if they don’t know all of the mistakes they have made? If you are going to offer someone critique you owe it to them to be 100% honest with that critique. Don’t leave anything out, or try to skirt around it. You you aren’t protecting them by holding back, in fact you are holding them back from reaching their full potential.
A Critique Sandwich
A gentler teacher then professor Adams taught me about the critique sandwich. The critique is the filling of the sandwich, a positive about the work is the top piece of bread, and a positive about the person is the bottom. For example- “The placement on this conch looks great! (a positive on the work). However, the piece isn’t sitting flat, and the angle here looks off. Also, the skin prep you used doesn’t meet standards. (the critique). Good on you for posting this for feedback, and trying to improve (positive on the person). When in doubt, a critique sandwich is a great way to deliver critique to a person. Sandwiching the actual feedback between some positives makes it easier to hear the critique and accept it. Particularly if someone is new at hearing critique or perhaps a coworker or friend who doesn’t always hear it well.
Blunt and Mean are separated by a thin line
Personally, I am a fan of straight forward, blunt critique. I don’t need the sandwich- tell me my angle is fucked or my placement is off or whatever I did did wrong. I just wanna hear it so I can grow from it. That being said there is a very, very thin line between being straightforward and blunt, and being mean and hurtful. It’s an easy line to cross, and it’s different person to person and situation to situation. If you do give blunt critique, it’s important to be mindful of the situation at hand and the way you use your words.
Growing from Critique
Whether you are hearing critique or giving it, the most important thing is that you grow from it. If you are hearing it, really take the time to process what’s being said. Consider coming back to it in a few days and rereading it and making sure you grasp what was said and given. I like writing things down for memory- so I’ll make a note on a whiteboard in my cabinet of the critique I got. The act of writing it helps me remember the feedback. Sometimes making notes on a photo of your piercing. Saving screenshots of critique in a folder on your phone or computer. Following up on critique by shadowing, taking classes, reading other material on the same topic. Whatever it looks like, make sure you make the most of the critique you get and actually grow from it. And if you are giving critique, ask yourself- did I relay my point accurately? Was I honest? Did I have good intentions going into this? Examine the way you delivered your critique and how you would respond if someone gave you that same feedback in that same way.
We are all at work in progress- as piercers and as people. We never stop learning, growing, improving and being better. Critique is one of the major ways we can do that, and one of the best ways to become our best. Remember that, and take every bit of critique you are given as a way to grow and become better. Critique is what you make of it- make it worth while.
A special thanks to my forever critic Margo, without whom I wouldn't be the piercer or person I am today. <3