The Art of Reacting Well to a Negative Review

Advice for creatives on moving on from a critical comment

Christopher P Jones
6 min readSep 7, 2023

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‘The Duel with the Sword and Dagger’ (1617–20) by Jacques Callot. Etching. 18.5 × 26 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, U.S. Image source The Met

How should creative people react to a bad review? Feeling hurt — hand on dagger — is all too easy, but is there a more useful way to respond?

For most people, the thought of creating something and then sharing it with the world does not, in its inspiration, in its genesis, include the idea that somebody out there is going to knock it down.

In this way, a bad review or a critical comment nearly always comes as a shock, followed by a creeping sense of despondency.

No wonder then that creatives across history have acted in all manner of ways to a bad review — many of them not to be recommended.

Bad Reviews Happen to Everyone

The first response to a bad review or a negative comment is not to panic or lose your rag. Don’t lose your cool.

For instance, don’t do what the 19th-century French painter Édouard Manet did, for whom a bad review was enough to propel him to violence.

When the critic Edmond Duranty wrote an unflattering review of a series of new paintings, the artist was so incensed that he stormed into the café Paris’ Café Guerbois’, slapped the offending commentator across the face and demanded that they met at dawn for a fencing duel.

And so it happened. With swords unsheathed, the pair met on a chilled February morning, with the writer Émile Zola attending Manet as his “second” — a stand in should Manet need one. Only Duranty suffered any sort of injury — a cut to the upper chest — at which point it was felt that honour had been defended and the fight was called off.

Édouard Manet, of course, is not the only artist in history to have received a hostile review. Such experiences pepper the careers of even the greatest artists, from Michelangelo to Georgia O’Keeffe. Writers too, from Albert Camus to Jeanette Winterson, have all had their fair share of hard knocks.

Impression, Sunrise (1872) by Claude Monet. Oil on canvas. 63 × 48 cm. Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris, France. Image source Wikimedia Commons

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