Dispelling Negativity

“That’s not real art.”

“When are you going to change your style?”

“You have a ways to go…”

“I’m not impressed with your understanding of art.”

Have you ever been told these things before? I have. And like most artists, I am deeply sensitive to criticism. (Ok, I’m deeply sensitive in general, but that’s beside the point). Sometimes one negative comment, even in a sea of positive ones, can send me reeling and make me want to throw in the towel. Or, I allow my own negative thoughts to creep in and get the better of me.


“The Wait and the Reward” – 30×30″ – oil on linen

Criticism can be a tough thing to deal with, and with the start of a brand new year, as we artists set out to create our best work yet, I thought it would be helpful to address this topic. Just to clarify, when I talk about criticism, I’m NOT referring to critique. These are two very different things, and I believe that a good critique, from someone you respect and look up to, is extremely important for continued artistic development, even if it hurts to hear. I could write another post on this subject, and I think it’s worth writing… but that’s for another time. Today I want to focus on how to deal with criticism, i.e., negativity, either from others or from ourselves.

In this day and age, art is subjective. We know that not everyone is going to like what we do, and that’s fine. But negativity can put a real wrench in the creative process. How do you move on when someone lambasts you on your Facebook page, or tells you not to quit your day job, or speaks to you condescendingly? I once had someone (a much older person than myself) tell me, “You can’t really paint anything interesting or worthwhile until you reach an age where you have lots of real life experience.” I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. Gee… I guess I should wait until I’m 65 to start painting.

Well, here are a few things I have learned over the years (and some more recently!) on dispelling negativity.

  • Have a high level of self worth. If you believe in your heart that you’ll never be good enough, then negative feedback will get you down. But if you believe that you, as a person and artist, have value, with a life story worth telling, then you won’t be crushed when you encounter the occasional bad apple.
  • "Fledglings" - 20x24" - oil on linen

    “Fledglings” – 20×24″ – oil on linen

    Own your style, and use it to tell your story unashamedly. Whether you were self-taught, schooled in a traditional atelier, or a frequent workshop attendee… all of those learning experiences have shaped who you are as an artist. Don’t downplay your education, just because it’s not the same as someone else’s. If you don’t like your style or aren’t sure what you want to say, spend some time improving your technique, and seek out council or insight from someone you trust. Sometimes an objective viewpoint can help you see yourself more clearly. Just remember that at the end of the day, no one can create your art like you can. No one else puts down a brush stroke in the exact same way you do, and if you think about it, that’s really cool.
  • Try seeing it from the other side. Negative comments often stem from insecurity or envy. It just might be that the person trying to hurt you is actually going through hard times themselves.
  • Bain-Anna-Innocence

    “Innocence” – 28″ x 12″ – oil on linen

    Learn to cast out negative thoughts before they begin. Phrases like, “you’re not good enough,” or “your painting sucks today…” are the devil on your shoulder. They are not your thoughts and they are not who you are. Take every thought captive. Don’t let negativity, or the pressure to make money or win awards, or someone else’s worldview being imposed on you (telling you what kind of art you should be making and for what purpose) affect your productivity or your belief in your art. One technique used by marketing gurus is to speak aloud the word “cancel!” every time a negative thought enters their mind. There is power in the spoken word.
  • Turn a negative into a positive. Maybe someone criticized you and it stung. But before you write off their comment entirely, ask yourself if there was some truth to that, and if you could use it to improve your work. You may find you come out stronger and better for it!

So, it’s a new year, with limitless creative possibilities. My goal for 2015 is stay positive. EVERY DAY. I hope you’ll do the same, and I wish you a very happy, artful New Year!

Anna Rose Bain


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  • Peggy Watkins

    Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  • Jane Polkowsi

    Helpful post. I’ve used the word “stop” repeatedly when negative or difficult thoughts creep in. Jane

  • Tim Fitzgerald

    Yes peoples comments can really hurt. However the next day after hearing negitive comments at one of my gallery I not only sold the painting that recieved the bad comments, One verymuch like it sold. What a boost that was. Thick skin helps but mean comments about my babies hurts.

    • What a great story, Tim! Thanks for sharing that! 🙂

  • Susan Vaughn

    Anna, personally, I LOVE your artwork, your style, your brushwork, and your subject matter. You are very gifted and talented and know exactly what you are doing. I, too, like you, am very sensitive, and not just to criticism. It can be challenging at times to get past the negativity and your own voice in your head. Sometimes, as an artist, I am my own worst critic. Thank you for writing and sharing your experience. You are helping many an artist on their journey.

    • Glad to hear it, Susan. Isn’t it nice to know we’re not alone in this?

  • Judy

    Great advice, and the unique perspective and beauty of your paintings reinforce the advice to stay the course of your own vision!

  • Emily O

    Wow! Fantastic thoughts and so well written.

  • Tamara Van Horn

    Beautifully put! I love it! You paint so beautifully I love your snapshots in time! God Bless! 🙂 I too have heard such criticism like, Nobody pays for the details, don’t make it so realistic. Or, you use too much green ( I paint Landscapes/waterscapes very lifelike). Why didn’t you paint sooner? what were you waiting for? Or maybe you should take some classes? I am completely self taught and like it that way. I don’t want to paint someone else’s ideas. I want to paint what I want how I want it. LOL! Maybe I am naive, maybe I am ignorant, maybe I just want my God given talent to be pure and personal. I seem to be doing something right, I already have several ribbons for best in show. That really isn’t important, what is important is I love my paintings and I am happy! If I never sell another painting I would still like to look at them in my home forever! I don’t let negativity enter into my life. Just be Happy! God Bless!

    • Thank you for your comment, Tamara! It is definitely about continuing to paint because you love it! 🙂

  • Lori Woodward

    Anna, everything you said here is so important. I’m happy that you share freely and don’t hold back. I’ve been pondering some of these issues myself.

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  • Wonderful post, Anna. On occasion, unfortunately, you may receive a “very nasty” comment about yourself or about an artist friend’s art or their ideas. I have learned that the best thing to do is to NOT RESPOND and WALK AWAY. If it is in an email, hit “DELETE”.

  • Maria Hock

    Loved this post for so many reasons. I am always surprised when anyone uses Facebook as a forum to criticize. There is a time and place and that is not it. I have certainly had my share of unkind things said about my work…I realize I have a lot to learn but love learning so it is all good. thanks for a thought provoking article.