Friday, August 27, 2010

Is Criticism Constructive?

I've been participating in on online songwriting challenge (note: challenge, NOT contest!) to write 50 songs in 90 days.  I'm more than half way through the songwriting marathon.
What I'm reminded of with this daily songwriting practice, is that it's perfectly fine, and in fact good, to allow yourself to create something "bad".  In fact, with every not-so-good song I write, I know that I'm getting that much closer to a good one! I'm doing my job, just as long as I create something.  Knowing that really takes the pressure off and allows me to do anything I want and take chances I might not otherwise take.

I'm also aware of how important an online community full of encouragement is along the way.  On the 50/90 website, I've posted up videos of every one of my 31 songs.  The site encourages the participants to leave feedback for each other, just as long as it's positive.  Even though I don't  know the people sending me these cheers, they are a huge reason I keep on going even when I start to feel a little discouraged.  I find myself checking in on my comment section whenever I need a little "Yahoo, Kerri!" fix.

There is a time for criticism (I guess?), but during the initial stages of the creative process, we just need to be brave- and being encouraged sure does help.  While I'm writing at this fast pace, I don't allow my inner critic to enter into the picture.  Once I'm in editing mode, when this 90 days is complete and the 50 rough songs are written, then I can get a little more critical with myself.  And maybe, maybe some constructive criticism from others will be helpful.

Or maybe not.  I create as a form of self-expression.  So I'm sort of torn between getting advice, and just going with my own gut, my own self-expression. 

I have showed up to songwriting circles before, played songs in a very raw form, and when I'm offered constructive feedback, I find myself feeling bad and then I abandon the song completely.  So for me, it hasn't been so constructive. 

I've never been one to be criticized and then take on the "I'll show them!" attitude.  However, if someone tells me I'm doing a good job on something, I just want to make it better.  Of course, this is just me and how it works in my little world. 

I'd love to hear how you feel about criticism in regards to your creative endeavors.


Roberta said...

Great thought provoking post Kerri...for me I'm somewhere in the middle as well. When I'm in the creative stages for my art journaling...I do not share with anyone until it's done. Probably because I do not want someone else's opinion to stop my own creative mojo and I really don't want their critic! I create to please myself first and the rest be damned...I kind of have the attitude...opinions are like assh _ _ _ _ s...everyone has one and I don't want your's in my face...thank you very
Sounds harsh I know...but I've always been that way...even as a kid my mom would say that I'd get mad if someone critized me and shut down. I always felt like, even with my boys...if you do not have something nice to say then be quiet ;) There are so many negative people in the world and I just do not gravitate towards them...I repel...ha! I do get motivated, sometimes when someone expresses doubt in me and it makes me want to prove them wrong. But the older get, the less I care about the negative opinions of others. Life is too short to not be nice ;)
Have a wonderful weekend, fondly, Roberta

Style, She Wrote said...

It definitely can be hard putting personal stuff out there and hearing feedback on it. As long as it's coming from a good -- and positive -- place, I think it's a good thing. Ignore the haters. :)

Abby said...

I have this music teacher who always gives me constructive feedback. However, he never tempers it with encouragement, so I always get discouraged. I can't deny that the advice he gives is great, but when I'm just starting to learn a new piece, I don't need to hear, "You played this piece really awfully, and you have a TON of stuff to work on." Obviously the piece is in a very raw form, and somehow I always get the feeling that my playing is never good enough, and it makes me want to give up.

I don't know if it's kind of the same situation?

I think there has to be a balance somewhere -- positiveness (you're doing great! Keep it up!) along with a little criticism (at the same time, what if you did this this way) rather than "everything you do is awesome and you don't need to get better!" or only "ugh, this song you wrote really really needs work"

Of course, haters are haters. Personally I am a little worried at the direction the comments are taking because I don't think the people in your songwriting circle were at all being haters, and I don't think you implied that anywhere... any more than my piano teacher is being a hater.

And this comment is getting really long, but I love your songs. LOVE them.

suzanna leigh said...

Anything worth doing is worth doing badly!

Best feedback is "sadnwiched": A comment on a strength of the piece, a comment on what can be improved, another comment on a strength. People don't realize how important it is to have our strengths pointed out to us!

jacqueline said...

Deares kerri, this is such a beautiful post! I am too learning from you and from the rest of the creative comunity in dealing with criticism. It is so true that it can be hard putting yourself and your work out to the world. I always love and welcome constructive feedbacks or feedbacks that comes from good intention to help me grow and expand. But i ignore haters with feedbacks that were mearly just to hurt me. Have a lovely merry happy weekend and love to you!

Anonymous said...

Ah, constructive criticism. Such a strange beast, but necessary as an artist, I think. How can we learn without hearing and listening to other's comments, good or bad? It's helped me be more tough, more honest, and more open to all that's out there. Just part of the lessons we all have to learn, and the only way to go outside our own limited thoughts.

