Last night as we arrived back to campus, my friend Josh brought up what he enjoyed and did not enjoy about the show we had just seen. Rather than being met with the usual responses of “I liked this” or “I hated that” he was instead met with this: “I don’t want to critique theatre because if you’re negative that doesn’t help you as an artist.”
I, of course, had an immediate reaction, but forced myself to stay quiet and listen to…nothing. The conversation stopped. It died. And that was the end of it. But I was left unsatisfied. And here’s why: I’ve grown up watching plays, ballets, symphonies, concerts, and whatever else. I’ve stepped foot into plenty of art galleries and museums. I consider myself a decently well-read person. And throughout my time of viewing art, I have not loved all of it. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t even like some of it. And I’m almost certain that I expressed these feelings to my parents, friends, significant other, or perhaps even the artist them self. I grew up in a world where saying “I would have liked to see…because…” and “I don’t know if I like this because…” does not make me a bad person. So has my arrival at theatre school, a place where I should be free to critique art and learn from it, stifle my ability to have an opinion?
My hope would be no. I hope that my training does not force me to say “well I didn’t really like that, but it was art so I can’t say anything bad about it.” And I doubt that it will. It was fascinating for me to hear though that many of the people surrounding me, who are perhaps quick to critique exercises we do in class, are the same people who refuse to critique shows that we go to see.
That’s not to say that I believe in only focusing on the negative of course, because that would get us nowhere. But focusing only on the positive doesn’t get us anywhere either. There needs to be a balance for growth to happen. I want to be able to look at a show and find what I liked and disliked in order to be able to look at my own work and decide what I liked and disliked about that. I need to critique in order to grow.
So, dear readers, what do you think? Do you believe that we, as artists/humans/viewers, need to critique art in order to connect with it and grow? Or do you feel that we are better off allowing it to stand alone? Leave me a comment and let me know.