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On Positivity and Criticism (aka How to be a Nicer Person)

29 November, 2013

Recently, one of my favourite bands released their new single, the first off an album that’s due out next year. For anyone who’s interested, the band is Alcest, and the song ‘Opale’, which you can watch here.

In truth though, both the song and the band are irrelevant to today’s post. Instead, I want to talk about a more general aspect of positivity vs. criticism in all areas of art.

You see, when ‘Opale’ was released, the ‘fan’ comments (and I use the inverted commas there very deliberately) were fairly predictable. When Alcest formed, there was a heavy element of black metal to their music, an element which is entirely absent from their new release. As a consequence, a huge number of comments I’ve seen have run along the lines of ‘It’s not metal enough, therefore I don’t like it’.

A lot of the band’s ‘fans’ have, I feel, come to this conclusion by default, almost without listening to the new song. They’d been told in advance that black metal sounds weren’t going to appear on the new album, at which point they decided there and then that they weren’t going to like it. (Ironically, Alcest have been derided for not being ‘metal enough’ in some quarters for years – that the new album has gone further in that direction seems to be a surprise to no-one but the complainers. I honestly don’t know what they were expecting.)

The whole business bothers me: that the supposed fans suddenly hate a band for turning in a new direction, that they’re not willing to give the whole album a chance based on one song, that they go to such lengths to inform the band of their failings… All of this strikes me as both short-sighted and incredibly negative. So you don’t like a single song, and maybe you won’t like the album either. Does that stop you enjoying previous albums? Do you believe the change in style was made solely and intentionally to spite you? Does that shake your view of the world to the very foundations of the earth?

The answer to all those questions should of course be ‘no’. Liking or not liking a piece of art is, in the grand scheme of things, so very, very minor. It doesn’t alter your life, or the band’s life, or really anything at all.

And here we get to the nub of it all. So much of criticism surrounding art, particularly the ‘fan’ variety that percolates the internet, is focused on negativity. Disliking changes of style, new books by a previously-loved author, the new colour of a website… Said fans go to great and sometimes alarming lengths to make their discontent felt. And really, what does that accomplish? It lets off a few minutes of steam for the ‘fan’ – and makes the musician/author/artist feel terrible for a whole lot longer than that.

I will admit to having posted bad, even scathing reviews of books online in the past, but looking back, I genuinely wish I hadn’t. These days, I ignore the books I didn’t like and focus on the ones I did, by recommending them to other readers and posting about them here on my blog. The same goes for music, and films, and every other form of art and entertainment I enjoy.

I’m beginning to wish, too, that more people followed the same pattern. I’m not saying genuine criticism doesn’t have a place – it does, in all art forms, but it needs to be more considered than just ‘this sucks because it isn’t exactly like the last one’. Instead, I just wish that more fans and online commenters would be a little, well… nicer. Don’t like a film, a book or an album? So what? Either make your criticism a bit more constructive (i.e. a genuine review in which you point out positives as well as defects) or simply forget about it and move onto something you do enjoy.

Because I can’t help but think that, if we all focused on the positives a little more, the world would just be that bit more pleasant a place to be.

  1. 10 December, 2013 4:06 pm

    Heartfully agree. In writing groups and critique sessions, I am always glad to hear the voices of encouragement–unyellowed and spite-free–that remind the writer of the success and sparkle in even the roughest drafts.

    • 10 December, 2013 6:08 pm

      Absolutely. When I’ve critiqued for other writers, I’ve never come across a single piece that didn’t have some redeeming qualities, no matter how rough the whole. For the writer, hearing those few positive comments tends to make otherwise harsh criticism much more worthwhile, and in all honesty, I’d be inclined to ignore a critique that was entirely negative.

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