Now for the serious side of art and answering your question: the right stamps for pmc!! I buy metal stamps from Etsy (pre-made) and Infinity Stamps (custom). I either use the stamps on wet clay or hammer after fired, depending on the design. Just remember if you do it on wet clay the stamps will shrink when fired as opposed to hammering into metal. You can choose several fonts and many different sizes from either place.

Also, you can use an engraver on pieces after fired for a more personal look. Harder but with practice doable!

Hope this helps!!

happy weekend =-)

Unknown said...

Hmm, I'm usually okay with it, depends on how it's presented. Sometimes not from my husband, though! XX!

Val Cox said...

Hi Kerri,
First off, let me say, I love your songs, love your voice, love your playing. Thanks for sharing your songs and you thoughts with us.

Sounds like our thoughts on the creative process and criticism are very similar. To me constructive criticism is still criticism, and mostly it feels like someone else's ego trying to push their idea of what the song should be onto you.

I prefer the terms advice and recommendations. But really I don't want that from just anyone either. Admittedly, I have trust issues :) , but I would much rather ask someone I know and trust what can be improved in a song than having anyone off the street start ripping my song to shreds. As you well know, songs are our babies, and it's hard to have anyone 'hate on' them, so to speak. Plus, in my 39th year of living, and almost 39th year of writing songs, I've come to the point where I feel as though I know what I want to say, and I know how I want to say it. If that bothers someone, then they are free to not like my songs. Hopefully others will find they enjoy a song or two that I write, and that's all that matters. That probably sounds a arrogant and pretentious, but I don't really think I'm a songwriting snob. I mean, I think other writers should express themselves in they way they see fit as well. You know where I think it really comes from??? Turning 40. You feel like you can do anything. It's awesome!

Anonymous said...

Interesting post ... criticism tends to make me competitive and once that happens it's not always me at my best. I learned too late in some instances that when my ego gets involved, I can make bad decisions ... not always, but generally it holds true for me.

I am still amazed by the 50 songs in 90 days challenge.

Anonymous said...

I don't deal well with criticism. I either get defensive & angry or just hurt & depressed. Neither reaction helps my creative process. If someone makes a lighthearted suggestion of a way I can try to do something differently then I can learn from that but any critique that puts down what I've done just doesn't help me to grow. Creating is too personal & leaves me too vulnerable. I'd rather do something my way & have it come out "badly" than to do it someone elses way & feel compromised.

Anonymous said...

Man, Kerri... great post. Very thought provoking. I agree with Valerie's statement of preferring the words "advice" and "recommendation".

I belong to a songwriter's group down here in Houston where once a month we meet to introduce a new song. The idea is actually to GET constructive criticism. There is kind of a culture within the group that nobody really beats anyone up. The comments are pretty gentle and actually pretty encouraging. But I think one of the problems I have when I do receive 'advice' and 'recommendation' from the members of this group is that most of the songs presented by them (which in turn is a reflection of their knowledge) really SUCK! So I quickly dismiss their suggestions.

But I think it depends from what purpose an artist/musician is creating. I imagine there are plenty of musicians out there who are creating for self expression yet at the same time want to have their song be well received, liked and even purchased. So there is a balance between self expression and marketability.

In other words, the listener knows what he or she likes despite whatever I think their knowledge is. And if the listener thinks I should change something here or there, then maybe I should listen with a little more attentiveness if I want them to buy my record.

By the way... i am soooo jealous of your progress in 50/90. You're awesome! (a little "Go Kerri" cheering from down here in Houston for you. :)

and flowers pick themselves said...

when i took my first poetry course, the first workshop was brutal for me. i dreaded it, and as it was happening i had a knot in my stomach. for me, the key to receiving criticism was to vent for twenty minutes to my friends + family about anything that hurt or angered me, then to let it go and realize that feedback is the key to learning creatively. in my poetry class there were people whose opinions didn't matter to me because they didn't have to knowledge or expertise to back it up, and then there were people whose opinions i took seriously, positive or negative. even when i disagreed with them, i still made myself listen and at least try to apply their advice to my poetry. sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't, but i never regretted trying.

i also had to remind myself that i was inviting this into my life. you don't ever HAVE ask someone what they think about your art. you can keep it in a box that only you can get to, if you want. but if you do welcome feedback, it can have incredibly powerful + inspiring outcomes. i could feel myself being defensive during workshops sometimes, but to me that's just a sign of being human and passionate.

basically, i found a way to thicken my skin, take in the positive, consider the negative, and remember that at the end of the day it is still my poetry, and no one else's.


xo Alison

Laurie said...

That's a tough one. I tend to be pretty thin-skinned, unfortunately. I went to a songwriting workshop once, and the people were so self-important...and their songs were so...just bad. One guy was pretty much making subtle changes to old songs and claiming them as his own. After a while, I called him on it and brought out the wrath of the group. My husband has written several songs and is a good judge of material, so I used to run stuff by him.

patty said...

