On Criticism and The Uncanny Valley of Earnestness

Leah Reich’s post “The Uncanny Valley of Earnestness” summarizes the 2013 XOXO festival,recently held in Portland. The whole post is worth reading, but these paragraphs on the value of criticism were particularly good:

Then one day, someone came in and told me my photo wasn’t very good. They weren’t particularly nice about it, and it stung. I let the comment sit there, and someone else – friends with the first person – said something similar, but in a more specific way. Then a third person, someone I admired so deeply it still makes my guts ache, told me what I was doing was okay but that it was about time I pushed myself. And I realized something crucial:

They knew I could be better. They believed in me. They wanted to see me get there.

That ache in my gut is going to be familiar to all of you. It’s not the ache that’s desperate for likes or hearts or little stars. It’s the ache that wants someone to help you and to approve of what you’ve done because their work and their approval mean something to you. Because a “yeah, that’s it, that’s pretty good, that’s the right direction” or even a “this is getting there, but think about why your composition isn’t working over here” feels like it’s been earned.

So as it turns out, The Uncanny Valley of Earnestness is where people can be excited about stuff. And here’s a secret: Sometimes being excited about something means not always being positive.

This is a smart take:

Criticism is not negativity. Criticism is not saying you’re bad. Criticism is – it should be – a way of saying: I think you’re good. I know you can do better. I think you can figure out a way how.