It is part of the human condition to dislike criticism even when it is delivered constructively. Many people will go to any lengths to avoid criticism altogether but as an artist who is in many cases bearing their soul and talents to an audience, this feedback (positive or hurtful), is simply an integral aspect of your career choice. It takes an emotionally aware person to really step back and look objectively at what is being said (no matter how it is being delivered), to assess whether it is true or not and how they will manage their response. If the feedback is negative but holds true, can you use that information (which is valuable), to edit your actions and grow? If it is negative but untrue (no value), can you discard it without expending too much emotion and perhaps even use it in a positive way?
Criticism and the Arts have been ‘often uncomfortable’ bedfellows for thousands of years, probably since the ancients were painting on cave walls and I can’t see this changing. As famed french poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire was quoted as saying, “It is from the womb of art, that criticism was born”. You don’t need a degree or any formal qualifications to be critical, we all do it every day. I think the important thing to remember when giving or receiving either positive or negative feedback, is that our criticism is usually subjective and dependent on the position from which our opinions are being made.
In the not too distant past, music critics were almost exclusively employed by magazines, newspapers and other periodicals and whilst there was probably never any real qualifications required, many of them were actually qualified journalists who were also musicians or had a real passion for music as an art form. Bands would send them press kits including their new album or single, they would attend album launches, concerts, interview artists and write professional articles encapsulating their experience with the new material. Yes, their literary work was generally still subjective and their tone would depend on the writers personal taste and experience, however they were still professional writers, usually musicians and their articles would have to get through the editor to make print.
Today however, due to the increasing number and popularity of music blogs on the net, literally anyone can be a music critic. I think this has both negative and positive impacts. Yes, anyone now has the ability to share their opinion on a new release with the world and due to the subjective nature of criticism who is to say that their opinion is no less important than a professional musician or journalist? But many of them are writing about ‘what they like’ personally, not actually analysing the material from a musicianship perspective. As renowned culture journalist(2013), points out: “The role of the critic is to contextualize, to generate an understanding of how our world is being reflected in popular culture and how that reflection compares to what came before. The critic helps the listener understand what they’re listening to and how it fits into music’s big picture.” There is a situation now whereby there is just so much information and opinion out there that it is hard to get a definitive idea of what a new album or artist is ‘actually’ like, other than hearing someone push their personal opinion.
Now if that opinion is favorable for the artist, well that’s great (for the artist), however when a review on an artists work is being delivered by someone that may not have any knowledge of their style or genre or specific skill set and how this relates to the music of the past and present, then it really lacks substance and value in my mind. This matters little as the internet has provided a platform for literally anyone with a computer and an opinion, the ability (and right), to say whatever they want about an artists work, favorable or derogatory. Creatives as a collective have to accept this truth as part of their lot and learn to negotiate criticisms’ omnipresence in their professional life as we all must in our personal lives. It is always imperative to acknowledge that often people’s criticism of you or your work is due to their own issues or experiences. If after objective, rational, reflection you realise that this is indeed the case, discard their feedback without taking it too personally.
As the chair of the graduate program in Art Writing at the School of Visual Arts in New York David Levi Strauss (2012), eloquently points out: “Why does art need criticism? Because it needs something outside of itself as a place of reflection, discernment, and connection with the larger world. Art for art’s sake is fine, if you can get it. But then the connection to the real becomes tenuous, and the connection to the social disappears. If you want to engage, if you want discourse, you need criticism”.
Zemler, E (2013). Are Music Critics Pointless? Retrieved from : http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/earshot/are-music-critics-pointless-opinion-431879
Strauss, D.S (2012). From Metaphysics To Invective: Art Criticism as if it Still Matters* Retrieved from: http://brooklynrail.org/2012/05/art/from-metaphysics-to-invective-art-criticism-as-if-it-still-matters