Monday, 9 August 2010

Creativity and Criticism

Any artistic endeavour is an act of creativity. A blank page becomes a story or a poem or a sketch, an empty stage is peopled, a cunning combination of wood, strings and metal brings forth sound, a blank canvas...well, you get the picture.

When we create something,we give of ourselves. It is one of the great paradoxes; what is personal and private becomes public. Our ideas, thoughts, desires, dread fears are all exposed in the words or notes or brushstrokes, and we offer them up to whoever may read them, listen to them or view them. It is perhaps the defining characteristic of being human - that we can create.

I believe that everyone has the ability to be creative and I hold no truck with people who claim otherwise (often they have been told that they have nothing to offer and so don't) or who try to diminish the creative acts of others. Children and, indeed the young of many species, learn through play. They mimic the behaviours of others and develop a knowledge and understanding of their place and role in the wider community. Sue Palmer, in her very interesting book 'Toxic Childhood - how the modern world is damaging our children and what we can do about it' (Orion Books 2006) writes very eloquently about the value and importance of play. And play is creativity; it is imagination.

So when we create it should be celebrated, whether it be your child's first paint daubings proudly displayed on the fridge, or a film feted with honours at one of the major international festivals. For what we are celebrating should not necessarily be about the quality of the end result, although there is a fine debate to be had about definitions of quality, but rather a celebration of the act itself. For when we create something we are adding to the experience of life rather than diminishing it. New creations can also be celebrations of others; memento mori. What better way to remember somebody or some event than by creating something new?

This brings me to the second point; criticism. If everyone is creating something and adding to the tapestry of life, do we need someone to filter it all, to sort the wheat from the chaff? Do we need quality control? Sure, we all need a little feedback and comment on our work, especially those for whom creating is their career, and constructive criticism can help us to develop and shape our ideas. In other words, it is another part of the learning process. But, in my opinion, being able to discern between things that are 'good' and 'bad' is a skill we should all develop. The complexities of individual value systems is a subject for someone's PhD and I won't discuss them here. What I am advocating is a tempering of our reliance on and reverence for 'Critics' - professional reviewers etc. - who have been given the status of authority on a particular subject. There is a cliche about teachers,

"those who can, do, those who can't, teach, and those who can't teach work for Ofsted" (my addition)

and there may be some truth in the similar cliche that all rock critics are failed musicians and all theatre critics never made it as actors or writers. I am much more interested in the opinions of people who watch our work - Joe and Josephine Public to use another cliche - but often they don't feel equipped to give an opinion because somehow they feel that their opinion is of no consequence. I don't disregard out of hand the views of critics and journalists, but I don't base my decisions purely on their opinions.

This is why I welcome the ability to communicate with the people who make the music I listen to or the theatre I watch. I also welcome review websites where the actual audience can comment on what they've seen or experienced. If we are given the chance to offer opinions then we may sharpen our own critical faculties and begin to make our own judgements on what is 'good' and 'bad'. This may also make us better equipped to receive the opinions of others with grace.

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