Monday, 29. April 2013 0:54
Last week I quoted Georgia O’Keefe saying, “I have already settled it for myself so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free.” I then suggested that we all do likewise and free ourselves from depending upon criticism to tell us whether our art was any good or not. But now we have to figure out a way to do that.
Stephen King says that the way to settle it is to have a “trusted reader,” someone who will tell you the truth about your work and upon whose judgment you can depend. Having this feedback then allows you to ignore everyone else; you and your reader know that it’s good, so you can then send the work out into the world. Having a trusted reader is a good idea. Finding such a person is a bit more problematic. King happens to be married to his trusted reader, a solution not necessarily available to everyone.
Since reader implies written art, it might be better to change this person’s title; since this person is offering feedback only to you, the term “personal critic” might be a good choice.
The personal critic has to satisfy a long list of criteria. He/She has to be someone whom you respect, who knows something about art, whose judgment you trust, who is willing to take the time to look at your art and give you an honest, unbiased opinion, and who is able to articulate that opinion. It’s difficult to find a single person who can fulfill all these criteria. And even if you do find such a person, you must then constantly be asking that person to evaluate your art and supply feedback. That’s a lot to ask and can sometimes put a strain on a relationship.
Another choice is to become your own critic. This is more difficult, of course, because you have to essentially become two people: the artist and the critic. You have be able to separate yourself completely from your work so you can evaluate it impartially. That means that you can no longer defend parts of your work that you really like or protect certain things because they are especially meaningful. It means that you look at your work with fresh, objective eyes.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s almost the same procedure that you use for editing that was discussed a while back. The only difference is one of degree. To be a self-critic, you have to be even more removed from the creative process and the ownership of the work. You must be willing to acknowledge weaknesses, to highlight flaws, to target inconsistencies. You have to be able to look at the overall piece and evaluate its worth. You must be willing to declare the whole project a failure if necessary. You must be ruthless.
And you do that exactly the same way you became your own editor. Wait until the work is complete; edit. Put the work away for a while again—the longer the better. Then approach the work as though it were not your own; that may mean pretending someone else did it. As silly as that may sound, it works. You say to yourself, “If someone I don’t know brought this to me and asked for an honest critique, what would I say? Take notes on your answer. Put the notes and the work away again. After a time look again at the work in the light of the notes.
Initially it takes enormous time and energy to do this, but as you practice this procedure, it becomes easier and more automatic. And so long as you are honest with yourself, it should be successful. And if you are successful, you will no longer be dependent on those who offer your praise or criticism. You, like O’Keefe, will have the matter settled for yourself.