I remember exactly three things about preschool. One, those uncomfortable cots we were forced to sleep on during naptime. (Whatever kid wetted their cot first promptly ended our afternoon siesta.) Two, this obnoxious curly-haired boy who always tried to body check me anytime I wasn’t paying attention to his whereabouts. Hated him. Three, our drawing hour. Everyday, our preschool teachers – Ms. Pretzel and Ms. Cookie, though I have my doubts those were their real names – would arrange all the tables lengthwise and have us kids draw to our hearts’ content. Once during one of these sessions, the kid to my left tapped me on the shoulder and shyly asked, “What do you think of my drawing?” Upon a few moments of quiet reflection, I answered, “That’s not a drawing. That’s just scribbles.”
I’ve always had a discerning eye for art. Whether it’s the newest acquisition to the Art Institute or my seven-year-old nephew’s latest masterpiece, I will say exactly what I think about said creation. Granted, I never took a single art history class in college, but whatever, I know good art when I see it. Likewise, I have seen many, many duds in my time.
Yet I try to give the benefit of the doubt. This became standard practice during my Columbia College days. From my first class to my last, I was watching student films of various… appeal, let’s say. Though most of them were not intended to be experimental pieces, usually I was at a complete loss as far as what was going on. But they were my classmates. I wanted to support them, so at the very least I would offer up a sincere “great camera work” or “loved the sound design” even when I couldn’t retell the storyline had a gun been put to my head. Plus, who was I to judge? I certainly wasn’t cranking out cinematic perfection. In fact, my first film came back from the lab completely black. Whoops. Needless to say, I felt a little hypocritical when critiquing others’ work.
But I like to judge, and I think we should judge. That’s how we figure out what’s good and what’s not. Granted, critiquing art is about the most subjective thing on the planet, but why does everyone tiptoe around what they really think? If you don’t like something, just say so. As an artist, it’s totally unrealistic to think that everyone is going to love what we do all the time, but that’s exactly what we want. We encourage people to sugarcoat their opinions, coddling our sensitive egos so that our creative fire isn’t doused or some other equally pathetic metaphor. Thing is, you don’t see that much in any other profession. When a doctor amputates the wrong leg, I doubt his patient pats him on the back and says, “It’s okay. You meant well.” Sure, watching a bad movie isn’t the same as losing a perfectly functioning limb; it’s worse.
It’s like that ridiculous trend of giving every kid at a sporting event a trophy. No. No. No. That’s not how it works. If little Timmy crosses the finish line last, then by definition he is not as good as the kid who crosses first. Period. She deserves the praise, not him. Yet now the general consensus is that every child should get a ribbon to keep his or her self-esteem intact. Know what? It’s a cold, cruel world out there. The sooner little Timmy finds out that running the hundred in thirty seconds is really pretty awful, the better. Plus, kids don’t care about winning if they’re rewarded the same after losing. I promise you they’ll happily let someone else blaze that trail of glory if they’re still guaranteed a new video game no matter if they finish first or fifth.
The bottom line is that it’s okay to be critical. Sure, it should be done with tact and hopefully some positive reinforcement of how to do better next time. It’s not much help when someone says, “Anna, your trailer was worthless.” (True story.) But the fact that Mr. Tough Guy Behind A Computer Screen didn’t dig my trailer isn’t in and of itself a tragedy. Just inspires me to do better next time. Likewise, not every one of these blog posts is gonna have them rolling in the aisles. I’m not gonna be batting a thousand every week. Not every piece of coal can be turned into a diamond. I can keep going like this forever…
You get my point. Is Michelangelo a genius? Absolutely. Did Shakespeare write some pretty amazing stuff? Of course. Am I even close to that kind of artistic perfection? Not a chance, and that’s okay. For now. But Mr. Stuart Smalley’s mantra of being good enough isn’t good enough for me. It shouldn’t be good enough for you either. Remember… Goonies never say die.