Constructive criticism

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“The Critic” by Dave Shafer (

Some years ago I was a member of an excellent music forum called Sonikmatter. It dealt mainly with the ins and outs of the music production software package that I use called Logic but it was also for all things to do with the writing, playing and recording of music. It is no longer in existence sadly but I remember a discussion there at one stage about the role of criticism when it comes to creative work. I have never been a fan of the critics. I feel it is all too easy to criticise someone else’s creative output and much more difficult to sit down and produce something oneself. I think most of us who endeavour to be creative need encouragement more than anything else. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for constructive feedback but I think it is a very delicate matter. I remember the story about the famous poet Rilke receiving a letter with some poems from an aspiring writer who asked him to appraise his work. As I remember it Rilke wrote back declining to do so saying something like we should never ask for our creative work to be judged by another person because it is such a subjective process and who can really criticise the expression of someone else’s creative impulse? He said we should trust our own work and never ask for anyone else’s judgement about it. I may not have it exactly right but I think that was the gist of it.

I agree with this sentiment and think that although it may be legitimate to appraise something in a technical sense, we should leave the actual creative work itself alone. After all when it comes to music, or any art form really, there is an almost infinite variety of things out there all with their own individual character, expressing something unique about the artist. There is room for almost anything although of course tastes differ which is fine. So I may not like something but that does not mean it is not good art.

I have seen a lot of damage done to the self-esteem, confidence and indeed careers of established as well as aspiring artists by careless negative criticism in the public arena. In fact one of my favourite musicians of the Prog Rock era, Keith Emerson, took his own life some years ago partly because of the negative online comments that people were making about him at the time. Of course there were other issues involved like nerve damage in one of his hands, his own perfectionism in relation to how that effected his ability to perform and as I understand it a long battle with depression but the thoughtless criticism certainly didn’t help.

Keith Emerson in concert with his band at Nearfest 2006 by Lrheath

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