Over the past few weeks, I feel like I’ve been confronted with the idea taking criticism. Presenting a piece of work, whether it’s a photograph, choreography, a film, a painting, or a blog, requires a sense of secure vulnerability that is difficult to acquire. Many people welcome criticism (of the constructive variety) only to freeze up the moment an observer notes something that deviates from their idea. This is something that I’ve been forced to deal with most notably in regards to blogging.
Every time I put a post up, I hope that someone will feel excited, or enraged, enough to respond. Predicting what people will react to is an impossible art, that after years of blogging, I’m still unable to master. Just when I think I’ve come to know certain posters' tastes, they go and surprise me. Through online personas, we can all be as volatile and opinionated as we choose. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a steady, supportive, group of commenters, and can only think of a handful of times where a comment has upset me.
I’m addicted to several blogs, and have noticed an influx recently of drama in the comment sections of many of them. Perhaps most heated of all the genres are those that post music. The very existence of these sites is illegal, prompting a series of “tattling” and stealing material from each other, therefore igniting heated debates. Yet the drama isn’t exclusive to any one type of blogging. The very nature of blogs welcomes commentary from an anonymous peanut gallery. The way the members of that gallery present themselves is something that has always intrigued me.
One of the example essays during my most recent writing class was about the online personas we create. The Internet is one of the few places where sex and status can be eliminated (or at least successfully masked) and therefore everyone’s opinion can (one hopes) carry the same weight. Because of this, we can be scathing anonymous critics without the need for armor. I’ve noticed my own fangs coming out on comment sections of blogs before, simply because I know I’m protected by a screen.
The anonymity of the Internet reached new levels of absurdity (and, okay, entertainment) when Facebook introduced an application known as the “Honesty Box.” The idea is that you can post a question, which your friends can then answer anonymously. You ask, “What do you think of my new hot boyfriend?” They respond, “His face reminds me of a flaming bag of shit.” But you’ll never know who said it. You get the idea.
Whereas this type of anonymity should make the phrase “take it with a grain of salt” to a whole new level, I find that anonymous critique often affects people more heavily. With the internet (and applications like Facebook) one doesn't always get the "who" and "why" with which we process critique. Therefore, one is left hypothesizing. Tone of voice is an invaluable tool, as becomes clear when attempting to formulate a written response; something meant to be loving can sound condescending, something said with disdain might seem cheery.
As a ballet dancer, I’m accustomed to taking criticism. If ever there was an opinionated group of professionals, it’s the ladies and gentlemen who don pointe shoes and dance belts (perhaps that’s what makes us cranky) for a living. Yet so often, they can give it but they can’t take it.
For most of my life I’ve braved the storm of critique decently, and put myself out there on a daily basis to be judged. Critique is an essential part of any art form, yet it’s perhaps the most feared portion of the creative process. With any analysis comes the question of whether or not to take the advice you’ve been given. How much weight will you allow it to carry?
When one reaches a certain level in the professional dance world, a certain amount of self-correction is needed; it’s one of the tools we are imbued with from the onset. That being said, critique is still something we rely on heavily. As a writer, I go through several editors who (lovingly) nit-pick my work before it hits the newsstand. There is no doubt that the work becomes better (hopefully) because of this process, but finding the balance of listening to criticism while maintaining my own artistic vision is a difficult balance to master.
Food for thought:
Is there any way to become better at taking criticism?
How much weight should anonymous opinions hold in today’s digital age where everyone’s a critic?
Can valuable critiques be absorbed from anonymous person, or does it require knowing someone to be able to really process their criticism?