I realise that creatives come from every degree of the personality spectrum. Regardless of our temperament, our level of self-belief, our raw talent, our techniques or our oratory skills, as artists it feels risky and vulnerable asking people to talk about or evaluate our work. You might well have issues or misgivings about one of your own art pieces, songs, designs, poems, short films etc. but hearing someone else critique it can feel like a dagger to the soul.
Perhaps artists will balk at what I’m about to suggest but suggest it I will. When the opportunity presents itself ask people what they think of your work.
As I wrote and shot my short film ‘The Quickener’ I tried to strike just the right balance between mystery and revelation, rap lyricism and medieval instrumentation, sorrow and hope, grit and grace, hip-hop culture references and arcane quips. After the gruelling months of post-production I was still wondering ‘Does this work?’
Despite having numerous opportunities after screenings of ‘The Quickener’ I often felt unable to ask viewers what they made of it. I’m frustrated that I didn’t have more face-to-face conversations about the film. I want to get better at asking one or more of the following simple questions about my work:
1) Did you like it?
2) What did it make you think about?
3) How did it make you feel?
4) Can I tell you some of the story behind it?
And if you and a friend are responding to the work of someone else you can also ask:
5) What do you think the artist wants to say through this?
Are you able to ask people about their perspective on your art? When I’ve asked the right question and got a well-considered or simple, honest gut response it’s made my day. People reveal things about my work I didn’t even recognise while I was making it. Moreover I’ve actually started friendships in those ‘what do you think of my work?’ conversations. And yes, I’ve also had some ego-bruising (and at times baffling) critiques.
I know that some art is made for quiet engagement and prolonged reflection. I’m not saying that an intense conversation is the indicator of success. What I am saying is that much of our work has got something prophetic, transgressive, provocative, evocative, satirical, hopeful, melancholic, autobiographical, surreal, biblical, beautiful we genuinely want people to respond to. If you’re keen to get people talking you’re the one whose probably going to have to get the conversation started.
Just ask one of those 5 ridiculously simple and completely natural questions.