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Thinking 'bout: Criticism


"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends."

--Anton Ego, Ratatouille

My quotes are usually meant to be funny, but this one from Ratatouille is the reason why it's my favorite Pixar movie. I get a lot of crap for that, but I love this sentiment. Negative criticism is easy and fun, like gossip. I also fully endorse critical and unfavorable feedback: I think it sharpens art. But, I also think it can kill it.

Last week, over a million people signed a petition to re-do the last season of Game of Thrones. Sure, lots of them are bots and nothing will ever happen with this, but it got attention. I think petitions and fan-fire like this are just mean, and ultimately bad for art.

This post isn't about GoT, but yes, the final season wasn't great. That being said, I can't imagine how I would feel as any contributor of the show to face that much hate and backlash. I can, however, imagine what it feels like to be a small time creative and to be terrified to see just how bad criticism can get. Petitions and widespread negative criticism like this can paralyze artists. Some would argue that the tough will persist and keep creating, and hopefully, that's true.

But why does art have to be difficult? Why should we make it difficult by creating a hostile, entitled environment for it? Why can't we just say "oh, well that wasn't what I was hoping for" and move on?

I don't see a lot of benefit in shaming a creative team. Yes, standards are important, but I would rather have more art in the world than only the art of the "strong."

Personally, criticism has been "a tale of two voice over jobs" for me lately. I recently booked two gigs, both alike in dignity. I got them from sending cold emails, both were roughly the same price, and both required retakes.

One job, the client absolutely loved. I was perfect for the part, retakes were all just script changes, and they like it so much that they might make it a series of posts, presumably featuring my voice and character. An all around win.

The other job, they didn't dig it. They chose my voice from my reel for a "badass army voice." The most "badass" I've ever been in my life was when I pretended to drink from a flask in a high school production of Grease. I can attempt "badass"- and I did (after four other retakes), but it's not my signature read. Nothing about my reel says "badass," and I was likely miscast.

Of those two jobs, the only one I can think about is the second. I hate that I wasn't "good" enough or "right" for the part. It's digging into my self worth when it really shouldn't be. That's just not my voice.

But that's how it is. Negative criticism, for me, always resonates deeper and longer than positive- even when it shouldn't. Even when I know better. It's closer to my self worth than positive feedback, and despite my last post encouraging that we all be "less precious," I can't help but be hurt when my best isn't good enough.

All criticism, therefore, should come from a place of promotion of art and creativity. If you love something, tell the creator. Tell them exactly what you loved. Tell everyone exactly what you love. Emulate exactly what you love and make more, lovely art. If you hate something, take a breath. Count to ten. Then name the top things, specifically, that could be better. Still find the stuff you love- tell them to do more of that. There's always more art to be had, even if this art wasn't great art.

So, I've been thinking 'bout criticism...

Criticize, but don't pile on. Standards are important, but never more important than the attempt of art itself.

If you're into the blog, check out my podcast with Kerri Shannon, Gettin' Biggie with It. We interview a new member of the Baltimore Improv Group every Thursday! Get it where you get your podcasts!