Well, it's obviously a great question - look at all the interesting responses! When I first started showing my photography, I was SO sensitive, not very secure at all in what I was doing. I think I would have had a very hard time with criticism. Now, after doing it for a while, I've come to the place where, if I like an image, I really don't care what anyone says.
This made me think of my husband and the adolescent girls he coaches in beach volleyball. After a tournament, he sends each girl a written critique. He is really careful to ALWAYS find something positive to say first before he gently mentions some areas for improvement. After all, that's what he's paid to do. So I think it matters, too, whether you are asking for feedback or not. If so, you have to weigh what's given to you and decide for yourself whether or not it's valuable. Interesting discussion!!

Estelle Hayes said...

Big can of worms, here, Kerri. I feel that positive words and wishes and intentions do SO MUCH good. Especially for an artist. You are right on that the act of creating is in itself your job. Good, bad, whatever. You are in the flow and participating. Keep it up and stick with a community that will activily lift you up, rather than tear you down. Go Kerri!!!! Keep on writing those beautiful songs.

Unknown said...

I took a 2 Dimensional Art class a few years ago, and the teacher explained that art criticism is needed for guidance and direction. Anything else is just opinion, and we need to not take personal views, personally.
Art, Music and Movie critics get paid for their opinions...and get more attention when it is controversial, however it may not necessarily be helpful.
Distinguishing the difference between opinion and educated guidance is up the student. I looked up the definition in Wikipedia, "Art critics usually criticize art in the context of aesthetics or the theory of beauty. One of criticism's goals is the pursuit of a rational basis for art appreciation."

So, I found that there are certain standards in art and music that give a painting or song more width and depth. In music, basic forms include balance, form, cadence, rhythm, etc.

Once I started noticing the difference, between standards and opinions, I could leave the opinions alone and not take them personally. A good teacher can help me directly to improve my piece, but I find it's better for me emotionally not to ask for too much advise when it's a piece I really care about.

lori vliegen said...

keep on doing whatever you're doing.....because you're doing something right if you already have over half of your songs written!!! that is a huge accomplishment!!!! keep listening to your gut!! be inspired by others, but try to always listen to yourself first!!! you go girl!!! xox, :))

Kerri said...

what great comments from you all- thank u so much for adding such important things to this discussion. i learn so much from people like YOU.

Carin Winkelman said...

First of all, thanks for your nice comment on my blog.

As to criticism: I like to hear it when people really like my work, because it keeps me motivated to make more. I don't really need to hear from people who don't like my work, because it doesn't really change anything for me nor does it help with anything. Like or dislike are matters of taste and preference and I think it's more important to be genuine and do what makes you happy and what is to your own taste. I will not change my style of work because somebody does not like it or thinks it's ugly or something.

Another thing can be real constructive criticism, where a person will point out ways in which you could improve on your own work or give you tips on technique and skill. That can be very useful indeed. Sometimes we are simply too close to our own work and just don't see the little improvements that could be made. I like to compare that to proofreading a text, you cannot do that yourself, you simply read right over the spelling mistakes you made for instance. You need somebody else for that who has a fresh look on things.

Pat said...

Hi Kerri,

Thanks for your visit and comments today! This is a really great post. So far I've found the creative blogging community to be more supportive than I ever could have hoped. Every kind word inspires me to just keep doing my thing and putting it out there. I like to think of each creative endeavor as a stepping stone to something else. I'm not even sure where I'm going most of the time but at least I know I'm inching my way forward. I also think it's perfectly natural to create a few duds along the way. But I'm often surprised to hear that these duds are the pieces that other people like the most. Go figure.


Lis said...

Thank you for writing this ... such a tender topic. I know when I was in my yoga teacher training program, there was this slight "uproar" about critiques of each other's practice teaching sessions. The guidelines were to only offer something positive and as the days moved on, we could then ask for constructive criticism from our group, or not. The philosophy being, we are usually much harder on ourselves than others and we needed that encouragement. For me, this is true. I tend to focus on what I wish I had done differently, struggles I might have encountered and often miss receiving my work from a fresh perspective. So the encouragement helps me to recognize those places where my hand in the process is only one piece; the reception, the reception of my work often reminds me of the magic that comes in to assist me.

Lisa said...

I'm not good at taking criticism as I take everything to heart. I think you are incredibly brave for just putting yourself out there so you should feel encouraged just for that - plus you are really good too!
If you find someone being negative just for negativity sake or to be mean and hurtful then my advice (for what it's worth ;)) is to feel sorry for that person. How sad for them to have to make someone else feel bad in order for them to feel good.
Keep writing and singing!

The Creative Beast said...

Coming late to this party but your post is inspiring me to write about a really great way to give FEEDBACK that is truly constructive to the Artist who is creating the work; you can find an article about it here:

In the meantime, I'll be posting more about that process today or tomorrow; thanks for stopping by my blog - it got me visiting yours and seeing this important post!

I would also add this Chinese proverb which helps me in who to approach for 'feedback':

"When you meet a Master Swordsman, show him your sword - When you meet a man who IS NOT A POET, DO NOT show him your poem"!!