Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bravo, Artist, For the Most Part, at Least

While reading Carrie Bronstein's blog, I got to thinking about the premise of her most recent post. She writes:
"Last week, I briefly mentioned the particular brand of awkwardness that occurs after watching a friend's less-than-stellar performance, or seeing their sub-par art exhibit, when they ask you, "So, what did you think?" We're all guilty of the little white lie that follows, which usually boils down to a generic compliment. Some of us, and I'll count myself among this crowd, even overcompensate and blurt out, "I LOVED IT." To any of my friends reading this entry, rest assured that I have never done this to you. I am talking about some other friend."

Carrie also includes a video of hers chronicling her own experience.
Here it is:

I also feel very strongly about the importance of supporting the arts and those who produce them for us. Now, having said this, I can honestly say that I can only think of one instance in which I had to tell a friend that her particular form of art didn't quite do it for me. And this is quite impressive as most of my friends are contributing artists.

Now, here's the exception. Years ago a musician friend performed a sax piece I didn't fully enjoy. Incidentally, Carrie's post today made me think of the experience again. I remember enjoying the beginning and middle part of her rendering but the conclusion left something to be desired. At the end she asked us, me in particular, what we/I thought of her performance. I said, 'It was very good, overall. There was a moment, though, towards the end where you paused longer than I thought the piece asked for. Was that an interpretative move?'

The friend got a tad upset by the end of the conversation. And yet I didn't understand why. In my way, I had also paid a compliment to her, I thought, by speaking so highly, as I should have, of the first part of her performance. I did, indeed, enjoy most of her performance just not all of it. For example, I believe Dante's Divina Commedia is one of the biggest contributions to Western literature but, at the same time, I don't care much for the third part of the work, namely, Paradiso. Inferno, on the other hand, i.e., the first part of the work, is simply incomparably superior. My copy of L'Inferno looks raggedy from constant use, whereas Paradiso could sell very well were I to put it on eBay. Anyway, the point is made, I suppose.

To placate the performing friend, I made a big banner, on top of which I wrote Shakespeare's signature line from the comedy, Twelfth Night: "If music be the food of love, play on, give me excess of it."

My friend was very touched by the gesture. She loved it. We went on to attending many other performances (by other artists) after that and now reminisce about the old college days quite fondly. Now, I could have interpreted this experience two ways:

1) Note to self: Next time you go to see a friend perform, leave the critic 'hat' at home and pick up the friend 'cap' instead. Utter a simple "Good job. That was....good!" and then suggest that you all grab a latte.

2) Honesty is always best. You can always apologize using Shakespearean words later. Or not.

3)What think ye?

What do you tend to say to people you know when you see their respective arts and performances?


Anonymous said...

I'm ashamed to say, I'm one of these cowards who's more likely to say 'good work' to an artist to their face and then send a text, during their boring performance, to someone else saying sth like 'this is SO boring!'

Anonymous said...

I also tend to say 'interesting. made me think.' and all that jazz.....
I mean, I don't know Shakespeare as well as some other people. :) Apologies are time-consuming. I just think that performing artist friends are real liabilities, man.
Can you tell that I have a few of those......

Anonymous said...

I once said sth like, 'wow, that must have taken you a while to, like, memorize, right?'

Anonymous said...

Nts: be vague and quick.
A friend didn't speak to me for a good month after I saw him and his band and told him that they were a bit 'off' on that particular night.

Unknown said...

If I don't like the performance, I say very little. I mean, I do think that effort should count for something but if the 'work' itself is sub-par, then the fewer the words of reaction, the better.

Unknown said...

If I don't like the performance, I say very little. I mean, I do think that effort should count for something but if the 'work' itself is sub-par, then the fewer the words of reaction, the better.

Unknown said...

If I don't like the performance, I say very little. I mean, I do think that effort should count for something but if the 'work' itself is sub-par, then the fewer the words of reaction, the better.

Anonymous said...

OH man. That one-man-show was excruciating! Poor Carrie!! Alas, I've been in that situation more than once. What I say is:
'yeah, thanks for inviting me to see you.'

Sra said...

This is one of those things you should evaluate in a case-by-case basis. In general I am very honest, and if someone asks my true opinion, they can count on me to tell them what I really think. But if they just ask me what I thought without expressly asking me to tell the truth, I generally keep criticism to myself. Unless, of course, I can be constructive in my criticism, or unless I think it would be more cruel NOT to express my concerns.

So I've gone both ways recently:

(1) A friend of mine was creating a website for a geeky Stars Wars charity group, and he asked my honest opinion on the site. I felt it looked rather amateur, like the type of site you used to see in the mid-90's. So I tried to express this to him using more positive words and I gave examples of some things he could do differently. He was a little hurt, but thanked me for being honest.

(2) An acquaintance was having a photography book release, and I was rather unimpressed with the final product. The pictures were nice, but they didn't look like anything particularly artful or skilled. They looked like a collection of lucky shots that anyone could put together from their own photo collection. But I kept this to myself and bought her book anyway.

I think the difference in these scenarios is a matter of familiarity with the person seeking an opinion.

aflo said...

Depends on who the person is but for the most part I will just say "that was good. You were great." Then again there is that handful of people with whom I know I can be brutally honest and tell them what I really thought without worrying about them getting hurt.