Criticism and creativity

October 30, 2013 § 2 Comments

I have to confess that I’ve been spamming my friends and followers a little on social media today, punting a music video that my kids made. But I couldn’t help it. With the simplest of tools – an A4 white board, some basic stationery and an iPad app, they produced the most awesome stop frame animation music video for Train’s Fifty Ways to say Good-byeAnd, parental bias aside, it’s amazing.

I know at least some of you are tutting and saying that an iPad app is hardly a simple tool, but for me, the marvel is to be found in the conceptualisation – in the way that they chose to illustrate the song’s lyrics. Anyone who’s ever tried to make a music video will know exactly how hard that is to do, and my daughters are just 11 and 14.

I’m a fairly creative person, but somehow I feel like they’re in a different league, and it really got me thinking about creativity and how important it is to nurture it.

As a child, almost all of my extra-murals were in the cultural arena – I sang in a provincial youth choir as well as the school choir. I sang, danced and acted in amateur dramatic productions from my second year of schooling until my last. I took part in debating, wrote plays and poems and short essays… I was really pretty creative when I think about it. But over the years, I seem to have forgotten a lot of that.

Or perhaps I’ve just had it knocked out of me. Because when I try to explore why I don’t value my creativity as I should, or have much confidence left in my abilities, here’s what comes to mind:

  • The drama teacher who went off at me because I missed a single rehearsal in ten years of attending her drama school, ending her tirade with: “You don’t have any talent, anyway.”
  • The newspaper editor who told me I didn’t have the ability to string a sentence together in basic English.
  • The person who told me my singing voice was better suited to backing vocals.
  • The constant admonition that a career in the arts is not worth pursuing; that one always needs another career to fall back on.
  • The person who said they didn’t like it when I was involved in theatre because my personality changed with my character.
  • The person I no longer show any of my creative work to, because they can’t be bothered to pay any real attention to it.

The interesting thing is that most of the messages contained in those few bullet points were throwaway, one-line comments made over about thirty years. Just a handful of thoughtless remarks, and yet they’ve burned themselves into my brain, and coloured my creativity for decades.

Of course, I shouldn’t have allowed that criticism to stop me from doing what I knew then I was good at. I have to own my part in it too. But most of it came at a time when I was young and moving out of my sheltered environment in a smallish town, and into the wider world. I was becoming a small fish in a very big pond.

It was not constructive, and I took it to heart. And I’m only starting to unpack those statements now, in my mid-40s, and attempting to undo the damage that was done.

But what I really want to say is that there’s a lesson here for all of us. First, if you’re the one who’s being criticised, it’s important to try and view it objectively and not take it as gospel – because in at least some of the examples I mention above, the criticism was a kneejerk reaction motivated by spite – I know that now. So weigh that criticism. Ask yourself if it’s valid, because it may be. You may need to work on your technique or get some coaching: raw talent is seldom enough.

But more importantly, if a child or a friend or a lover shares something they’ve created with you – especially a child or young adult – pause and think before you criticise. Be honest, sure, but be constructive. Because if you’ve produced a poem or a song or a painting or a film, putting it out there for others to view is an act of extreme courage. It’s like sharing a small part of your soul.

So, if someone brings you that small, delicate soul fragment, carefully cupped between outstretched hands, realise how privileged you are that they’ve chosen you. This is an intimate moment.

Be careful when you take it from them. Pay attention to it, examine it closely. Don’t squeeze too tightly or you may suffocate it or shatter its delicate framework. And be honest with them, always.

But above all, be kind.

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§ 2 Responses to Criticism and creativity

  • jabedi says:

    It’s funny how invariably we take to heart all criticism, buy dismiss all compliments. A lovely lesson is why we should be careful with our words… they could mean nothing to us, but a lifetime to someone else.

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  • charliesbird says:

    Yes, I totally relate – You’re a borderline student; Don’t do medicine, you’ll only disappoint yourself. And here I am, one of the youngest specialists (well, when I graduated 8 years ago, I was) and quite happy, thank you. It takes a lot of courage to rise up above those criticisms, and few people do it; which is why I have always thought that teachers have such massive responsibilities when dealing with those young pliable minds.

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