Even though your work will be discussed by someone else, this doesn’t mean that you should be passive. Strive to create agency in feedback situations: by preparing for the situation (the previous point), by anticipating the course of the discussion, and by knowing that in the end it will be you who will analyze, and thus judge the feedback’s quality.
Consider the following steps:
- Record the conversation: Recording the conversation lets you relive and review it at your convenience. This is easily done with your smartphone or tablet, and doesn’t require dedicated equipment or microphones. Before you record anything, make sure to ask for permission; be prepared to explain your intention: to review the feedback, and to more efficiently progress forward. You can even mention your nervousness, which sometimes results in you forgetting what was said.
If you can’t record, consider writing down your thoughts during the feedback session – this is something that is always possible, and doesn’t need anyone’s permission. You can even announce it upfront. If you feel embarrassed, or simply aren’t good at writing while listening, ask someone else to take notes for you. Instruct them what to look out for, so that they can focus on what you’re curious about. If you can’t record and don’t have anyone who can take notes for you, then write down your memories right after the feedback session is over.
Understand that recording and note-taking can also act as potent filter to proactively shield you from weird, imbalanced behaviors: awareness of being recorded can create a sort of “invisible authority”, a supporting power that might otherwise not be present.
- Explain yourself: Use your prior preparations to now give a quick intro and overview on what you do, and how you understand your work. Explain your references, preferences and frustrations; and ask any specific questions that you might have. How you present your work has the power to influence the feedbacker’s focus. Use this to get feedback on what you most want.
- Listen: After having done your preparations and introductions, it’s time to let your work speak for itself, to see where it takes the feedbacker. This is an exciting moment that might have seen you worried, giddy, and maybe even sleepless the previous night. Now listen as your work becomes a platform for someone’s thoughts. Learn to listen neutrally, without taking offense or pride. Don’t antedate the feedbacker’s opinion by interrupting them. Refrain from being dominant or shy; let there be space for the work to speak. This can be especially hard when the feedbacker takes a lot of time without saying anything, or if the work demands a lot of time (as in a performance or video work). Trust in the work you created, and listen.
- Expect misunderstandings: Since everyone is and interprets differently, your work often won’t immediately be seen according to your intentions. That’s normal, and the reason why you want external feedback: to increase your knowledge on how to create work that’s concise enough to evoke what you want it to, without requiring your contextualization. It’s OK if, in your apprenticeship phase, your work is deemed to be plagiative, lacking art historical knowledge, etc. Don’t worry about these things – they are the reason why you wanted feedback.
- Expect harshness: Even though art is a forum for highly individual content, the art world’s protagonists aren’t free of being judgemental. Even mellow, kind people can misunderstand your intentions, or might have an extremely bad day. In the worst case, you might receive feedback from someone intending to hurt you; for all these reasons, consider shielding yourself mentally from abuse: don’t believe everything that’s said. Don’t transfer authority over your work in general, and specifically not to someone who discusses it insensitively.
If worse comes to worse, consider asking questions like these: “How can you know so surely that the work isn’t good? Who defines what’s ‘good’? How can I know that I should listen to you? What would happen if I don’t? Couldn’t worthwhile work emerge from pursuing my voice further? If I would pursue your path only, wouldn’t this create a copy of your work?“