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28 January 2010 @ 11:58 pm
On concrit, more or less ...  
Being a rampant egoist* I'm going to talk about myself for a minute. As a young woman, I liked to perform. Singing, dancing, acting, showjumping, debating, dressage, you name it, I was all for it. Part of the joy was that I actually like doing all those things, part of it was that I was generally good at them, and I liked to receive the ribbons, prizes and reviews that came with them. Even when the reviews were along the lines of 'An enjoyable performance until one of the soloists ended upside-down in the timpani' (tragic story involving last-minute relocation, shorter stage and me always looking at the back of the audience, never at my feet), I could always take something from them that would help me learn and grow.

As an older woman, I became a reviewer, writing about contemporary music and books for the most part, but also events, film, theatre and even fashion on a few memorable occasions. It was an interesting enterprise as I tried to separate the ways I looked at artefacts and to judge them on levels beyond personal taste and the intent of the author. Because while both those things matter, they're not the most important things. For example: Jeff Koons has a sculpture called Puppy, which is a 12-metre-high installation of a sculpture of a West Highland terrier clad in flowering plants. Now, Koons describes his own work as having no subtle artistic intent, though he seems happy to be paid well for it. And, being a bit of a wanker, I am inclined to think that Koons is a a post-Pop opportunist who is thrilled Andy Warhol died in 1987, and sniffily disapprove of him on principle. However, neither my taste nor the author's intent are the thing that form my response to Puppy. Because it is actually impossible to have a 12-metre-high terrier blooming in front of you and not smile. It's pure Festival, in the sense of the public taking a moment out of the everyday to commune with something that is anything but everyday. Once we did it with religion, now we sometimes do it with art.

All this is background.

Where I am going with it is that I like criticism. As a performer I liked reading it to push me, and as a reviewer I liked thinking about works beyond the simple 'Oh, yes, that was lovely' or 'La Fura dels Baus are really scary and I am not used to having to run away at the theatre!'** I like reading critiques for themselves, as well as in relation to works I am going to see/read, either before or after. I read works by dead critics.

If you ever want to criticise my work, you are free to do so, and I in fact encourage it. One really brave fandom friend has just challenged a few of us to leave critical comments on all her work at the moment (and if she is fine with probably having a few people come to gawp, I'll edit this paragraph to pop her name in, although anyone not reading her already is mad, I tell you!) I am completely up for the same experiment.

However ...


Criticism in fandom is really hard. I've been chatting about this with a few friends who are often smarter than me, and there are a few recurring themes. From here on I am going to be talking about concrit, which is the general fandom expectation of the critic (how this is similar to and different from the above would take up too much space at the moment, so I am conveniently ignoring it: this is LJ, not an aesthetics journal.)

The obvious one is that a large percentage of fandom writing (read art and writing, but I am a shameless text slut and so will talk about writing) is written to entertain. To respond in terms of personal taste is exactly the right response for this set, because that is the way the work is meant to engage with an audience. Concrit here can often be bad spirited, like saying 'Look, I liked that joke and I did laugh, but I think that your timing was off in the phrase before the punch line.'

Then there are a lot of people who are 'new' to writing, or still feeling their way through their creative process. To provide gentle concrit when asked for can be helpful if done kindly, but to unleash both barrels can be like attending the fourth rehearsal of a play and tearing apart the performances. Sometimes I feel that fanficrants  is devoted to this sort of exercise.

For writing that is done at a more serious level, where it would certainly be attracting reviews if it were original, it's not a simple matter, either. As one of my smarter friends said, criticism in publications comes out of what is largely a shared language and the readers of the criticism feel free to engage with it in a similarly critical mode, as letters to the arts editor often show.

In fandom, concrit is often seen as being much more emotionally loaded. Sometimes perhaps because it is: I have seen a few comments that read as though the commenter just wanted to make the writer feel bad, which may be as much about ineptitude in the part of the commenter as about actual bad blood. But I've also seen emotion read into a comment by the person who received it. And, much more often, by others. It ends up with bad feeling all around because something that started as an unloaded statement -- eg 'I feel your second act was a little rushed and would have loved to see it developed as strongly as the first and third' -- can finish up as being perceived as a comment on the worth of the writer.

