“Sensitive About My Shhh…”: Navigating Critique in a Digital Age

One of my favorite Erykah Badu quotes is from the beginning of her song, Tyrone, where she explains, “Keep in mind that I’m an artist, and I’m sensitive about my sh!t…” It was the first time I’d heard someone acknowledge the connection between our art and our heart, so explicitly. In that way, this simple declaration affirmed me as a sensitive soul, as well.

As I grew into womanhood, I learned to be responsible with my emotions but I knew that I’d still have to work through being “sensitive about my sh*t” in an age where our thoughts, art, and work exists on public spaces… or can easily BECOME public through shares and screenshots.
Every artist needs a plan for what to do with critique, comment sections, and general communication in the digital age. Here are my tips, from one sensitive artist to another:

Be clear that things shared in a public sphere are up for critique.

I know you may have intended an outcome with your art or work… but it won’t always be received in that way. Embrace the fact that work is up for critique the moment you push ‘Publish.’ It’s a part of the package. Embracing this empowers you because you aren’t side-swept and surprised every time you experience critique and you can learn what feedback is useful and what is trolling.

Be clear that a critique and a clap back aren’t the same thing.

In a status to my Facebook-cousins-and-friends, I noted something that I knew I needed to share here:
“Every critique is not a clapback. Both can sting but you will know which is which by its ‘fruit.’ You can take critique and grow. You can inquire about the person who gave the critique and when it’s healthy, they can and will offer expertise and wisdom. You can even discard critique when necessary (critiques vary in usefulness, based on many factors.) If there’s anything I’ve learned from grad school and writing in public forums, it’s that critique and clapback aren’t always the same thing.” I’ll add here that clapbacks are fiery rebuttals. Critique can be multifaceted. Critique can follow a clap-back (ask me how I know :)), so it’s important to discern when there are differences between the two.

Get feedback from people who know a great deal about the topic you are writing about.

Since 2015, I’ve been sharing my writing in spaces where there are women of color who are more established than I am. We are from all walks of life, span multiple fields, and hold the knowledge of quite a few generations. Words cannot describe the joy I feel when someone who knows a great deal about what I’ve written affirms my work. Yet it is also VERY valuable, when they give me that “Now, Sis” talk. They care enough about me to not have me in these streets looking a fool and I’m grateful for that.

Get feedback from people who know you personally!

They are your cheerleaders and advocates. They can help you to ensure that the voice you’ve presented in your work, art, etc. really sounds like you. And if it’s a really good friend, they can also help you to…

Check your intentions for creating.

Sometimes, I have small moments of clarity after a long night’s drive. On one such occasion, I micro-journaled, “Many times, we have already set a conscious or unconscious intention when we communicate i.e. to share information, to express a question, to inspire, to posture, to manage perceptions, etc. It’s okay to check in with and explore those intentions. Because if, at any point, our great, DEEP need is to be lauded as ‘right’ then we’ve likely shut ourselves off from trans-formative dialogue and a possible learning experience.” Understanding why you’ve created or proposed a work in the first place helps.

Finally, understand that some people just won’t understand or appreciate your work and that doesn’t mean you should stop working. (Or as my Mother would say, “Toughen up and carry on.”)

Learn how to filter all of the external feedback that you get. Some of it is useful. Some of it is not. Some of it isn’t worth reading in the first place. There is great temptation to hide or to immediately clap back when we feel our work is misunderstood. However, there is also the opportunity to hone our craft a bit more, learn from others, to exhibit resiliency in moving forward, and most of all… to reap the internal benefits that come from creating.

Since this is a working draft, let me know what you would add to this list! How do you navigate communication & critique?