There’s a problem in Newfoundland and it’s pretty simple to see. While we’re a pretty great capital for the creation of art we’re rather shit at criticism. We’re shit at giving it, we’re shit at getting it, respecting it, promoting it. Criticism in Newfoundland is bad.
Don’t believe me? Pick up a local newspaper. I’ve seen it in the Muse, Scope, and even the Telegram. One article I read seemed to place blame on our close knit community. Everyone knows everyone here in NL so chances are if you work in the arts you’ll end up working with the person whose art you criticized.
That statement itself expresses an ideology harmful to the arts scene here on The Rock. The notion that by criticizing a work you are delivering offence to the creator or to those members of the audience who enjoy it. This is not true. While it is true that you can be a combative arse about criticism, the criticism at its base level is not something of insult. It is a statement regarding the reception of your piece of work and I cannot fathom how something so invaluable to artists should be regarded so poorly. Artists in NL fear criticism. It is your most important asset. You can write and write and write but at the end of the day you’re only getting better based on your notions of what a good piece of writing looks like. You need to test it. You need to send your [work] into the world and make sure your schema of what good writing looks like matches the reception.
Not to say that everyone who reads your work will be the perfect audience, that they won’t be brainless, but that’s part of the journey. You need to make those judgments with your artistic liberty. After all, it’s not what you mean that’s important, but how it’s interpreted.
So criticism in Newfoundland is in rough shape. Don’t feel too bad if you’re a critic out there. I know you exist. The thing is, we need more critics. And we need more critics willing to stand their ground and play the villain in their every day life until being a critic isn’t viewed as being the villain. That’s why I’m writing this letter. I just came across a post by a friend who titles himself a writer. Atrocious grammar, atrocious punctuation. His post reeked of lacking self respect. Didn’t much seem like he cared about what he was saying so why should anyone else? I thought I’d be a bit snarky and rather than say anything I simply linked him to the Wikipedia page on commas. Except I immediately deleted it when I began to consider the offence I would give.
That reminded me of when I created a Facebook account dedicated to criticism in NL. I figured being anonymous would benefit criticism. I was wrong. You need to be able to stand strong in upholding your opinions and for that you need a face. Most people thought me a troll. My criticisms weren’t entertained for a moment because of my anonymity. Seems I was doing more harm than good.
This is why I’ve decided to more openly and courageously play the role of a critic – to adopt the mantle of the villain. If you’re offended by my criticisms that’s unfortunate and I do feel sorry for you. However, ultimately, it’s not about you. It’s about this piece of art here and all I’m doing is remarking on its effect.
Who am I to call myself a critic, you may ask? Well, let me answer that in two ways. Take your pick.
Firstly, I love art in all forms and have loved it my entire life. I respect skill and talent alike. I adore craftsmanship and can appreciate the evocative elements of a piece besides. I have been writing for nearing two decades. I have four novels. I am modest enough to accept that they’re terrible despite what I’ve been told. I am a musician. I have acted on stage in this province. I am a lover of musicals, film, hell even video games. I have a degree in this field. I have done creative writing at the post secondary level. I have been the ML for the Office of Letters and Light for this province for the last I don’t even know how many years. It’s been long enough that they’re sending me ML swag. My bedroom alone has about twenty five shelves of books.
Secondly, why the hell does it matter who I am? Criticism isn’t reserved for the elite. It’s about telling the creator how the piece was received. Frankly, anyone can do it. Most people are just afraid to.
So for the next forever I’ll be marching on the warpath. The first on my list of things to do is to buy a book from this friend of mine so that when I do present to him my criticisms I can do so in a non-combative, non-confrontational way with a solid, legitimate argument. I encourage everyone who has cared enough to read this to completion to do the same. Go out and read something or listen to an album. Go see a performance. It doesn’t matter so long as when you’re done you talk about the parts you didn’t like.
– Samuel Wilkes