Of course the correct response to such a comment is either 'Hmmmm, actually, yeah, good point' or 'I think you're wrong on that. Certainly the shifts in character and emotion were more subtle, however ...' but if you don't have a strong ego and a solid background of what we used to politely term vigorous critical debate, then this is not a game you will enjoy playing. (Again, I'm lucky to have been encouraged in this field. I had a professor whose greatest joy came when his class was disrupted by shouts along the lines of: 'Brammers you Postmodern Bolshevik you cannot tell me that Titus Andronicus is the Terminator of the Elizabethan Stage' 'Of course I can, Carruthers, you Tynanesque Tyrant, and if you had half the insight of your idol, you'd agree'.)

In many ways, concrit is like croquet: if you know how its played and you are up for it, it can be a great experience that leaves you feeling invigorated and intellectually excited. But if you find yourself suddenly in a field with unexpected mallets flying and have no idea which hoop is which, it's a bloody nightmare. And since fandom is largely a croquet-free zone, I am fine with the convention that one does not mention the hoops until one is invited to. Even though, as a massive fan of croquet (literally and metaphorically), I would like nothing better.

Add to this that sometimes the fandom audience is actually a terrible judge of work, since it's a place where a flash of penis can outweigh actual genius (in my own case, lacking penis and genius, amusing farces generally score far higher comment counts that the few works that have more substance). And sometimes writers have tangled up their self-worth so far into their writing and/or the reception of their writing that it is not possible to comment on the one without it being felt by the other. It ends up less of a croquet lawn and more a bloody minefield!

All of which is a long way of saying: I do get why a lot of my friends don't like concrit and there are dozens of good reasons and a few bad ones not to, but I'm personally fine with it and think you should feel free over here, even if I respond by telling you your point is not actually as valid as you think. For example, you might now like to criticise the rambling of the above paragraphs, and I would have to grant that you make an excellent point.

On a final and unrelated note, GO ANDY MURRAY!!


*Anyone who has just launched into a Beautiful People Egoiste re-enactment, I love you. Also, anyone who has just clicked both those links and is wondering WTF?? I have nothing. The 1990s are beyond even my powers of explanation.

** I started going to panto at three, so that's 40 years of everything from highly experimental theatre to a bucketload of Elizabethan, with even a full Peter Brooks Mahabharata, and LFdB is the only time I was in fear of my life. TheatreWorks's Desdemona made me briefly want to top myself, but that was largely because I was in a very bad mood after being bumped from my flight for a bevy of politicians including a vile ex-boyfriend and missed the performance I really wanted to see just before that one.
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Casaella_irene on January 28th, 2010 01:47 pm (UTC)
...Okay, I can see you ending up at the timpani, but the only way I can make 'upside down' work is with a Laurel and Hardy esque board.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 28th, 2010 01:49 pm (UTC)
There were pointe shoes involved. It was all a horrible mistake, however, even I and the percussion section could see the comedy in the situation at the time. One bruise, aside from the dignity -- quite broken.
(no subject) - aella_irene on January 28th, 2010 01:58 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - blamebrampton on January 28th, 2010 02:19 pm (UTC) (Expand)
inamac: owlinamac on January 28th, 2010 01:58 pm (UTC)
I've just been reading bits of this aloud to lil_shepherd and we have both been grinning hugely - you are such a fun raconteur. As all good 'critics' are (this is why I have various collections of critical studies on my shelves, from Q, through Michael Billington to Charles Shaar ("The bastards weren't LOUD enough") Murray.)

Lots of sense here too - back in the Dark Ages of fandom Lil and I used to run a critical fanzine and learned your distinctions very quickly (apparently one is not allowed to critique poetry because 'it comes from the heart' - well, so it should, but that doesn't mean that it shouldn't at least scan)

I think I need to ramble on a bit about this on my lj.

Meawhile - your CAPSLOCK to Andy Murray appears to have worked - could you do some more for the final?
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 28th, 2010 03:18 pm (UTC)
I LOVE THAT QUOTE!!

Yeah, it took me quite some time to work out that it wasn't the done thing to leave critical comments in a lot of contexts, which, as a courtesy, I am happy to observe, but I rather wish I had been around in the dark ages when things seem to have been more robust.

