essay by Joren A. Lindholm, 2011
link fed at: Bourgeon - Arts and Events in Washington DC
When Twyla Tharp was interviewed by Diane Rehm on NPR in 2003, Twyla said about artists who are met with negative criticism: 'face it, grapple with it, and by no means allow it to put you on the defensive'. She herself is a dancer/choreographer, and in that interview gave an example of a time when one of her Broadway shows was mauled from the start by performing arts critics. In that instance, she took some valid points from what they were saying and used them to make changes during the show's run.
Her having done that could be an expression of creativity, spontaneity and inclusiveness. I'm not so sure it is exemplary of the common artist-critic exchange however. That's because her example implies that the critics were addressing the work, and any coherent standards by which work is made.
As graduate students, I remember quite a few of us were heavily criticized in the American University MFA program. This often led to silent intellectual torment, which myself and some other students would occasionally complain about. 'Why is he getting blasted for that?' Or, 'why is she getting criticized, and not her?' Occasionally it seemed like the direction, or even the nature of my own work was leading certain professors to relate to me like a bully would during school recess. I would get baffled, and think to myself 'upon what ground is that particular teacher basing his/her viewpoint with regard to my work?' Talk about defensiveness!
Looking back, some of the student attitudes were worthy of criticism, including my own. So perhaps, in scenarios where criticism has an important function in discerning and appreciating the arts, it makes more sense to directly critique someone's paradigm for being a professional creator, rather than the actual work that's yielded from that paradigm. Regarding work, I love objectivity. It seems, however, that the least problematic arena for objectivity is now a private one. Across the wide variety of art institutions that I've encountered, I've been able to interpret very little agreement between them around what could be called firm criteria for the actual work.
I was quite relieved of defensiveness when, in my thoughts I reviewed that lesson..... These are post-Warhol times..... and applied it from a new angle. Basically, ever since Andy Warhol (and the philosophical advent of Pop Art), sure, there have been sets of specific criteria to make use of in Fine Art; yet the widest shared grip that artists have on any one set is about the length of half a city block; thus the conversation of Art today can carry literally anything.
The trick is: the person being critical will usually talk about the work, yet at the core it may simply be cloaked criticism of the artist's performance. At large, the artist's job today, no matter how involved he or she is with specialized criteria, is to take anything as a creation and make it believable as Art, and thus by extension - him or herself believable as an artist. As a result of the criticism I encountered in graduate school I found the results more favorable when I changed the artist in me than when I changed the artwork coming out of me.
When the fruits of someone's creative pursuit are met with criticism, the best and most constructive way to 'face and grapple with' it might be the artists checking in with themselves that they are prepared and really playing their own game. Do you have a pipeline of ideas or idea variation to try out? Are the things getting done that garner credibility? We can always try and do what Twyla Tharp did, yet these days we are expected to be Andy Warhol first.