Dealing with Criticism
I’m in a pretty interesting situation right now. in April I was getting resounding praise for a project I lead. http://www.joshuaforeman.blogspot.com/2013/04/super-adventure-box.html
Today I’m reading through resounding complaints about the follow-up that came out a couple weeks ago.
I’ve already covered a lot of the problems with the release in my last blog. (That SHOULD have been set to private. Now I’ve learned to just keep private blogs on my hard drive. Thanks for that lesson, Blogspot!) And this blog isn’t really about this specific release and it’s problems, but more generally how I try to approach criticism of all kinds in my life. I’ll start by dividing criticism into two groups. There’s the kind that simply isn’t true, and the kind that is. For instance, a lot of feedback was accusing me of purposefully making the content too hard to sell an item that helps players. Since I am absolutely certain that this was not the case, that criticism doesn't sting at all. I’m comfortable enough in my own skin that I don’t care if some random people mistakenly think that I’m a hack who cares more about money than my art.
It’s the other kind of criticism that I’m concerning myself with here. At the most fundamental level, my approach to dealing with criticism is to ask myself this: "Do I want to grow?" My experience has taught me that growth only comes through difficulty. Training, straining, pushing boundaries and limits and finding what happens when they break. And listening to criticism. I’m going to pick the one thing out of those critiques to highlight a true thing that’s a weaknesses of mine and that I think is important for me to address as an artist and individual. This one DOES sting. In fact, I was in a pretty melancholy mood until I decided to write this all out, which is my way of actively addressing a problem rather than wallowing in it. That always makes me happier.
This issue crops up again and again in my work:
I make too much stuff. (Or I don't cut enough stuff... same difference)
“they took it too seriously and made it way too long. If it was short and sweet I would have liked it”
“Zone 2 and Zone 3 are just "let me get this over with"”
When I proposed to my wife I could have taken her out and given her a ring. Instead I MADE a ring (first time I’d ever made real jewelry) and wrote/designed/illustrated a book with pop up pages about WHY I wanted to marry her. http://scrybe.deviantart.com/gallery/45890071
Then I built a life-sized silver tree for our wedding. The point is that when I engage in a project I really pour myself into it, I want to WOW people. And one of the subconscious rules I operate under is “more is more”. I consciously realize this is not a good design or art standard. In fact, I can point to art that embraces that maxim such as baroque architecture and the end of The Return of the King and say “Look, that’s bad”. On the other hand, I truly enjoy epic things. Looong movies, Loooong songs, Loooong books, etc. So it makes sense that I want to try to make what I like. What I’m learning is that I’m a minority in this. But my love of epicness is probably why I fall into the ‘more is more’ trap all the time. Just look at 95% of my blogs for more evidence. So while ‘more is more’ is passable in some visual art projects, and at least goofy-romantic in a marriage, (assuming you’re not the easily-smothered type) it’s TERRIBLE in design. Mostly. I think about games like Skyrim and wonder what it would be like with fewer systems and I don’t think it would improve the game, but I could be wrong.
Anyway, hearing this critique over and over on my last project was easily the most painful out of all of it. I feel bad when I hear people say they had a bad time playing my game. I feel bad when I hear people say my ideas are stupid and my implementation sucks. Of course. I’m human. But when I first saw people saying that there was TOO MUCH stuff in the game I couldn’t even fathom where they were coming from. (Until I got further into discussion on the forums.) I was SO emotionally invested and positively excited that I had put in double hours almost the whole project so I could cram in all our ideas. Then being told I went overboard… the comparison that comes to mind is like a pathetic guy who has a crush on a girl who barely knows him, so he buys her a thousand roses, sends her a 20 foot tall teddy bear, get’s her face tattooed on his arm and shows up on her doorstep with a boombox in the rain professing undying love. And she’s like: “Uh… Not really that into you. Sorry.” I kinda feel like that guy. Like a fool who sacrificed time, money (all the time I was working overtime I could have been making money doing art on the side or developing my own little games.) and energy on something so big... that nobody asked for, and actually annoys them. That’s a crummy feeling. So how do I turn that into a positive growth lesson instead of just feeling like a loser?
I think there are (as usual) several parts to how I would answer that. This is the first time I’ve attempted to deconstruct this process, so it’s mostly me thinking out loud. Well, that’s what the whole blog is, so… I’ve deconstructed a lot scarier things, (religion, philosophy, epistemology, motivation) so this ought to be simple. ;)
The first and most fundamental part of the equation is that I don’t take myself too seriously. I truly try very hard not to have pretensions. I’m know I’m not a genius. I’m not a great artist, I’m not a great designer. I’m not a great writer. These are all just things I enjoy doing. And if that enjoyment causes collateral enjoyment, all the better! This means I don’t have to have my ego tied into the criticism. I have nothing to defend on a personal level. I never made any untrue or exaggerated claims about my work, so I can’t be ‘caught red handed’ as it were. (Incidentally, that’s exactly how I handle criticism of my beliefs, religion, and philosophy, and why I don’t get upset when challenged.)
On the other hand, when I’m getting paid to create enjoyment I need to take that seriously. That’s why I strive to improve myself. Without both sides of that coin, I don’t see how I could use criticism in a positive way. And that’s why I sincerely LIKE reading criticism, even when it’s painful. If I’m being paid for a service, in order to be the most honest person I can be, I need to provide it to the best of my ability. To that end, sinking into a depression because I failed to provide the best possible experience is not useful. And neither would blithely continuing along, ignoring valuable feedback because I know “I’ll never be the best artist/designer, so why bother trying?”.
So now I’ve listened to a critique of my work, I’ve identified it as valid and out of line with my conscious artistic values. I’ve described how I digest that emotionally. Now how do I ACT on it? I think the answer is simply a matter of discipline. How much do I care about maturing as an artist? That’s what will determine how hard I work to find a way to systematically build procedures into my workflow in order to catch my subconscious in the act, so that I can bring it in line with my conscious desire to adhere to a counter-intuitive aesthetic standard. In other words I nee to remind myself to stop being ‘that guy’.
Now for some practice. I started writing a second part dealing with another criticism and blah blah blah. But instead I’m going to cut it off here! EPIC WIN!!!