The Creator and the Critic
Part 2: How to Distract Yourself from Making Art, or “Did You Read That Article?”
The night after Beyoncé’s** Super Bowl performance a few weeks ago, one of my closest and oldest friends came over for dinner and I lamented first about how little I cared about Beyoncé, then about how much I cared about how little she was wearing, and then on the several thousand articles that were posted in praise of her performance, some rallying so heavily that I was worried that I was missing something important, that what I had watched wasn’t just a glorified strip show. With a look of worn distaste on my face, my friend responded by saying, “I guess the problem is we’ve become a generation not of creators, but of critics”. I know he’s not the only person to hint at that idea, and I’m sure there are a thousand think pieces about it on the same sites that are always recapping Girls episodes, but it felt particularly relevant to me at a time when I was really having trouble writing music and creating ‘art’.
The obvious problem is that we love information, and actually, to put it more accurately, we love content. If there is an article, mp3, YouTube clip, Top Ten list, NSFW celebrity nipslip, buzz band interview — the list goes on — that seems even remotely relevant or potentially on the radar to be talked about in similarly informed company, it’s important, nay, essential, that we have read it. I haven’t started a bona fide conversation with a stranger in the past five years where I haven’t casually slipped in the oft-expressed “Did you read?” I rarely don’t laugh at Portlandia sketches because they’re always encompassing everything that I am and hate, but there was a particular sketch wherein Fred and Carrie ask each other “Did you read?” so many times that, as in all of their sketches, it boils over to absurdity. I’m sorry to say that I’ve reached that point without even knowing it when it wasn’t being filmed for television.
In a lot of ways, this era of knowing it all is fun and freewheeling and makes for, as most will tell you, a time of possibility in so many ways. Anybody can make it, anyone can create, anyone can put their voice into the ether with the hopes that it will be heard. It’s fun and invigorating to know that anything you create, whether it’s a piece of writing or a piece of music or a dumb video of you lip-synching to a Carly Rae Jepsen song, you could be seen by millions or more people. Undoubtedly, however, there is bound to be a downside to this. It seems pointless for me to throw my hand into the “Where’s the curated, combed-through, high-quality content?” debate, so I’ll give my own perspective on why there is a downside. It makes it excessively hard to create anything yourself. Overdosing on content is equal to creative constipation, especially when you fall somewhere in the middle of both skills. I want to “contribute to the conversation” as all the blogs are always calling it (or, really, avoiding calling it), but I also want to be creating the conversation. What happens when a desire to know things precludes and counters the ability to create the media that you’re interested in critiquing? Can you be a consumer and a creator at the same time? Can you be a critic and the critiqued in the same body?
One thing I’d always noticed about my friends who were in bands more or less full-time was that they were far more forgiving of bands and musicians that were not performing well or just getting their musical sea legs or had faltered in between records. They were understanding of what it’s like to make something from the heart and to not know if it was going to be appreciated, and with knowing that, not really caring, either. They are better people than me. I don’t know if it was a result of living for so many years in New York City, where everything new is old the next day, or if I’m just a mean-spirited know-it-all, but I can say with certainty that the Internet isn’t helping. I’ve turned into someone who casts aside even the most sincere mp3 just because something better came along two minutes later. And as a musician, this is a disgusting example of biting the hand that feeds you.