I will be capslocking and waving my arms frantically at Mr Murray in the final, and hoping, hoping, hoping!
(no subject) - inamac on January 28th, 2010 09:35 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Samena: Draco HBP swirlssamena on January 28th, 2010 01:58 pm (UTC)
If the author asks specifically for the readers' opinions, I think people can give them, but it's probably best to give them in a personal message, and not for everyone to read. And I think exchange fests are not really the best place to give criticism. A while ago someone left a comment to an exchange fic that went along the lines of: 'some elements of this story are actually promising.' That struck me as very, very rude, and uncalled for. Does the fact that it's anonymous mean that it's suddenly a free for all? Fortunately most people are not like that.

Edited at 2010-01-28 02:02 pm (UTC)
κάτι τρέχει στα γύφτικα: rosnguil_confuseyou_inbetween_ on January 28th, 2010 01:59 pm (UTC)
If you forget waggling a wang or two,
there's not much you've got going for you*.



Plus, some are playing with flamingoes under their arms, others with golf clubs or tennis rackets.



*-rself/r fic.
rosathome on January 28th, 2010 02:01 pm (UTC)
GO ANDY!!!!!!!

I was going to make a comment about one of the difficulties with concrit in fandom is that personal relationships exist in fandom much more so than in other genres, but actually I'm not completely sure that's true. For instance, in the last two days, I've been involved in two online discussions about published books, in each case with the author as an active participant. I 'know' those authors as well as I know some random LJ'er whose story I've read. And then if you're a 'real' critic, who gets paid to do this stuff, I bet you do actually get to know many of the people whose work you criticise.

So, I dunno. ;)
κάτι τρέχει στα γύφτικα: deathandthemaiden_inbetween_ on January 28th, 2010 02:05 pm (UTC)
Ditto - in the last years I realised it's the same for them, just on a bigger scale; who reviews whom or grants blurb praise etc.etc.
(no subject) - blamebrampton on January 28th, 2010 03:03 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - blamebrampton on January 28th, 2010 02:18 pm (UTC) (Expand)
rosathome on January 28th, 2010 02:03 pm (UTC)
Oh, also, because this has happened to me and other people I know a LOT. When Americans leave reviews saying something is 'quite good' what they mean is 'very good indeed'.
salviagsalviag on January 28th, 2010 02:04 pm (UTC)
I would like to encourage concrit in fandom, with an emphasis on its (not exactly hidden) meaning: it is supposed to be CONstructive CRITicism. I would not like to see writers (or artists) driven away, but I hope one tactful, thoughtful response is worth more than five million "SQUEEE!" I confess that sometimes I lurk more than I comment because I'm not sure what to say to a story... and that on a particularly bad day (when every single thing I read seems to spell 'passed' as 'past,' or refers to a man as a blonde fiancée) I may leave a negative comment, but I generally don't comment at all if I don't think the problems with a story can be fixed. And (I hope) it's clear when I comment that it is my reaction--both ephemeral and subjective--not a rigid judgement from on high. The difficulty comes with the Deadly Flame...but I don't want to equate a well-meant but negative comment with the Spawn of Anonymous Angst. ...Thank you for raising this topic. And by the by, some of us appreciate being able to read a work of fanfiction in front of colleagues from work or children...
prone to mischieftreacle_tartlet on January 28th, 2010 02:10 pm (UTC)
I love a bit of concrit. I am (I hope) a competant writer, but I recognise that I occasionally loose the plot (and the narrative, and my grasp on characterisation, and any sense of perspective...) and need someone (that would be you) to point this out to me. Concrit seems to be something of a dirty word in fandom; something to be done in private, lest someone's sensibilities are offended, and that's fine, because, as you point out, most people read and write here for fun. I like concrit because it gives me an opportunity to make my writing less crap, and this can only be a good thing. With this in mind, I've decided that the more betas, the better, because it is so rare to have someone offer concrit after a fic is posted (and even then it is often really minor quibbles that can be answered by saying 'if the Doctor doesn't trust Jack with a fully-functioning wriststrap, I sincerely doubt he let him keep a key to the TARDIS', or 'Teddy doesn't make a personal appearence in this story because he is away at boarding school in Scotland).
Finally, concrit is like croquet; not something one ought to indulge in while drunk on bubbly at 8am on the front lawn of one's University campus, then (you may recognise the Voice of Experience here).
*makes mental note*
FEELS TERRORIST!: HBP Tom mirrormomebie on January 28th, 2010 02:28 pm (UTC)
I think concrit is important if you have a real want to get better at the craft of writing, whether it be for fandom or otherwise. I welcome concrit myself, but I'm also familiar with people giving me their opinions, because I frequent writing groups and things.

