Saturday, October 19, 2013

Dealing with critics, and how to critique others.

I can literally talk about all of this stuff for hours because it branches out into so many directions, both industry related and psychologically, but I'll try my hardest not to go off on a tangent or repeat myself.  This can be a very touchy subject for many people and that is because everyone has an ego, but most people are in denial of it's stranglehold on them.  Surprise surprise, but I'm talking to every one of you, myself included.  There is a very thin line between self confidence and ego, and that line is more blurry than Ray Charles's eye sight.  We all have an ego that needs to be stroked in one form or another.  Your kids need to be told they are good, your coach may pump you up to build your confidence, your girlfriend may want to be told she is pretty, actors and musicians need elaborate award ceremonies for their work, politicians lust for votes, we buy expensive things to fit in or stand out, and I myself may get an ego boner if you tell me you like my writings.  What gives your ego a slippery reach around boils down to that feeling of self worth, which stems from the accolades of others.  It's our primitive urge to be loved.  That thin blurry line also separates love and hate, so when you aren't careful about how you express your opinions on someone else's art, they may feel like you hate them personally, and can start to hate you in retaliation (or merely in self defense of their fragile ego).  Your own self confidence should help you decipher what is hatred, and what is personal opinion.

No one seems to be more sensitive than the creative individual, regardless of their medium of creation.  Most creative people get their motivation from suffering and turmoil, and there is usually a lot of pain in their work.  They spend countless hours refining their project into a sort of diary that reflects their soul, and is their own way of conveying their message to the public.  NEWS FLASH!  Many artists are socially awkward, and it can take a lot to get them to be extroverted and share their life's diary full of hurt and anguish.  They are thinkers and outcasts who are sending a message, hoping to connect with like minded individuals, but not everyone is meant to receive that message.

To the listener or viewer it's just a simple song or painting, and being the consumers that we are, we have many outlets to window shop and find what we would like to purchase.  We put a price tag on something that is essentially priceless to the creator.  That doesn't mean that any one art is technically better than another, it just means that some art resonates with some people, but not others.  No artist should take offense or think it is a personal bashing of their character, but that is how we are all programmed to react when the things we use to define ourselves are bruised.

If the creators aren't merely socially awkward, they may just be downright crazy, and creating is the only thing that brings them mental balance and peace.  Some of the most brilliant artists are fucking nuts.  The mere act of creating, through suffering, then receiving affection and admirers is a sort of healing process which curbs the insanity and eases the pain.  To the sensitive artist, a negative comment could bring their whole world crashing down.  It can bring the crazy back, or stir up those awful suppressed memories, and may even cause the person to lash out if you make them feel like a failure.  It is a defense mechanism that we all have a sprinkle of, but being aware of it may help us realize that we don't need to always waste our time defending ourselves.

Sometimes when we talk negatively about someone's creation, it is an ego boost in itself, and we need to check ourselves on our selfish intentions at times.  It shouldn't makes us feel stronger about ourselves to talk down on others, and even stronger when we get a reaction out of them.  That's kindergarden shit.  Technically we have no right to voice our opinion on art at all since it is a reflection of life in general, even down to the mundane and mindless side of life.  On the flip side though, you should never lie to your friends if they ask you how you feel about their piece, and they may really be open to your expertise, but just be sensitive about how you talk to them about their art.  It is always good to start with a compliment about what you like about the piece first, then ease into the areas that can use improvement, but don't just act like a know it all to feel cool about yourself.  That goes to both the creator and the critic.  Sure we may get on our high horse and say that Miley Cyrus needs to stop twerking for the good of humanity, but she isn't leading our children to kill millions of people now is she?  I personally think the Miley thing is brilliant in it's ignorance, especially as a marketing stunt, but that is an entirely different article all together.

Artists should stay humble yet confident and realize that not everyone is going to enjoy their work, and they can react to the criticism in various ways.  There are usually three typical ways we tend to react to criticism.  We either flat out ignore it, we listen and learn from it, or we listen and lash out.

If artists are hurt by criticism, maybe it's because it brings up insecurities in themselves.  If you create something, and you don't truly think it is finished, or as good as you can do, then fucking destroy it!  At least don't show it to anyone unless you are asking for help or direction.  If you lie to yourself and say that it is perfect, when you don't truly believe it is, of course you are going to get mad when others call your bluff and say it's subpar.  If you wanted your project to be finished so badly that you cut corners and convinced yourself that it was finished, and you are upset that you were unable to fool others into thinking so as well, you can't really get mad can you?

"How dare they say my work isn't awesome!!!"  Well, do you personally think everything is amazing?  I sure as hell don't.  I'm insanely opinionated and picky with what I like.  I may even flat out say the art is utter shit and say the worst things imaginable about it.  I'm not saying I have a right to, but maybe it is my own insecurities showing.  Maybe it's my own passion clashing with someone else's passion and we are like two positively charged ions that just refuse to connect.  Whatever it is, I've come to learn that there is no need to violently defend yourself against critique.  Either ignore it, or learn from it and never release anything until it is truly ready.

Great art takes time and patience.  The people that connect to your art will support you and your vision regardless of what others think.  If you fly off the handle and retaliate with negative intent towards your critics, you are just fueling their fire, and showing weakness.  Just go on doing what you want and be indifferent to any criticism.  If you are truly self confident in your work, and everything was created exactly the way you intended, then fuck what anyone thinks.  Your art should be done for yourself first, then you can worry about whether others will enjoy it, or if you can make a living off of your talents.  Be smart and realize that if someone talks negatively about your work, that it probably just isn't their vibe, and eventually someone will ride your wavelength.  No need to be an asshole towards your critics, or even give them a reaction at all, and you damn sure better not let it discourage you from continuing to work hard.  The ones who have thick skin are the ones that truly excel in the end.  Those are the ones who probably don't even need to read this article because they already know it to be common knowledge.

