Thursday, July 30, 2009

Taking criticism

Talk is cheap. I'd rather get paid than get a compliment. Yet, most of the time when I attempt to teach I stumble up against a problem between students and myself. They find me judgmental.

Guilty as charged.

Of course I'm judgmental just as we all are. We pass judgment all the time and express that judgment most truthfully through what we are willing to pay for.

Yet when students pay me to judge them, seldom do they want the "truth"--whatever that is. All anyone can provide is an opinion and by definition opinion is subjective. Usually, evaluations of me by students are that I have much to offer by information, but I'm too judgmental of their efforts. I wish they didn't feel this way because I'm actually not trying to be judgmental. But obviously I can't prevent being judgmental because that is what every producer or director does when hiring an actor, or a screenwriter. (Acting and screenwriting are the two disciplines I have taught.) And the audience is the harshest judge of all.

But perhaps when students are paying to be judged, they actually expect not the truth, but praise. By receiving praise, they are then able to "learn." But do they? I wonder. Personally, I learn by study and taking risks and making mistakes. It is all the bad acting I've done that makes me a good actor, (if I am.) And it is all the unsold scripts I've written, that makes me a good writer.

When students, particularly acting students, complain that I'm too critical or too judgmental, I should offer to introduce them to a casting director who'll just say they're too fat. Or tall. Or black. That's the reality of the business. Screenwriters are even more harshly judged. But I actually DON'T want to crush their dreams, despite their belief that I do.

Acting and writing comprise two of the most competitive fields we have in our culture. Given how few actors or writers actually ever get hired to do this work, why don't students expect to be judged? Have we become so soft as a culture that any kind of criticism is regarded with anger? My opinion is just that, an opinion, given honestly in the hopes that it can be useful. But if it isn't, that's okay. Ignore it. (Something I reiterate to students time and again.)

It's their anger I can't get past. I can't help wonder whether our education system, which now bans failure has actually failed to ask the best of people. But we as a society only want to pay for the best. We don't like paying for a bad car, and we don't like paying for a bad actor. Or a bad story.

Yes, "good" and "bad" are subjective. Exactly. So why is it so hard for students to get past my "judgment" of them? If all someone wants is to be nurtured, then I'm probably not the best instructor for that kind of person. And perhaps there isn't a place in our culture for an instructor who doesn't intuitively nurture. I just wish I knew how to convey how my judgment comes from my passion for the work. (And that I am my own harshest critic, though I realize that doesn't matter, nor should it.)

I wish all students I've tried to teach, success in their pursuits. If I come off as judgmental, I apologize because that isn't my intention. I actually think I'm being consciously supportive of their effort. But my wife maintains that it isn't "what you say, it's how you say it" that matters in this world. Perhaps that's the most difficult lesson of all for me to learn.

1 comment:

edgar said...

Have you ever tried speaking to your students about this situation? Or do you find it easier speaking from the heart from another medium such as this?