Looking for an honest rejection: Criticism isn't so bad, so long as you know who's doing it
When it comes to feedback, be it on an art show or a new haircut, there is always an overwhelming pull to only hear the negative. Falling back on that tired cliché that it's just easier to believe the bad things in the world, those who want to make art simply need to grow a thicker skin. Art is meant to be shared in the public arena, and that means it will be scrutinized, speculated, celebrated and judged no matter what.
Moving in-between fine lines of honesty and brutality, criticism and whining, and previews and nepotism, when there is a hint (or a smack) of rejection or negativity, what should be professional quickly slides into something personal. As artists, often in the case of emerging artists unsure of their own path, one diss often turns into all that was needed to second guess yourself, your capabilities and quit your art for something safe from the barbs of outside perception.
But the context changes if rejection of your work is coming down from an anonymous source, a faceless voice, one that doesn't even offer any context or background from which constructive criticism could be gleamed.
All of this comes from a recent sit down with local industrial designer and artist Adriean Koleric, who wanted to talk about criticism. Starting from his own investigation into looking for honesty in reviews of his own work, Koleric was interested in talking about how I have handled criticism, in both dishing it, but mostly taking it.
Referring to the anonymous/moniker shielded remarks found on the Prairie Artsters blog, Koleric's interest in how I deal with rejection is a fair one. As artists and writers, you put yourself out there, often seeking feedback, and in the realm of internet anonymity, can only brace yourself for anything—so why keep doing it at all?
A recent article by the New York Sunday Times's Randy Cohen addresses this exact issue. Arguing anonymous posting on the Internet has proved to be more toxic for than encouraging of free speech, the article was prompted by the recent court order put onto Google to divulge the identity of one of its users who was anonymously defaming public personas for further legal redress. Cohen outlines legitimate forums for anonymity (like political dissent), while pinpointing that a major problem of Internet anonymity is that the crude keeps everyone else at bay. With no boundaries whatsoever, trying to maintain a healthy discourse with anonymous Internet users is akin to growing a garden in a patch of noxious weeds. The bad chokes out the good, and that simply cannot be ignored.
That said, I personally don't believe any real feedback should ever be dismissed, but we should note that no feedback exists without attachments to major self-esteem or entitlement issues, which when mixed with the distanciated communication of the Internet, is almost always poisonous.
A thousand "That's greats" are no equal for just one "That sucks." But as a believer in calling-it-like-it-is, I am an advocate for a difference of opinions so long as those opinions are legitimately backed up by a name, or research, and if we're all lucky, a bit of social etiquette.
*First published in Vue Weekly, September 3 - 9, 2009