August 20, 2015 | Alyson Stanfield

Feedback Whether You Want It or Not

We are often too quick to ask for feedback.

We’re equally guilty of giving feedback when it’s not requested (or wanted).

I’ve been guilty of both – especially the latter – and I’ve learned a lot about giving and receiving feedback. I owe much of what I know about feedback to Cynthia Morris, an artist and coach.

Here’s what I’ve learned from her and from others.


When Not to Ask for Feedback

Feedback is serious stuff. You should only ask for it if you’re prepared to hear the answers.

At certain points in the creative process, your project is in a delicate state. You might have a direction and be excited about it or, alternatively, not know what you’re doing.

Proceed with caution when you’re at this point. Asking for feedback too early doesn’t give you time to nurture your baby. The wrong words could put a quick halt to any enthusiasm you had and before you know it, your bubble has burst. Ouch!

How to Ask for Feedback

Above all, ask the right people for feedback. Ask people whom you trust and who have credibility in the area you’re asking about.

You know who to ask.

Be extra cautious about asking for feedback from everyone on your Facebook page or profile.

Not everyone is tactful or nice. Not everyone can refrain. You need to give them a leash, and you need to give others some guidance.

[Tweet “Give people a leash and guidance when you ask for feedback”]

The biggest mistake I see artists make when asking for feedback is throwing out something like the following:

Here’s my new X. Let me know what you think.

Error! Error!

This is setting you up for all kinds of pain because you’re opening yourself up to any and all comments about any and all aspects of your creation.

The result could be feedback that you neither want nor need. Instead, be specific and give parameters to contain the feedback.

  • I have a new website and I’ve gone a different direction with my About page. I think it’s quirky and clever, but I’d love to know how you react to it.
  • I just finished this piece. I’m not sure about the red chair in the foreground. Does it work for you?
  • Can you tell me what you like most about my art? I’m sure there are weaknesses, but I’m doing some research and would love to hear what you think my strengths are.

How to Give Feedback

I am amazed by all of the people who freely give unrequested feedback online to people who don’t know them. Online seems safe because it’s more removed than saying it face-to-face or even on the phone.

Before doling out feedback willy-nilly, ask yourself if it’s your place to do so.

Do they really want your opinion?

If you’ve been asked for feedback, honor the boundaries that the person has provided. Invoke the Oreo® approach: two disks of praise protecting the fluffy center that has room for improvement.

I really like the way you did x and wish I had thought of that. Maybe Y would make it stronger. But you should trust that you’re definitely headed in the right direction.

If you haven’t been asked, maybe send a private message before launching into your comments. Something along the lines of the following:

  • Did you want feedback on that?
  • What kind of feedback would you like?

Sometimes we only want positive feedback and support, which has its place in the creative process.

I have a deal with people who support me. In unveiling my most recent project to them, I simply say, “Wanted you to be aware of my new X. At this point, I am not looking for critical feedback. I want you to tell me how wonderful it is.”

This may sound strange, but it’s a way of safely sharing what you make.

How to Respond to Unrequested Feedback

There are three primary ways to respond to feedback you didn’t request.

1. Thank you for sharing your opinion.

There’s something about this response that tells the other person that their opinion is not wanted. I’m only brave enough to pull this one out of my bag of tricks in the most extreme circumstances.

2. That’s interesting. Why do you say that?

This is a great line if you want to engage the other person in dialogue. It asks the person to be responsible for their comments, not in a negative way, but as they should be.

And, you might learn something in the process. For example, you might find out that what you understood wasn’t at all what was intended.

3. Ignore and delete.

Sometimes the only thing we can do is delete an email or move on to the next comment.

[Tweet “Ignore and delete mean people”]

This is great for the online world, but it doesn’t help when face-to face. Oh, if it were that easy to delete people! In this case, you should revert to #2 above.

One thing I’d add when deleting a particularly out-of-place comment is to send the other person love and light, and then imagine them receiving your generosity. It will put you in a higher state.

Your Turn

What stories do you have about receiving or giving feedback? What lessons have you learned?

21 comments add a comment
  • I love how you are telling us to own our asks!
    Artists seem to be always asking for feeback, evaluation, confirmation, etc. and then are shocked when someone actually critiques their work, or OMG, doesn’t like it. So I think you are dead on about throwing out the caution sign before putting it out there.
    Pesonally I love negative feedback. Sure it hurts my feelings sometimes, but when I let go of that, I ALWAYS learn something and my artwork grows from that critique.
    Postitive comments are great for the ego, but for the most part don’t push me to do anything different, and we all need that little kick in the pants to grow.

  • Jean Mazur

    You’re right on! I’m a member of a local art group. Many of the members are hobbyists and enjoy just creating. Some are uncomfortable with feedback even when it’s asked for. So we call it gentle suggestions to make them more able to accept the comments given. We take the Oreo approach, too, and it works. Like Josephine, I like specific critiques, having been used to them in art school and as a graphic designer. Thanks for an insightful article!

