Recently I watched a dear friend of mine accomplish a great creative feat. Directing and starring in a show for the first time - they did both brilliantly.
In the pamphlet they wrote this - "I've never been one to hold back on my opinions about the creative output of others.... But I also knew that it has become all too easy to criticise without actually doing something creative yourself. I wanted to put my own neck on the line."
I find this just absolutely admirable.
I work predominantly in theatre as a writer and performer, and creative criticism can be a great gift: an opportunity to see your work through another person's eyes, to shine a light on any potholes, to reveal previously unseen strengths and then build on them. Through these insights you can extend your reach and, hopefully, bring more people towards your work.
During the first project I ever did a friend told me to seek out those who you can trust to give a clear reflection of your work. It will never be to everyone's liking - nothing is. One person's Marmite is another person's... Marmite. You can not shape a thing in every direction, if everyone comes at your work with a hammer and chisel it will be chipped away to nothing. So find those peers and friends whose opinion you value, who you can trust to offer criticism as guidance. When you are lost in your own project, these people can be the North Star in a sky that, before now, only you could see.
Theatre is such a subjective world - this is one of it’s greatest strengths. It does not have to please everyone. It is an open invitation to an emotional theme park. Ride the Waltzer and feel something. Ideally not nausea, but you can’t please everyone. You can only make something that you believe in, that you would watch, that you will be proud to stand beside when, inevitably, someone takes a potshot. Because while there are those whose creative criticism comes as a challenge for you to make better work… always there will also be those itching to deliver their opinion like a kick to the back of the knees, just for the pleasure of watching you fall. To raze you to the ground then stand among the ruins like a Godzilla.
And once down it can sometimes be tempting to stay down. To catalogue, forever, the moment you hit the floor and Godzilla stepped on you. And with each passing moment you sink, until eventually there is no getting out. I have felt this way many times over, it is never any less of a blow. It always stinks if someone doesn't like your work, worse if they put those feelings into print, and not everyone has the support network to encourage them to get back up. So I therefore hope I am careful with my own words, because knocking others down does not make you taller, but simply ends with everyone on their knees.
And when I am the one down on the floor, I tune into the voices I value.... Those I would willingly shape my work around. I look for a nod from them that I am going in the right direction. That maybe, despite the blows, I was always heading that way.
It is true that the only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing, and possibly even then someone will get a word in. So I welcome a world full of creative hits and misses, where people throw their cards on the table and risk a little criticism. I welcome the inspiration that comes from those who have the courage to try. And if your work sails off course, welcome those thoughtful, valid and valuable opinions that reflect the destination you hoped for, from those who want you to get there.
Criticism a tool, and not a weapon. Criticism the faint stars of the Little Dipper, guiding you north.