“I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit.” ~ Erykah Badu
Who could forget this line from the intro to Ms. Badu before she launched into her amazing rendition of her hit song “Call Tyrone”. The chart-topping song references a woman who may or may not be Badu and her frustrations regarding not enough alone time with her man.
But what’s interesting is that Badu, a star since her genre-busting first album “Baduizm” was released in 1997, prefaced the song with a request to the audience to be kind. She was previewing the song for the first time and it was not featured on an album. So, Badu beseeched the audience to be gentle on her in case they did not like it.
It might seem inconceivable to us that Ms. Badu the High Priestess of Neo Soul would be sensitive about her “shit” as she so eloquently states. But artists and creatives are notoriously thin-skinned at times and when it comes to their work, even more so. It is widely believed that artists and creatives are overly emotional. But how to you navigate the all-important “What do you think?” question when it is inevitably lobbed your way?
As a creative person, I’ll share some tips for offering your opinion when asked to do so.
Add “because” to your initial statement.
Don’t just say, “I like it” or “I don’t like it” and leave it at that. Try to, in addition to your opinion say why. So, instead of “I like it” or “I don’t like it”, add because to the end of the statement and try to explain what you’re feeling while experiencing the work.
Check your body language
Pay attention to your body language. If you are the kind of person who has no poker face, be aware of what your face and body are saying as you provide feedback. Think as well about what your arms are doing. When offering feedback, remember to be open in mind and body.
Ask other questions
Ask about the audience for the work. Who is it intended for? Ask about the artist’s intent behind the piece. Artists, typically create a piece with certain intent in mind. Finding out more about the intended audience could help you frame your response in a more constructive way.
What do you want people to know?
Creative works are … sometimes they tell a story or come from a place of great pain, love, loss or joy. Try to understand what the artist is trying to convey. When a piece of work is being experienced, the artist isn’t always present to explain. But if you have the opportunity to ask the artist, try to explore the backstory of the piece and what is the one true thing that they artist would like to viewer to know.
Never lie. Doing so is a disservice to the artist. Does the piece confuse you? Do you have questions? Do you just not get it? Say so. Despite the belief that artists are overly sensitive, most are looking for honest feedback on their work. So, giving a glowing review when you don’t understand the work isn’t helping
Find out about the Creative Process
Most artists create work as a part of a unique creative process. I’ve yet to meet and artist that doesn’t have one. Ask about the process that creates the work that you are providing feedback one. Most artists are happy to discuss their creative process. How long did the process take? What inspired the work? What materials or instruments were used? How long did it take? These questions might seem mundane but can be critical to you providing more constructive feedback. Use them as an exploration into the work.
What is the Why?
As you prepare your criticism or thoughts about the work, put yourself in the position of the artist. Creating a piece of work is the artist at their most vulnerable. Be aware of that and try to understand the why behind their desire for your feedback. Your feedback should be food for thought. It should feed the Why not just boost an ego. Whether or not you personally connect with the work is secondary. In the end, your opinion does matter but if it helps to move the conversation all the better. Try to get to the intent behind the work. You can ask, “What was your intent here” or “What do you want people to feel?”
Ultimately, most artists are eager to engage in a conversation about their work, but how you approach the feedback they need should be handled with care.