Criticism. If you are willing to put yourself “out there,” as a performing artist, then some criticism is inevitable. I personally have received some lovely reviews, and a couple that, um, weren’t so lovely.
The lovely reviews were fun to receive, but not particularly memorable. The less than lovely–okay, the shitty–reviews are much more vivid in my memory.
My first skin-thickening review came during a five-night run of a cabaret performance. Reading that I effectively possessed all the emotional depth of a wading pool wasn’t fun, but the reviewer was so snarky and biting that I ultimately concluded he must have eaten a bad oyster or something, and taken it out on me.
Much more recently, though, someone I respect quite a lot wrote a review that was, for the most part, pretty tepid, but the reviewer did remark on my voice, which he said was “pretty” but didn’t possess much “body.” I’m not going to lie: that stung. And I humbly submit the following:
My voice is, indisputably, light and clear; as much as I’d like to believe otherwise, I know that I will never be able to belt like Aretha. But I started singing 19 years ago, and this I know for sure: my voice is not without “body.” Light? Yes. Weak? No way.
But the real issue I’m trying to sort out, here, is this: how do we deal constructively with criticism that may or may not be constructive at all? If we take our good reviews to heart, crowing inwardly, “They got me! They really understood me!”, do we then have to be just as willing to impart significance to the reviews that hurt (or infuriate) us? How do we keep our skin thick but our hearts open?
I admire the iron will exerted by artists who swear that they never read their own reviews. In the age of Google, though, I don’t know how on earth they manage such a feat. The temptation is too great and the access is just too easy.
For my part, I’m not content to categorically dismiss critics and criticism as irrelevant. There are, for example, many knowledgeable “arts journalists,” as opposed to “critics,” who further public literacy about the arts as well as promote artists via their writing. So I want to find a way to enjoy positive feedback, learn from the negative feedback, and not take either too seriously.
I intend to lick my wounds and be grateful that someone who writes for a living would be willing to attend a performance and devote multiple paragraphs to a review. And then I’m going to go back to doing what I love the most: singing.