Creative Snobbery

One of the things that my somewhat odd education, both formal and self-determined, is that I have a wider view of the creative arts than many people do.  Music history and art history were particularly an emphasis during my student career.

Now, some of that came from the particular emphasis of the religious schooling I received.  The high school I attended was a preparatory school.  This would be defined as a school meant to focus a student toward a specific career or set of careers.  In my case, it was a school focused on funneling the students into the careers of either a pastor (for the boys) or a teacher (for boys or girls) for the church I grew up in.

In the teacher track, we were particularly focused on music.  All individuals in that track were forced to take piano lessons.   I had my own issues with that, because there was a forced “practice schedule” of 3 hours per week – and I rarely wanted to practice.  But, between the high school, and the first two years of college (at another religious college, specifically for turning out parochial school teachers in the same church), my head was stuffed with quite a lot of music history.  Not just looking at composers, but also the different musical genres and their evolution.

As for art history, I had some of that in school as well.  Mostly in a club environment, but there was a little in history classes as well.  And, of course, I had more in college in my graphic design courses.  Plus my own extracurricular self-directed learning.

But something I’ve seen in most of the creative arts is that there is a particular form of snobbery associated with it.  If an individual or group does not stay true to their particular form of creativity, they are deemed lesser in the eyes of critics (professional or the armchair versions).  It doesn’t matter what the creativity is, or the genre, the individual or group is just considered not good enough.

Now, while I might not necessarily enjoy all the different forms of creativity out there, I see no reason to destroy the creative output of anyone unless there is something completely wrong with that output.  There’s a reason many children who enjoy a creative outlet in their formative years will turn their backs on it when they are older.  If they are discouraged because their work is not considered good enough they won’t take the time and energy to become better at their chosen form of creativity.

I’m not talking about giving every child a participation award, but actually giving them a useful and supportive critique, rather than just saying how bad or useless their creativity is.

I found it completely surprising when I went back to school in the 2000s to have a number of my initial classes actually having a lecture or two on how to give a good critique.  The point of peer critiques, as defined by my college experience, is to not only point out what is wrong with a particular composition, but to give alternative solutions to support fixing those issues.  And, a good critique should also give credit where it is due for positive aspects of a particular composition as well.

But I rarely actually see that when I read critiques on creative output – regardless of the kind of creative output it actually is. Critics often seem to take a certain amount of glee at completely destroying the creative spark of the person or group they are criticizing. No wonder some of the science fiction writers of the Golden Age of Science Fiction seem to have had such a hate-on for most critics. In fact, many of them took time in their books to lambaste critics.

For example, after having come across Disturbed via their release of The Sound of Silence, I read a number of different critiques of their work.  As they are considered “nu wave” or “metal” or “alternative rock” they’ve already got one black mark against them.  I have found over the years that no matter how good a band is, if they are alternative in any fashion they’re held to a far higher standard than most other genres.  Why? Because the alternative or avant garde type of aficionados tend to have an underlying superiority complex to their favored creative expression.  And if an individual or group has the temerity to step outside of those narrow confines of what is acceptably alternative or worse, has any touch of mainstream about them, they are crucified by critics.

And it’s not just music, but many of the assorted forms of creativity.  That’s one of the reasons why breaking into the creative world is so hard.  You have to have an ability to be rejected again and again, but still persist.  And sadly, not every creative person has that ability to persist. Facing rejection that intimately often leads a creative down a very dark path into excess, because it’s hard to keep going when it seems everyone hates what you create. Think about how many of the great writers, artists or musicians of the past ended up as alcoholics or other substance abusers.  Or, just went crazy.

I’m still not sure I can handle that rejection, but I know I have to try.

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Categories: Creativity | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Creative Snobbery

  1. Oh boy, how I’m glad to see this! As a critic who writes too much, I’m glad someone is coming for our defense.

    And yes, I see this as a defense of criticism. The purpose of criticism is less to say whether a work is good or bad. Its purpose is to give us a greater understanding of that work. You can think something is total crap, but can you explain why?

    I actually found that Disturbed album to be horrible, but it has nothing to do with True Metal (Oh, I hate those guys). I found Disturbed too serious for the style of music they’re playing, their hooks too boring and relying on too much syllables-stretching. But doesn’t that say more than just ‘huh, this is not metal’?

    • As this album (Immortalized) is the one that was current when I was introduced to the band, I don’t. But that comes from fresh eyes, with no previous experience with them.

      I have to admit, I like most of the songs on this album, and actually find them apropos to our current world. But then again, I have a preference for songs that tell a story, whether via the song or the song + video. And growing up during Genesis’s heyday, I found their remake of ‘Land of Confusion’ to be spot on, as was their remake of ‘Sound of Silence.’

      As someone whose formal training included opera and choral styles, I don’t have as much of an issue with your formal complaints. And, I don’t actually see the songs as being ‘less serious.’ The subject matter is highly serious (‘The Light’ is a good example), even if the tempo seems to be more uplifting. I find hope and a reminder to keep fighting, as well as a reaching out to say, ‘Look, you aren’t alone!’

      • The style Disturbed play is Stadium Rock. It’s meant to be anthemic and get all the crowd singing in a huge stadium. It’s supposed to be fun, and the serious tone was in conflict with the style.
        I take this over-seriousness better in artists where it sounds like the band is letting it all out, bands like Thursday for example.
        I think your training has something to do with it. I’m not interested in technically proficient singing. I’m more impressed by creativity, charisma, personality and expressing the emotions in a convincing way. Their take on “Land of Confusion” is great.
        You’ll probably enjoy Thousand Foot Krutch. They have a more Christian spin but I don’t think it does any harm,

      • Maybe it’s a difference of generation or country culture, because having my teen years in the 80s may give me a different view of ‘anthemic music.’ Put up against bands like Genesis, Queen, and many of the ‘hard rock’ bands or ‘hair bands,’ their music is quite singable.

        But then again, I’m also used to bands evolving as they change through the years. For example, take the ‘bubble-gum pop group Aqua. (Yes, I have a guilty pleasure in enjoying some bubble-gum pop). Their early stuff is fairly light, and breezy (Barbie Girl – https://youtu.be/ZyhrYis509A) but their more recent stuff like Playmate to Jesus (sound similar, emotions different – https://youtu.be/m0ayTZi7Xjw) or My Mamma Said (https://youtu.be/Dw2reSBdwPM) is far darker and more serious.

        Part of why some bands last decades and some don’t, is the willingness to change with the world. Fun and rebellious works in the beginning of a career, but you have to eventually have ‘more meat’ in your work. And from interviews, it looks like that is what the group is doing and searching for. At least to me.

      • Disturbed actually became less experimental and bold as they went on. Their debut album was all over the place – complete with rapping and rapid changes in vocal styles. They’ve been removing more elements as time went on.

        When I think of good stadium anthems, I think of something like Blackout’s “Saving Our Selves” or Theory of a Deadman’s “Heavy” or Fall Out Boy’s “Immortals”. If I’m going to a show to sing anthems, I want them to be fun and all over the place. Disturbed is too formal and stiff. The weed anthem “Fire It Up” is the best example of how it doesn’t work. “The Vengeful One” works because it has a bit of that old Nu Metal swagger.
        Even TFK, who were never rebellious have a sense of fun in their anthems like “Untraveled Road”.

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