The Blog

| June 30, 2016

Number 174

Criticize vs Motivate…Discuss

“I would have done it this way,” she said. “I don’t remember asking,” I thought.

In contrast to that, one of my favorite critiques happened in my senior year of college. I’d been assigned an album cover design for Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side by a teacher for whom I had enormous respect. I was proud of my work on the assignment that utilized a dramatically cropped black and white photography of a strong-jawed  man, sporting a half-shaved-off beard and slightly pink-tinted lips. The typography was quiet and tasteful, so as not to distract…and it looked nice.

My teacher took one long look and said, in the calmest, kindest voice, enriched by a heavy middle-European accent, “Beautiful…but…Walk on the Wild Side…type does not walk…type is not wild…type is not on the side…..probably, you do this over.”

Lesson learned, concisely and clearly, with no bruised ego, no raising of voices, no scolding. Instead, an observation based in logic and experience, delivered with appreciation for the effort that had been made. I understood the criticism and respected the source, so I was motivated to do better, consider a new viewpoint and earn his positive response.

Criticism’s a funny thing. Well, actually, it’s often not funny at all because most people suck at it. I think you always have to consider the end results and goals you’re trying to achieve. Also you have to understand and respect the person on the receiving end and not talk down to them or dismiss them…unless that’s your goal…to make them feel irrelevant or stupid…in which case motivation is pretty much out of the question.

Earning respect…that’s the trick…I’m thinking out loud now, or in print, as the case may be. Unless you’ve earned the respect of the person you’re critiquing, anything you say is pretty much falling on deaf ears, but ears, nonetheless, that’ll get a little bruised and pinned back by a harsh delivery from which nothing can be learned.

I have my core support group of valued and trusted critics – the Muse and a few others – and I depend on them. Over the years, though, I’ve also often had people, people I don’t know well, people with good intentions I like to think, who feel very comfortable offering their criticism of my art, or writing or appearance…whatever…when, in fact, it hasn’t been solicited. I try to smile pleasantly, keep my eyebrow-raising to a minimum, turn down the volume and begin listening to an internal rendition of Vocalise-Pavane by Fauré until their lips stop moving. Then I respond with something like,”Interesting. Let me think about that.”

Intelligent criticism is valuable and vital to growth in any field of endeavor. Empty criticism is counterproductive and hurtful…or at the very least, time-consuming. If you have a point to make and you have the right to make it or, even better, it’s been solicited, then take the responsibility of your actions seriously. If you’re on the receiving end of criticism, solicited or not, always remember, if they could do it better, they would…but they didn’t.

 

There is only one way to avoid criticism:
do nothing, say nothing and be nothing.
-Aristotle

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