criticism and listening

I’ve been thinking about listening to criticism as a choreographer, and then I read this:

The greatest compliment that was ever paid to me was when someone asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.

– Henry David Thoreau (cited in The Zen of Listening by Rebecca Shafir)

We are, as artists, asking critics to respond when we put our work in the public arena. But, I also suspect we tend to listen very poorly to what it is that they say (I’m very guilty of this).

Mind you, I’ve never had the tremendous pleasure of getting a review like the one Herman Melville received after Moby Dick was published:

This is an ill-compounded mixture of romance and matter-of-fact. The idea of a connected and collected story has obviously visited and abandoned its writer again and again in the course of composition. The style of his tale is in places disfigured by mad (rather than bad) English’ and its catastrophe is hastily, weakly, and obscurely managed. We have little more to say in reprobation or in recommendation of this absurd book. Mr. Melville has to thank himself only if his horrors and his heroics are flung aside by the general reader, as so much trash belonging to the worst school of Bedlam literature—since he seems not so much unable to learn as disdainful of learning the craft of an artist.

– Henry F. Chorley in London Athenaeum (cited in David McRaney, 2012. You Are Not So Smart p.67)

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