Others people who succeed in this industry are the ones who actually absorb the criticism like a sponge at an adult video arcade.  The smart ones know that life is an endless journey of knowledge, and you will never stop learning.  The day you stop learning is the day you may as well just keel over and die.  You can learn a lot if you just hear people out sometimes.  You may not agree with it all, but some of it may help you think differently and improve your craft.  You may get inspired by a difference of opinion, or get that honest opinion that all the brown nosers are too afraid to tell you. The truly talented people can be masters of many styles and diversify their craft to resonate with many different walks of life.  After all, as an entertainer, you are essentially a juggling clown to make the kiddies laugh.  If you want to create your art the way you want, you do have to bend ever so slightly to cater to more people so you can continue to fund what you create.  I'm not saying you need to sell out, but if you are looking to make a living off of your product, you need to have happy customers.  If you are able to find that balance, you can open up some minds with your more intricate pieces.  Even Aphex Twin has some mediocre shit that I personally feel was just a brilliant scheme to lure the passer bys into his more twisted plan, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

If your one and only goal is to get rich, then you should honestly just give up completely, or just follow every opinion until the project isn't even yours.  Just let the masses water down your craft so you can live the American dream.  Go ahead and appeal to everyone across the board.  Don't ruffle any feathers, be vanilla.  Overconsumption will get your ego all the cocaine filled blow jobs it needs.  Create art that has absolutely no heart or definitive message.  Create something so bland and mediocre that it offends no one and makes no one feel any particular way, or think about anything.  Create something that is going to have a blanket appeal on everyone and you will be forgotten in a matter of months.

You won't really stand out if you aren't pissing someone off and confusing others to some degree, and you are probably boring in bed too.  Be thought provoking and give your audience credit.  You don't always need to spell it out for everyone.  That's like a comedian who feels the need to explain why his jokes are funny.  Let the people fill in the blanks on their own.  That's how you connect with your fan base on a deeper level.  Give them a coded message and see what they do with it.  The artists that are thought of as crazy, and eccentric will eventually be regarded as brilliant and maintain longevity.  They are the ones who will have die hard fans and supporters, and will prevail on their own merits in this meat grinder industry.  I hate to say "Think outside of the box", because merely uttering that cliche is thinking inside the box, but you do need to realize that if you don't stand out in some way, you will be overshadowed by the millions who want to take your place.

All it takes these days to get the sheep to follow is to dress up as a shepherd, so with enough money and marketing, you can easily lead the weak minded to slaughter.  If your goal is to sell coal as diamonds, then go ahead.  You can easily pay people to love you and buy that shiny new mansion.  There are even confidentiality agreements that state that if you work with an artist, and you are fired, that you are not allowed to speak negatively about that artist.  It is not merely a non-disclosure agreement that protects business secrets, but an agreement that protects an artists public reputation.  Some artists even make people who attend their personal parties sign those same agreements.  So in essence, you can be a steaming pile of monkey shit, but with enough money, you can make yourself look immaculate to the public.  Way to keep it 100 pimpin!

If I'm not being clear here, I'm trying to say that there is a difference between having a massive fan base of trend hoppers who will just abandon you when the next thing hits, or having die hard fans who will follow you to the ends of the Earth.  It takes true brilliance, and a desire for something deeper to create art that picks off those few black sheep who can read your diary and find hope in themselves, knowing that there are others out there just like them.  Think of what your intentions are and you will have a better understanding of how to respond to critique.

When I personally criticize music or art, it is usually due to either their laziness (and I feel they can do much better), or when I feel like they are not genuine in their intentions (usually due to following money, and not sending a thought provoking message).  Don't get it twisted, I also love mindless and simple music at times, but only if it is packaged as such.  If you try to sell me dog food and say it is sushi, then of course you will see a clear view of my middle finger in your cornea.  There is really no way of proving that an artist is being lazy or synthetic though, that's why it all boils down to opinion, and everyone has one, but that doesn't make everyone an asshole.  At least when I critique, I elaborate exactly why I dislike something.  I also do the same when complimenting.  It adds weight behind your opinion to be specific and educated on the subject matter or else neither positive or negative comments really have any weight in the first place.

Sometimes you need to reject someone and their art when you are the customer, and you have every right to do so.  If an artist's ego is too big, then they may lash out when you deny them a booking at your show, or you don't buy their art, or promote them on your website etc.  As I said before, certain art resonates with certain people, and when you purchase art, you are also using that piece as a reflection of yourself.  If you don't like a painting, you wouldn't buy it and hang it on your wall would you?  So when you do need to reject someone, just try to be as sensitive as possible.  There is no clear way of how to do that without hurting someone's feelings, but a little encouragement alongside the rejection couldn't hurt.

So on that note, go out there and encourage people when you can, because it takes fifty compliments for someone to recover from that one hurtful review.  Tell someone exactly what it is that you particularly like about their work, instead of a mere thumbs up.  A genuine, well articulated compliment goes a long way.  The same goes for constructive advice.  We need more underground artists to see that they have our support even when they fail, or just haven't quite hit that pinnacle yet, or else they will just sell out their talents so they can eat dinner.  These are the first steps towards revolution and we need to encourage each other today more than ever before.  We'll probably still be poor, but may go down in history as the generation that changed everything, instead of sitting here complacent.

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