My big problem with fandom concrit is that people will think they want it, and ask for it, and then get defensive when you offer it. Or counter with my favorite: I wrote this for ME and not for ANYONE ELSE. To which my response is generally '...er, why did you post it then?' Of course, these days I only give concrit to people I know well, only when it is solicited, and I always temper it with things I liked about the piece as well.
not your typical annihilatrix: byakuya annoyedfuriosity on January 28th, 2010 02:28 pm (UTC)
gawp
Really? Seriously? Some of us have encouraged and explicitly requested concrit on all our fics for years. This is a personal choice and IMO not at all occasion for any special attention: it's not brave and it's not special. It's like choosing khakis over jeans. Seems to me anyone who makes this big a deal out of welcoming concrit is really looking for cookies (and extra feedback, because let's face it, most people in fandom won't crit even when they're specifically asked to).

The fact is, anything can be criticised, constructively and not. I could take all of my beloved fandom classics and rip them to (constructive) shreds no matter how good they actually are. I wouldn't, because I'm not bored enough to do that, but if I decided it'd be fun to do it, that is reason enough. Fandom is for fun; it's a hobby. Trying to impose a binary standard of behaviour on a hobby -- using "percentage" and "majority" as excuses for why it's "logical" -- is ridiculous. >:( (ETA: I don't mean that you specifically are trying to impose anything on anyone with this post or otherwise; I'm just beyond annoyed at these discussions inevitably coming down to 'thou shalt not'.)

Edited at 2010-01-28 02:36 pm (UTC)
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 28th, 2010 02:48 pm (UTC)
Not for a moment suggesting it's brave for me. The whole point of the above, at awful length, is that it's normal to my way of thinking and I like it. (Where did that come from? Oh! The comment about a friend? Seriously, anyone asking me to leave comments for her IS brave, you have seen at what length I can crap on.) At the same time I am wholly supportive of the rather large number of my friends who don't like concrit, which is the main thrust of the above. And I also think it IS problematic in fandom, for the above reasons.

No cookies, thanks, on diet.

Not at all sure where you're going with the imposing a binary standard. Recognising that some people don't like being critiqued and that their reasons for not liking it are more important than my reasons for liking to -- as you say -- critique anything, is neither a binary standard nor one that I in any way insist others should follow. And you'll note that I explicitly make no claims for logicality.

I do stand by my opinion that some things are bad choices for the critical enterprise, though. While you might have fun critiquing a rehearsal or a text that is clearly written just for the fun of the writer, it doesn't do anything useful as it won't impact on the writer, won't be read by the audience who are in it just for the amusement value, and won't give you much of an exercise of your critical facilities.

[Sentence edited as it addressed point which has since been clarified.]


Edited at 2010-01-28 02:51 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - furiosity on January 28th, 2010 03:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - blamebrampton on January 28th, 2010 03:50 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - furiosity on January 28th, 2010 04:14 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - furiosity on January 28th, 2010 05:27 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - furiosity on January 28th, 2010 06:09 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - furiosity on January 31st, 2010 03:28 am (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - furiosity on January 31st, 2010 02:29 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - themostepotente on January 28th, 2010 11:59 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - norton_gale on January 29th, 2010 05:48 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - inamac on January 28th, 2010 09:20 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - furiosity on January 29th, 2010 03:03 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - pushdragon on February 3rd, 2010 10:50 am (UTC) (Expand)
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blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 28th, 2010 03:02 pm (UTC)
Heh, you know, there are a number of LJ people (me included) who would be fine with that!

And yes, one reason my friend was keen on public concrit was to examine technical writing details in public. For my part it's because all my stuff is publicly posted, so it lets people say things anonymously if they like, which can be easier. Assuming, of course, I ever finish anything again ... And those fandom faves which are indulged are something I feel myself being seduced by, and need external kicks out of sometimes.

Argh! So many interesting POVs already, and I have to go to bed!!
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - blamebrampton on January 28th, 2010 03:13 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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Potteresque Irepotteresque_ire on January 28th, 2010 03:34 pm (UTC)
You know, I am always so entertained by all the things you talk about ... about yourself and your life and your opinions ♥. You make everything sound so interesting and exciting (OUCH on the timpani!!). I wasn't a performer myself on the musical side—I have absolutely zilch sense of rhythm, but I was quite used to getting on stage for speech, prose readings and poem recitals and all those talky things. Those were the events that for a elementary school child, nerve breaking when they happened—standing alone before judges and other contestants and often reciting something in a foreign language—but they are REALLY funny as memories.

