I recently had the pleasure of performing a work by composer Josh Hummel, a movement called “Yours Is the Earth” from his set of choral pieces “The Games”.  The chamber choir in which I sing performed it at our winter concert just over a week ago.  Its text is taken from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”, and there is one line that stuck out to me that is very good advice to composers:

“If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;”

(Text taken from http://www.kipling.org.uk/poems_if.htm).

It deals with two topics I have wanted to discuss on this blog:

  1. having a thick skin, and
  2. allowing constructive criticism to genuinely affect you and make yourself reconsider your work in the name of improvement.

As a composer, one inevitably is faced with rejection and criticism.  Anybody who tells you they  haven’t failed or come up short at something compositionally is lying.  You have to have a thick skin in this field, because there is always someone willing to see your minor shortcomings as something major, and your major shortcomings as something egregious.  There are a multitude of facets to art, and if you fall short in one aspect, people will pick it up and comment on it.  In addition, there is so much art out there that the minor differences and flaws in your work are extremely important because it can be compared to so many other pieces vying for the same slot.  Building up a thick skin takes time, but it is integral to even the smallest level of success as an artist.

With that said, one has to be open to constructive criticism.  Everything is a learning experience–we are eternal students of the world.  If people give criticism, a good plan of action is to examine the criticism and see if it is true or warranted.  If it is, look at what might be changed to satisfy the criticism.  And if the criticism is constructive criticism, investigate the constructive part–is this a good way to achieve your goals or improve your work?  If so, go with it!

Constructive criticism is also a self-employed technique.  I normally don’t quote family members, but a phrase my father said that has stuck with me is “you have to be constructively dissatisfied”.  You will have good points, and you will have not-so-good points, and you should be dissatisfied in a growing, learning manner to improve your work.

These principles are universal, but are especially focused in the artistic world because it is very competitive and even the subtlest details stick out like sore thumbs.  I intend for this post to be encouraging–don’t feel discouraged that criticism will happen; embrace it as a way to grow!

Thanks for reading,

Dan