Blog / 2023 / Mistake #12: Being Afraid of Feedback

November 29, 2023

This year, my art career turned twenty, and, to celebrate, I’ve been talking about mistakes I’ve made in the last two decades, things like publishing art that’s not my best. It may seem like a strange way to honor this important artiversary, but, if I had to point to one reason why I’m still making art after all this time, it’s that I refused to let these everyday mistakes take me down.

Today’s installment of the Goof-Up Gala is all about the importance of making yourself open to other people’s ideas about your art, a follow-up to the post about how to avoid letting other people shape your work, because it’s all a matter of degrees. If you’re people pleasing in your art, you should really stop, but you also shouldn’t go to the other extreme and cut yourself off entirely from your audience.

Which is why I love the SCORE program so much. This non-profit organization offers free one-on-one business mentoring to help small business owners in the US. The acronym stands for Service Corps of Retired Executives, and that’s exactly what they are, which is to say that almost none of them are artists.

I usually go into meetings with a new SCORE mentor with a list of questions about things I’m struggling with at the moment. For example, in 2020, when I was working on leaving social media, I asked things like: How do you see social media shifting currently? Do your prefer to engage with art IRL, on artists’ sites, or on social media? Have you ever purchased an original artwork from an artist you don’t know personally? How did you find that artist?

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Ideally a SCORE mentor should help you over the course of several years, getting to know your business. But, until recently, SCORE’s seeming inability to take fine art seriously meant that I just used the service to get a hit of feedback from someone who didn’t care about my feelings. But Fran changed all that.

“Emotionally charged. Bright but with a dark undercurrent of pathos.”

She wasn’t just describing the fishy painting shown in the video above: she was talking about my entire oeuvre. Fran’s words ricocheted around my heart, raising my pulse and making me sweat. With the exception of “bright,” these weren’t terms I’d have used, but I could see what she meant.

That’s when I knew I could trust her. Fran had thought about my art. She was invested.

flying fish weighed down by an anchor, surrealist art by Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
Trying to Be Better
acrylic on panel
24 x 12 inches

Seeing my work through Fran’s eyes isn’t always fun, but it is fascinating. Though her expertise comes from outside the art world, she doesn’t pigeonhole me into some flat stereotype of The Artist. She pays attention to what I’m trying to do and what my choices mean to me, and she never prescribes default fixes that I could find in a book about marketing.

All that said, I suspect that, if I’d met Fran before I’d talked to a dozen other SCORE mentors, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate her curiosity. Because it may take a certain amount of nerve to receive feedback, but that nerviness is a skill. You can train yourself to appreciate thoughtful critiques of your work, and I recommend doing just that.

flying fish painting
detail of Trying to Be Better

This painting is part of Everything’s Fine, a series that I’m in the process of turning into a coloring book—with the help of all the amazing people who supported the Kickstarter for it.

The original has already sold, but you can buy prints and other pretty things here in my print shop.

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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