Everyone is a critic. The sooner we learn this, the easier life gets. I've never been good at receiving criticism. It rubs my ego the wrong way and triggers old tapes in my head that are defeating. I find it a real battle to recover from criticism.
In the 1980s, I shared a house with my best friend from college. We were both art majors. From the beginning, I was always in awe of my buddy Dave. In one of my first semesters of getting to know him, we were in figure sculpture class together. As instructed, I showed up to class every day, early, with a tackle box of clay tools—all of them you could imagine. (I've always been a tool hound). I'd labored away on our first studio assignment, which was building a clay skull, adding the layers of muscle, and then covering it with skin. Dave and I worked next to each other, and I saw his talent a mile away from day one.
Most mornings, Dave was late to class. He strolled in the back door, daring the teacher to call him out. One morning, he wandered in the back door with a beer in his hand. It was 10 am! Dave didn't have any tools, and on occasion, would borrow one of mine, which infuriated me. I'm not good at sharing anything, but that wasn't the reason. I was furious because Dave's talent, especially in figure work, was so natural and lifelike, I couldn't stand it. In that figure-sculpting process, he stuck the skin on in peas-sized chunks, creating an incredible texture in the place of smooth skin. It looked so lifelike it was crazy. He was a talent god.
Years later, we shared a house in KCMO. By that time, he was painting with acrylics on canvas up to 6' tall after college. His style was distinct, and his subject varied from portraits of our friends to gothic and ancient lore. His studio room was off-limits, so I was careful about going in even when he was in it. One sunny day as we both sat in his studio, my boxer dog Chance walked in. Dave's latest work in progress was sitting on cinder blocks leaning on the wall. Chance walked up to the painting, lifted his leg, and peed all over the bottom of it. I was breathless. I figured he'd want the dog put down and me to move out. But Dave looked at me, squinting through his cigarette, and said, "Every-fuckin'-bodies, a critic." No reaction, no complaints. As freaked out I was about my dog peeing on the painting; I was even more impressed at how calm Dave was.
To this day, I wish I had that level of calm when it comes to criticism. I always wonder where Dave's point of reference came from. And I admired the most talented guy I knew, keeping such a cool head. If you're anything like me, you're probably trying to figure this out too. How do you get through another week of work dealing with criticism, judgment, or shame? And like me, you may be tired of hearing it all. But when our talent is so undeniable and profound in our heart, mind, gut, and soul, it's time to ignore the naysayers. Sure constructive criticism is essential, but that day-to-day bullshit noise so many people sling around is nothing more than a pissing contest. And from what I learned from Dave, a little piss isn't worth getting ourselves upset over.
P.s. My friend Dave died several years ago in a desert out west. He left behind one of the most impressive collections of work an artist could. The guy never. Stopped. Painting. You can find him at goodrichpaintings.com.