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Honey vs Vinegar

Hello once again to the creative advocacy blog. Today I would like to discuss the use of positive reinforcement as opposed to negative critique.

As I have stated before, I'm a writer and an artist. I graduated from the Ringling College of Art and Design, and I've worked in a number of art related fields throughout my career. From the beginning, it was nailed into my head that to do this thing called art, I had to get used to critique. Putting your work up on the wall and having people tear it apart was part of the process. It helped you learn, and it got you ready for the real world. I can say with all honesty, it did the latter but not necessarily the former.

Here's what it took me decades to understand: There is critique that builds you up and there is critique that breaks you down.

When you pour you time and soul into a project, the act of pinning it up on wall or showing it to someone else takes a lot of courage. Once up there, it is open to attack. If it is torn apart, the temporal lobe of your brain that controls a lot of your emotions, creativity, and memories shuts down. If this feels threatened, either physically or verbally, it will go into safety mode. In other words, fight or flight. You know what happens after that? To say the least, your mind doesn't want to be creative.

What's the alternative? How can you get better without someone teaching you what you did wrong? By having someone teach you what you did right.

In college, I grew the most as an artist from the instructors who did three things: treated me with respect, expected great things from me, and taught me what about my work was really good and how to grow that. I learned more from my drawing teacher at school, Mr. Osborne, than just about anyone else while I was there. He was quiet and sweet. Never said a harsh word. He expected great things from me, and found something beautiful in every project I turned in. "This part here is just lovely, Michelle. I'd love to see more like that."

Guess what that made me do. I worked my butt off to impress him. Suddenly, I was capable of things I never dreamed of because he told me I could.

This idea doesn't just apply to school. I've worked under a lot of art directors. Some good, some bad. The ones who criticized everything I did, the ones where nothing was ever good enough, got only what I thought was safe to try. If you can't seem to please someone, you stop trying to innovate because they continually shut you down. However, I did my best work for those who told me I could. Those bosses who gave me some room and told me, "You are talented. Show me what you can do. I know you got this."

We have created a culture of harsh critiques, of tearing something apart for it's flaws. If an instructor does this, it influences the students to do it as well. That goes out into world, and the cycle continues. This goes for most creative fields. Writing, Music, Art, it's all the same in this regard. It ensures only the hardened pitbulls survive. I am one of those. I got knocked down so many times, I should be a boxer. But I survived, and I'm telling you there is a better way.

"You just can't take criticism."

I hate this line. It insinuates every opinion is correct, and if you don't take their advice, you are delusional. Not every bit of feedback is valid. Not every bit worth listening to. Not every bit comes from a good place. I will go into more detail in a later post about how to take feedback and tell what is worth using and what isn't.

The bottom line is this. We need to view a person brave enough to show their work to world with respect. It may be horrible work, but it took them a ton of courage to show it to anyone. Find the beauty in it. Find what works. Tell them how much you like what works. You want to see more of that. Believe it or not, the other stuff, the bad stuff, will fall away over time. Building up the beauty teaches them to build on their strengths and let go of the weaknesses.

I am not alone in this thinking. Over the years, I started noticing this phenomenon in my own work. It was only after I started working with my current agent that I found it had a name in the writing world. A lovely woman named Suzanne Kingsbury gave it a name. It's called the Gateless Method. To learn more about this method, her website is here...

In the end, the vinegar will harden you. It will prepare you to be knocked down and get back up. You will be able to adapt and push on. But the honey? Oh, the honey will expand your mind and allow you be more than you ever thought you could possibly be. The honey will set you free.

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