Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Dealing with Criticism

Last Sunday night on 60 Minutes on CBS, there was a segment about a marvelous pianist, Gabriela Montero who improvises with the Classics, much like a Jazz rift. Hear her play here. Her story was quite amazing. She started playing the piano at 18 months of age. But the thing that jumped out at me was that she almost quit playing because when she was just entering her teens her teacher questioning her talent because of her improvisations.

"I was told that there was nothing special about it. In a way, almost making it sound like it was embarrassing. And in classical music, there was no space for this. So I didn't. And I started to feel ashamed," she recalls. Yet she dutifully rehearsed the classics, note for note. But as her teen years gave way to young adulthood, she soured on the musical life altogether. "Those were the hard years. Those were the years where I really lost my way," she says. For two years, she didn't touch a piano. She became a nomad.....

Have you ever felt ashamed when your work was criticised. Don't misunderstand, the criticism that damages our creative spirit isn't constructive, it is the kind that disparages or dismisses our efforts. It is the kind of criticism that nitpicks at details. That takes the joy from a new project.

The first time I went to the Portfolio Reviews at FotoFest back when I just starting to be serious with my photography, the first reviewer who looked at my work of the 16th Century Mexican Churches, leaned back in her chair and said, "Oh, no! Mexico! It is so overdone." And then muttered something about me not even being Mexican. Well fortunately, that wasn't the only review that I had. Nor did it reflect the opinion of some of my peers who encouraged me. Otherwise, I might have abandoned a project that brought me great joy and also recognition.

Gabriela was a child. She didn't know how to protect herself. We have to find a way to deal with these events that are going to happen in our artistic lives because we need a safe place for our art to grow from just an idea. We mustn't let a criticism sour a project or even worse, make us stop altogether. Gabriela Montero sought the advise of Martha Argerich who many consider the greatest living pianist. She found a mentor. She found a way back to her music.

We have to find a few friends and mentors with whom we can show new work, to talk with about our work. I had that in Texas but it has been harder to find here in San Miguel. That is why every time I go back to Texas there are some people that I try really hard to see. My photography friends in Austin and a group in Houston that get together once a month. They never dismiss or disparage. After a visit with them, I feel encouraged and energized from showing my work and from seeing theirs.

4 comments:

Brenda said...

Thank goodness that reviewer did not sour you on your art and I'm glad you have friends who lift you up. People don't seem to realise how their words effect people. We watched that TV show also and really enjoyed it. She is an amazing lady with a wonderful talent.
I hope that they find your friends son in law, alive and well. What an awful thing to happen, we had heard it on the news also. Will keep them in my thoughts.

Tommy Williams said...

I don't know if you're familiar with Paul Butzi or not, but he's a photographer here in the Seattle area and has recently started a blog -- and he's writing some great stuff. His series of posts about talent indirectly touches on criticism and discouragement as part of artistic growth:

http://photo-musings.blogspot.com/2006/11/talent.html

http://photo-musings.blogspot.com/2006/11/myth-of-talent-redux.html

http://photo-musings.blogspot.com/2006/12/talentno-talent.html

Billie said...

Tommy,
Thanks for this link to Paul Butzi. I've scanned over this sight and will go back to read it in detail. So helpful to know how other photographers deal with these issues.

Brenda said...

Billie, I am sorry to hear the news of your friends son in law.
Brenda