Everyone’s a critic. It takes maturity for anyone to receive criticism well.
In my spare time I triple as a movie/music critic.
There’s something instructional about watching a movie or listening to a music album that you’ve had the opportunity of working on behind the scenes. Watching a production come together, then watching the same production come alive, either on a screen or on a CD, is like being part of the universe.
Okay. That might be an exaggeration, but it’s an amazing feeling.
Sometimes, however, it’s a feeling that can interfere with the objectivity that should come with critiquing a work of art. Sometimes, and because art evokes emotions and such, you find yourself talking as a fan or hater instead of being objective. What I have learnt to do over time is to enjoy it – movie, album, book, whatever – as a fan first, and then step back, distance myself from all my feelings and emotions and listen or watch all over again. Second time around, I’m watching as a critic.
What I’ve also come to understand, especially since I started putting out my own work, is that creative endeavours are more personal than almost anything else. In other words, writers, filmmakers, artists – people who do creative work – for the most part, are really sensitive when it comes to their stuff. So, usually their first reaction to criticism is to shut down and become defensive or even offended. It takes a huge measure of experience, maturity and understanding, and probably a million other things to detach oneself from one’s work – enough to appreciate honest criticism.
And that’s another important thing – being able to sieve through all sorts of feedback to know who’s being objective and who just doesn’t like the work. In navigating those highly treacherous waters, you might be nasty to someone who means well just because they didn’t present their argument properly, in tone and in content.
So I’m going to divide this piece into two: giving and receiving criticism.
Giving criticism is a huge responsibility, especially if you’re in a position of authority when you have the privilege of having people hang on to your words out of respect. It’s always instructive to understand the motivation behind a work before critiquing it.
Two rap giants, Nas and Jay Z, were at it several years ago, bad-mouthing each other on records. Lyrically, Nas is the better rapper and he established his dominance over Jay once and for all on his scathing record, Ether. Some sentimentalists, however, say Jay won because he’s richer than Nas.
That’s just ignorance. Even Jay, when he was going at Nas, didn’t mention wealth because he understood that it’s not a basis of winning these sorts of battles. Anyone, and I repeat, anyone can get money. The question is, is Nas really after money?
The point is – you cannot use money as a bar between two people when one of them is seen as not that interested in it. Inspiration and motivation are factors.
Another common mistake critics make is comparing an artist’s work to his past one(s). How does that kind of attitude leave space for growth and evolution? Aren’t human beings supposed to grow and change and become better or different? It’s important to understand the “why” of something before judging it. And one more thing. Works are supposed to be critiqued; not the person.
A lot of fights have started because critics don’t know the difference between a person and their work. There’s no way one can objectively review someone’s work without understanding that. Writing about a subject doesn’t make me that. I should be able to walk in shoes other than mine.
I have touched a bit on receiving criticism. And I will again. As I said before, creative people are usually overly protective of their work – and with good reason. However, there’s no use in being defensive. If your work is put out there for public consumption, you must understand that not everybody will like it. Not all of them will have good reasons either.
A creator must learn to filter everything they hear. Not all praise is sincere, not all bashing is hate. As a very smart man once told me, balance is key.