Jul 3, 2013

Aaron Loeb on Criticism

Playwright Aaron Loeb
Aaron Loeb - the playwright behind the 2009 New York International Fringe Festival hit that went on to a subsequent Off-Broadway run, ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S BIG GAY DANCE PARTY -  has posted a great essay on criticism over on Medium.com.

Here's an excerpt:
The other way we say “I don’t give a fuck. Go fuck yourself.” when offering criticism is, “I’m just being honest.” Or “I’m just calling it like I see it.” It offers the recipient of the critique absolutely no purchase. “Look, it just didn’t work for me. That’s just how I see it.” There is nothing for a creative person to do with that other than feel bad or determine you’re an asshole (likely the former, since creative people will generally seize upon any excuse to feel bad).
He follows with an alternative way to offer criticism, which he calls the "assumed master" approach:
You assume the person sharing is a master at their craft and you try to backtrack to find the reason why you didn’t understand — what clever trick was the master pulling? Your critique can be, simply, talking through your thought process. In hearing you describe what you heard, “the master” will likely learn something about her work AND be encouraged to do more of it. And when you get stuck — you just can’t work out why the master did something — well, she may find that helpful too.
I think this is a remarkably beneficial way to approach criticism and I have found myself doing it from time to time to young actors and playwrights without even knowing it. Out of diplomacy I have purposely given the person much more credit than I think they rightly deserve, and it almost always gets past any reflexive defenses. Believing they sorta got away with something or that I really am a dolt, they actually listen as I describe what I noticed, what I didn't understand, and so on. If I use as a director on actors they also listen ("Oh, I see what you're doing there. You've given me an idea..." and so on). I, the receiver, seemingly take all the responsibility. The creator is free from fault since whatever is in the work is reasoned to have been purposely placed there by the "master."

In a related way, I wonder what would come of "professional" press criticism if the reviewers and critics genuinely approached any piece like it was already an established Beckett or Shakespeare play. That any short-comings were at their end, not at the creator's end. Even if it was just a pretense, I wonder... What would the criticism look like? If the basic, foundational assumption was always that they were dealing with a "master" of the artform, instead of coming at it as " well, good try for a beginner..." (or worse, "emerging artist"). How would the criticism itself come acrtoss? What would this different perspective demand of the artists doing the work? How would they approach the creation of the pieces if they knew they would be assumed to be a "master" of their craft?

I'm not advocating a change to press criticism in any real way (it is what it is), but Loeb's essay does make some tasty food-for-thought...

The original article is at Medium.com... HERE.

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