Assumptions about what I like can quickly become dogma, and it’s especially strong where music is concerned. Like any other preference in art, it’s good to push against your biases and preconceptions, even when you’re the one who made them.
Parquet Courts is a recent example. I like them, but wasn’t as blown away by their last album as a lot of people in my musical sphere of influence. And yet, somehow, this one song played while I was out today, and I didn’t remember they’d done it. It was terrific, different than most of the other songs, and made me want to listen more closely to the whole album.
There. Opinion diverted, openness to explore renewed. I hope I can keep that mindset going in the future.
And I think it should be very broad, indeed. As in, not restricting it to things you admire or even like, beyond to what you find chaotic or obvious.
Because creativity is vast, and the things humans make are sometimes unexpected, and sometimes they look like a mess, framed.
But it’s hard to tell when someone is sincere and when they just have no idea what they’re doing. We praise a child’s exuberant stick figures, but disparage them when they come from an adult. Unless they’re funny! I’m that case, we can’t get enough of them (XKCD, Cyanide and Happiness).
Looking at Paul Klee’s work, there’s a childlike energy to it, and it’s still dismissed at a glance for being too simple or cartoonish. But there’s a deep symbolism within, sometimes invented, sometimes referenced to real world things. You can certainly dislike it, but it helps to look beyond the labels “good” and “bad.” Even in things you find gross or dumb, there’s often a lot of hard work that went into making it the way it is. Sometimes, even the fast sketches and drips contain years’ or decades’ worth of study and practice behind them.
It’s not that you can’t call a thing bad. Opinions are had by us all. But consider leaving it at the cursory or joke level, and always give a shit about looking deeper. It feeds and informs your work to be charitable and open to the stuff you encouter.
Most of us who love a certain medium to the point we could (or do) create lists of our favorite or what we’d consider the best examples will hardly hesitate to question the examples of others. It’s almost a truism that someone next to us who loves or lauds a work we think is awful is up for scorn, or at least a severely-raised eyebrow. Conversely, we might feel compelled to argue them into liking—or at least acknowledging the worth of—a work we think is fantastic.
The trouble is that no one is objectively right, here. It makes as much sense for us to be wrong as any other person. Further, your thoughtful analysis is no more necessarily correct than my gut reaction after the fact. Equal amounts of thought or consideration of the work might allow each of us to put the other person on equal footing, but it won’t change the basic fact: someone is going to love the thing you think sucks.
This phenomenon is an opportunity to be generous of spirit. It’s a valuable tool for artists and observers of art, alike. We need to be able to see our opinions in new ways, and to downplay their objective truth, by turn. Creators can only benefit by rethinking our opinions of the work of others, not to mention our own. We might find new appreciation of stuff we’ve dismissed, and improvements to our own we’d never seen before.
You can. Your thoughts are worth considering, and working through. I’m not talking about simply labeling things as “good” and “bad,” but if those are concepts you’re attaching to a thing, I’m advocating you try articulating why they are such.
It’s good for your own work, too. Getting comfortable with your thoughts about what you’ve seen and heard can give you insight into your decisions, even those you make on instinct (which, for artists, can be most of the time). Make lists, defend choices, send them to the public at-large. Maybe we can come to understand that others who have opinions about our work we don’t like aren’t granted any more special right or power to bestow them than we are.
It’s in short supply. Social media is full of opinions, but a lot of it seems to be engaged in bashing others’ existing ones.
It can make me reluctant to express mine. I have been afraid of publishing sometimes because I could be wrong. It has stopped me from writing.
But, like anything you choose to present to the world, vulnerability goes with the territory. Artists of every kind trade their feelings for exposure of their work. Not knowing if you’ll be lauded or excoriated is frightening.
Perhaps those are our choices: stay silent and safe, or publish and expose ourselves. Staying safe, however, doesn’t necessarily help the work. What we miss by staying safe is the possibility of more easily shaping, honing, and sharpening our work. If our work is only ever for ourselves, I suppose that’s fine. But if we want to say something, if we want to make others feel something, it’s much harder.
Doing everything in solitary feels like I’m navigating a city blindfolded. We need to show our work. Public opinion isn’t always valuable, but enough is that it can allow us to steer a truer course, tack a different course, or pick another star to follow.
Creation is always a balance between how we feel about it and how others receive it. Maybe it will help to focus on that, the balance, rather than the fear. To do otherwise gets nothing done, and keeps us from growing.
It’s okay to be wrong. Say things—with words or brushes or cameras. Say more tomorrow.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.