  • WonderFULL post Alyson.
    This topic is huge…and bears constant tuning.
    O the humanity❗

  • Once I used to hangout in a large popular forum and there it was this section moderator that always commented for feedbacks, I got tired of her because her comments were always negative, and in the top of that she assumed used techniques or materials when it wasn’t the case.
    I have a thick skin for criticism, it makes me angry when people think they are better than others, so I decided to leave and report her to the admins.

    About asking feedback on FB, good point about how to ask, I had had only 2 replies about my website redesign, I wish I had more. I asked specific questions, and pointed some flaws I’m still working on them.

  • Thanks for the post Alyson. I’m with Josephine too, love critical feedback, always helps my work. I’ve also learned that when I ask for feedback from trusted sources I don’t explain or discuss the work. I let them be with the piece and comment. Only then do I begin asking for specific feedback. This gives me the best chance of getting the widest, most authentic response, and responses to what I’m unsure of as well. I rarely ask for feedback on social media. Just don’t see the point. People can come see the show and give feedback then. ☺️

  • Donna Levreault

    Wonderful post, Alyson. As a teacher, I had been using the Oreo approach without knowing it. The image is perfect.

  • Hi Alyson.
    Very interesting topic. I’m not as thick skinned as some others who have responded, so here is another viewpoint. Relationship with the person giving me feedback is really important. Yes feedback is about something that I’ve made and a reflection of myself, and it’s a reflection of the other person. I need to understand that other person to really take in their feedback and work out what part of their offering is useful for me, and how I can make use of it. And yes, the relationship skills we both bring to the space of feedback are crucial especially if the feedback is difficult. So I am careful who I ask. On Facebook I’m more likely to ask about how a painting engages with my viewers imagination and feelings. That’s what I want to encourage in an online conversation. Thanks for the topic.
    Warmly Lynn

  • BW

    How would one go about locating a company to provide mural restoration in Chicago?

  • I don’t ask for feedback…

    Not really a fan of comments on my blogs so I don’t really encourage them…

    Generally speaking if I want to know your opinion of my work, I will give it to you…(LOL)

    Why open myself up to pain? (There will be pain, there is always pain…that one person who is having a bad day or is jealous or just feels like playing devil’s advocate…)

    On the other hand, when our dear ArtBizCoach offered a free word about our art many years ago, me, a newcomer, asked the question…

    “handsome” she said…

    I was in…

    Years & years later I was bold enough to send some new work by email…

    It was art in medicine…Charts…really new ideas I was having about medicine…

    ‘Follow that path’ was the gist of the answer I got…

    I did, & wrote 8 books about medicine from the perspective of an artist…(they are free on my site btw)

    I asked the right person…

    & I am forever grateful…

    Thanks Alyson!

  • I like Sari’s attitude and I just realized I haven’t asked opinions about my work in many years and don’t even miss it. I tend to ask more about how user friendly is my website, help with my wording and things like that since English is my second language and web design a necessary skill I learned while ago but still I’m not in the level were I feel comfortable.

    To know if I’m going in the right direction with my art I first look at the quality of the art on museums comparing to mine and that tells me more than what anybody could say.

  • Doug

    my feedback comes from my muse, but she can be brutal.

  • Feedback is a necessity. If you don’t have it, you are working in a vacuum. It’s important to know viewers’ reactions. Of course, we all want them to be positive. But negative feedback can be encouraging too because it means that the critic is engaged with your work enough to think about it, analyze it, and that he or she cares about it enough to make comments. My standard reply to negative comments is, “Thank you. You’ve given me something to think about.” And then I do think about it and either adapt or discard it.

  • Daniela Matchael

    Great article! I love the idea of the OreoFeedback. Most of the time people are Not ready or not taught how to give feedback.So when asked to give feedbackYou understand it as simply Giving negative criticism.Not because they don’t see anything positive on your work, But because,As you said,They don’t have any parameters to start with.
    ThisArticle also made me Reflect on How I am a person who tends to give critical feedback without askingWhat kind of feedback the person is asking for. I tend to be a fixer. This is a great exercise To be more empatheticWhen giving feedback.

    Thank you!

  • Rosalie Winesuff

    Usually when asked for comments my response would be about initial emotion. Pleasing color, composition, all the technical stuff that contributed to the piece, would be the first visual discussion. Often an artist will stop there. Sometimes another memory comes up.
    “I was looking for my cat under the porch and the patterns on the stairs made me stop.” That is the response I hope for. The spark that stimulates the artist to create should always be encouraged.

  • Thank you Alyson, feedback is always a thorny issue, but very helpful when wanted and done properly. The point about feedback being requested is particularly relevant. Last year I was demonstrating outside an exhibition I was taking part in – it was a hot day and a beautiful location, all very lovely. Mostly it went well but I spoke to one chap (an art teacher) who felt it necessary to tell me how I should “correct my grip so I could draw more freely”. Completely inappropriate and uninvited. Fortunately, I maintained my cool and felt I handled the situation politely.

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