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.