One tidbit that many people have found strange—if my mom watched me, as a rule, I screwed up BIG TIME. Forgot the words or cracked up. She never quite understood how I had won a trophy or two for that reason—she had never seen me not suck :D.

From those competitions there weren't a lot of in depth reviews. But when I stood there—and there's not much to do other to look at the audience and speak—what I learned was to read faces; and sometimes those could be scarier than crits. You know, a cringe, an eye-roll, a sneer; the worst thing wasn't the sight of them but when the brain went on overdrive to intepret each expression while the performance must continue.

So I learned to shut my brain down and just listen to myself (yeah, me and my ego! :D). IMHO, for any crit, in fandom, in RL—now I get crit every now and then presentations—the best policy I can think of is ... not think too much, as in, don't read too much into it. Chances are, most people don't bother to spend the time and effort to place layers of meaning into an opinion, or extend their view of the work as a metaphor of the author; they love it, the don't. They think it's right, it's wrong... hot or cold (wait...) and that's pretty much it. And it can be just a matter of method of presentation rather than the thought process that the audience disagree with—which everyone responds differently :). While some people say we shouldn't trust what our friends say I tend to disagree with that as well—they are the ones who are willing to spend time to think our things through and their opinions shouldn't be discredited just because they love us. Everyone of us can be quite likeable at times and we just can't help it, can we??? ♥

OH. THAT PUPPY!!!! *adores*. That is the cutest thing.... it, indeed, brought a grin to my face.

And I need to read that fanfic you've referred to...
salviagsalviag on January 28th, 2010 04:39 pm (UTC)
It makes perfect sense that you would always flub in front of your mom; in general, people perform better in front of a neutral or slightly hostile audience than a friendly one--even if they feel more comfortable with friends and family. I think that makes the whole concrit point: if the consensus is that it's not okay to criticize so that we all feel 'safe,' then the writing suffers. And I believe furiosity already made the point that whatever else it may be, LJ is a public forum on the internet, not your living room. So it's not 'safe' anyway.
Coffeejunkii: willow and xander disapprove! (by elsmokcoffeejunkii on January 28th, 2010 03:40 pm (UTC)
ugh, i am tired of the tip-toeing around concrit. i am mostly tired of it because it usually leads to people trotting out the horrible phrase "either say something nice or nothing at all." personally, i'd rather people say what they liked and disliked in a fic than only offering squee and withholding what didn't work for them. because in my book, the latter is rather dishonest.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on January 28th, 2010 03:52 pm (UTC)
I've been meaning to say to you for a year 'Yay! Great comment! but 'Flitwick' is the HEIGHT of romance to my stilted British heart ;-)'

At some point I will actually pop this on the appropriate comment.

Anyway, feel free to stomp at me, I will like it or argue with you in a friendly fashion.
(no subject) - coffeejunkii on January 29th, 2010 05:56 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - themostepotente on January 28th, 2010 11:57 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - coffeejunkii on January 29th, 2010 05:57 am (UTC) (Expand)
Sherrysherryillk on January 28th, 2010 03:43 pm (UTC)
My big thing with concrit is that's hard for me to imagine an artist not wanting to better their work. And writing, even writing fanfic, will always be an art form. But then I run into the entertainment justification and it makes me sad.

Ultimately, negative reviews can have a profound impact on future work, and insightful ones can lead to wonderful and beautiful conversations that enrich both the writer and reviewer. And the thought of cutting that away from the whole writer/reader experience makes me sad as well...

But the minefield comparison works well. As having stepped on a good many of those mines, I've gotten to the point where I don't think I care all that much anymore. No reviews for anybody, unless there's an absolute stroke of brilliance where I can't be silent.

But it's still always nice to add on another person onto the list with no holds barred... Makes up just a little bit for all those bits of saddness.
Drooling Fan Girldroolfangrrl on January 28th, 2010 04:19 pm (UTC)
First you had to use "rampant," a word I will always associate with erection. Then you fell into a kettle drum head first. And I'll try to remember that you don't mind concrit, but I don't think I can quit manage it to be honest. I've said the wrong thing to the wrong person far too often and had my nose swatted for it.