Go Away Armchair Quarterback!

Opinions are like butts— just because you have one doesn’t mean we need to see it

Have you noticed the vast numbers of people online who comment on everything? From vaccines to politics, everyone has an opinion.

And then there are the people who give unasked for critiques on art.

For a long time, I held my art in private, never sharing it online because I was worried about criticism, rejection and more. This work I was making was coming out of a place of fragility and vulnerability and I knew a wrongly placed, careless word would crush it and me.

That’s not the case now but it took a bit of mental shuffling to get here.

A few years back, I had posted some abstract work. Mixed media relief style paintings. They were there for me to blow off steam and just have some variety in my creative practice. As is my wont, I shared them online and got myself my own personal critic.

He left me detailed feedback on how I was mis-using my materials. How the art wouldn’t last. How the composition didn’t work. Things like that.

Fragile me would have died.

But the me that posted the art? Well, she went and checked out the dude online. Maybe he was trying to be helpful. Maybe he had a background as an artist and was (clumsily) sharing some tips.

Nope.

Armchair quarterback all the way. The only answer to a person like that is a block and move on.

Here’s the thing: when people share their art it’s not a call for feedback. It’s not a chance to tell them what they did wrong or how they could improve. Not unless they specifically ask for feedback, and you’re only qualified to give it if you yourself make art too.

Yep. I said it. Unless you’re in the trenches, doing the work and have the training (self taught or otherwise), your opinion doesn’t matter.

And if you are in the trenches and have feedback, unless it’s asked for… wait for it… your opinion doesn’t matter.

In this day and age of everyone commenting on everything, we all seem to think like what we have to say has weight and importance. That we add to the conversation when we chime in.

You don’t.

This can happen offline too. In the real world. I had family members, and hell an ex spouse, who imagined that they needed to tell me how to improve my art. My family said it was an effort to help me be the best artist I could be, but the reality is their criticism held me back. I could see when they were struggling to come up with good things to say and it fucking tripped me up.

Family is funny like that. Often times they say they want you to succeed and then, consciously or subconsciously, they sabotage your efforts. They have their own hang ups — what they think of you and your skills, what they think of your chances of success as a creative — that all come into play.

My ex-spouse was simply jealous. We met at art school. He didn’t go any farther with it, choosing to work in an entirely different industry. Every time I tried to launch my career, he’d tell me I wasn’t good enough. My work, not ready for the world. And I trusted him for years. I believed his advice and feedback, never once questioning the validity of it.

Every time I’d finish a piece, he’d take it apart verbally and show me where I did wrong. It made me cringe to show him my work knowing it would be picked apart. The thing I loved, destroyed. When I stopped, finally refusing to face that music, everything changed for the better.

Armchair quarterbacks the lot of them. Full of their own self importance.

If you’re reading this as an artist, know that you shouldn’t listen to any critic unless you art in school. Not a single one.

You don’t owe them your time, brain space or anything.

The mental shuffling I did to get here? I decided that I owed it to my art to stop allowing other people into the creative process at all. To be responsible for all my artistic decisions and directions and whatever happened would happen.

My art is not a collective effort. It’s not communal and doesn’t need anyone else involved in the making of it.

And how people receive it online, or offline, once it’s done is none of my business. Everyone brings their own stories and viewpoints when they connect with art. I can’t control those but I can control what I take in.

I read once, and I forget who wrote it, that an author never grows or improves by reading the reviews of their book. Once the book is published and done, reviews don’t matter. Don’t read them. Continue writing instead.

Do this. Do this with your art. Make your art, ignore the critics. Block each and every one.

All that matters is making your art.

Paula Mould

Paula Mould

Paula Mould is a fine artist, published author and business coach for Leigh & Paula.

She also swears, mostly on purpose.

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