Barriers can be Ladders

step laddder

Blocking the way or a step up?

You create something that took an hour, a day, or a lifetime and someone comes along and expends five seconds of their time and tells you what you did wrong. It seems much easier (and more fun to some) to stomp on sandcastles than to build one. But sometimes, among the ruins of the castle we can find valuable grains of constructive critics.

Because they are concerned about “What people will say,” many people avoid the risk of creating anything new for fear of criticism, and some are even embarrassed by praise. Sometimes a river is a not an obstacle but a source that sustains life, and sometimes a high wall can be climbed to provide a better view. What people say does not have to be frightening and feedback can enable you to climb.

The first step in sifting out the gold is to qualify the critic. A good question to ask is “did the critic spend an hour, a day, or a lifetime acquiring the knowledge to make their judgments?” If they are knowledgeable in the field, you’re in luck, but sometimes even without a lifetime of knowledge, a critic can be helpful. Even a child can warn that a giant wave is about to crash on your head, but less apt at commenting on your business plan.

Next, can you do anything useful with the advice? Can you use it to improve your project? Or your next project? Like/dislike does not say enough. Is the criticism too late? Is it accurate?

Knowing when to dismiss, delete, and erase from your mind is an important skill. Destructive criticism can be thoughtless, mean and sometimes motivated by other’s agendas and shouldn’t be taken seriously. Much is a matter of opinion where critics unknowingly state their personal values. If their values and objectives happen to coincide with yours, their words could be useful.

Is the criticism given in public or private? Beyond heckles, public criticism is directed to a wider audience and provides information for others: “that was a good movie,” or more qualified, “if you like sci-fi and don’t mind seeing blood,” but not necessary directed toward the producer. Public criticism provides you the chance to respond back to the public, not the critic. “It’s more than sci-fi, it’s also a love story and the violence is limited to one scene.”

To give others useful criticism or advice, speak from your experience and set aside your self-interests. When you receive this kind of criticism, use it to climb the wall for a better view. When there is no feedback, it’s good to assume everyone is deliriously happy.



  1. I’m a huge fan of Stephen Sondheim. He likes to retell how Oscar Hammerstein told him that his first musical was “the worst thing I’ve ever seen. But if you want to know why it’s terrible,” Hammerstein offered, “I’ll tell you.” The 10-year-old was not deterred and the rest of the day was spent going over the musical. Today, Sondheim says “in that afternoon I learned more about songwriting and the musical theater than most people learn in a lifetime.”

  2. Hey David! I pop over to your blog once in a while and have enjoyed reading some of your thoughts and observations…many of which I find I can relate to! You have a nice way of putting your thoughts on (virtual) paper. The topic above was a great one! Gosh…deciphering between good and bad criticism as well as trying to account for differing opinions which can simply be a matter of personal taste. Tricky! As an artist, this is something we face all the time, isn’t it? This was thought-provoking.

    Hope you’re well!

    • Hi Jill – I appreciate your commenting and glad you could relate.

      It’s not easy, anything we create won’t appeal to everyone and so much of artwork is subjective. As you said, it’s tricky to sort through opinions – I don’t think anyone has all the answers but a key to finding the opinions that will help us grow is to identify the source and than deciding to accepted or deleted.

      You did not ask but my opinion is that your paintings are beautiful, I’ve always been impressed with your portraits of children – so difficult in watercolor, and I just noticed your landscapes in “gallery 3” and am very impressed.
      – David

      – Many of Jill’s watercolors can be seen on her website: or by clicking on her name in her comment.

  3. Thanks, David. By the way…I really love your new piece with a man pulling a cart as well as “Blue Pines on the Yellow Mountain”. They’re fabulous!

  4. Nice view on life, any obstacle can become helpful if you know how to take advantage of it. You just need to think outside of the box a little, and keep positive.
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  5. “Sometimes a river is a not an obstacle but a source that sustains life…” — Absolutely true for me! There are times that I treat challenges as a burden which hold my success. On the other hand, there are times that I consider these problems as my ladder towards success. Always think positive, that’s the only way we could handle hardships in our lives.
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  6. This is very true. Barriers are made for us to realize that those hindrances are made to aim more effort to reach your goals in life.