The Importance of Being Critical – An Introspective

by Hani Yassine
The Lance – Arts & Culture Writer

You can’t help but respect the theatre actor. Whether you’re turning the pages on an intriguing novella or mastering a boss fight in a video game, the one aspect that holds most art forms together is their liberties in preparedness. The product has the luxury of being fine-tuned and polished before the first person engages in it, and once it’s finished it is merely a matter of presenting it to an audience through distribution channels. As a result, audience reception becomes something you can keep at length, or totally ignore if you so much desire it. Theatre does not have the same luxury since being in front of a live audience is part of the medium’s fabric. You have actors performing in an interactive environment where there is no benefit of a second-take. Thus, the feedback loop between performers and the audience is immediate, and while music concerts also fall into this, musicians at least have the benefit of studio recordings.

Admittedly being involved in the Focus photography exhibit was considerably less taxing, however, it was an exciting and surreal exercise in seeing your work received in a live environment for what was the very first time. At the risk of running into self-indulgence, there was some gratification in seeing the works of Selina McCallum, Ayo Diggs and myself be celebrated, and in some cases sold. In the days leading up to the event, which occurred at the CAW Centre on Nov. 15 and 16, there was worry of people being apathetic to the event or students simply being too busy with projects to take a glance. I’ve covered art shows in the past where barely anyone has shown up, so it was nerve-wracking to have the script flipped. Partly because I have never felt comfortable having my work up on a public display, but also because I find most positive reception to come off as disingenuous. On one end you deal with an amplified version of being your own worst critic, but you also wonder if there’s some credence to this notion.

When it comes to art, especially those aspiring, nobody even seems to express the thoughts truly in their mind out of fear of hurting the other person. From poetry readings to film screenings, I’ve gone to art shows that were quite dreadful. Yet applause is still thrown, and praises are still showered like an open secret never told out of fear of causing conflict. It is understandable to a degree. You don’t want to shatter something that had some heart and soul placed into it. All the same, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, and part of producing art is the willingness to hear criticism, the acknowledgement that there is still plenty of work ahead of what you have already done.

This is not to say that every criticism should be taken seriously, for there are some that are based on a person’s set expectations which can be unreasonable. Other times they can be just plain dumb. Instead, it is in the detailed, constructive feedback where the possibilities of your work growing can arise. Among the feedback I received during the exhibit was when a woman said she did not like two of my photos. She liked the ideas behind both, but that their execution was left to be desired. It was the most refreshing moment I had with the exhibit. It had little to do with the positive or negative reaction, and more to do with someone speaking their mind in a way that was honest and constructive. If everyone showered praise towards one another, there would be little encouragement to improve which could lead to a standard of mediocrity. Art’s value is in the eye of the beholder, but criticism can serve as encouragement towards someone to do better, at least when it’s done right. By right I mean constructive, and by constructive, I mean going beyond saying “That was good, I liked it” or “That was bad. Give up life please.”

To this day, I still have trouble calling myself a photographer, and wouldn’t remotely consider myself an artist. With this said, the exhibit was strange as it was sobering. I try to avoid seeing my work once I’m done with it, but the reception of the event provided some affirmation that I at least have some idea of what I’m doing, all while being taken down enough of a peg to want to outdo my previous efforts. Criticism should never be taken as gospel, but outside perspectives can prove to be essential. It’s never so much about bringing a person down, but instead highlighting ways they can be up.

But the only way to do that is to speak your mind, to be truthful and detailed in what you have to say.

 

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