For those of us who participate in an artistic activity: comedy, writing, visual art, dance or whatever, how do you feel about the difference between someone giving a judgement or an opinion on your work?
If I put a video on YouTube, a joke on Twitter or a painting in an exhibition, I’m asking for people to give their opinions, but just that.
Language of Opinion
People seem to get confused between opinion and judgement and then artists recoil from any kind of response, it seems. I’ve found it hard to discuss the difference between the two types of reactions even with friends. It seems to be a bit of a hot potato. An opinion is valid and subjective and I find people give an opinion but dress it in the language of fact or judgement.
Response versus Judgement
I think it would be liberating for artists, well I’ll just speak for myself here, to get people’s opinions spoken as their opinions. If I put my work on show, I want people to feel they can say what they want about it but, unless the means to do this are discussed, I think people shy away from saying anything in case they say the wrong thing.
A friend put a comment up on one of my oldest comedy gig videos on YouTube to say ‘Sorry but this is dreadful’ and I felt a bit stung. It may be dreadful, many people might think so, but this is an opinion, not a proven fact.
Having worked as a theatre critic, I know that responding to people’s work, in this case plays performed on the London Fringe circuit, can be helpful. The word ‘constructive’ might be a bit daunting and make people think they have to know about something to give their opinion on it.
How good something is becomes academic. Surely arts are subjective?
Why do people need to know about the arts? It would be better if, as I hoped I demonstrated with my theatre reviews, that you can have an understanding and working experience of an art form and manage people’s expectations so they know if that particular thing (amongst so much on offer) would appeal to them. Therefore I aimed to show some of my own response to what I’ve seen along with comment on acting, direction, writing, scenery and props and lighting etc.
There seems to be a lot of judgement around about art and it doesn’t do art much good. Look at the difference between Opportunity Knocks and New Faces – which gave us Victoria Wood and Lenny Henry, notably both comedians – and today’s X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. The main difference between the two older shows and our current crop of talent shows is that we now have a Judging Panel. Often opinion is stated as fact.
On New Faces and Opportunity Knocks, people voted for the acts they liked. These shows produced talent that is still with us today and, I don’t know if you agree, comedians don’t stand much chance on Britain’s Got Talent.
On today’s talent shows, the judges might stop an act before completion. This is different from the older style too and might add too much pressure. If each act gets their 5 minutes and the audience votes for what they like, we’d get a much bigger chance of finding some talent.
As Lenny Bruce said ‘the audience is a genius’. Hearing what other people think surely encourages artists and makes the direction of their forward progress less of a mystery or a continual stab in the dark.
Therefore the language of responding has to be right. I’d rather people said ‘I didn’t like your set’ to me after a comedy gig than avoided me or were tongue-tied. Silence sounds like what I have done is too terrible for words and that’s not helpful. Where do you go from terrible? Give up? If you want to have the best art around you, start acknowledging the stuff you like.
Owning Your Opinions
Your opinions are yours and they’re valid. It would be liberating, I feel, for people and artists if people could talk about what they like and what they don’t like. People could recognise opinions and tastes that were similar to theirs, rather than letting Simon Cowell do all their thinking for them and letting the artistic landscape become one-dimensional and samey.
Yes, so I’m saying go ahead and tell people what you think of their work as a response not a judgement. Own your opinions. Say ‘I like it’ not ‘it is good’.
It’s the nicest feeling in the world when someone says they like something you’ve done and it’s the worst, most dispiriting thing to be told something you’ve done is ‘bad’ or to ‘give up’, ‘don’t give up the day job’ or ‘keep taking the pills’.
What do you think?