made of plastic and elastic

The Dresden Dolls are on a grueling tour right now, and Amanda is writing about it in her blog, which is wonderful and a great example of why we should always trade quantity for quality.

There’s an entry this morning which touched a nerve with me. She’s talking about the new album:

The reviews are 98% amazing, but we will focus on the 2% that think the
music is terrible and the lyrics are trite and overdramatic. How does
one scrape oneself out of the goth pigeon coop? This has been a problem
from day one. I never thought that wearing whiteface on stage would
land us in the predicament of being compared to Marilyn Manson. Are you
shitting me? Have you listened to our music, fool? We have as much in
common with Marilyn Manson as we do with Cher. Did people lump KISS and
david bowie together?

had a lot of frustrations with O’Reilly and the release of Just A Geek,
but the worst thing of all was that they classified my autobographical,
narrative non-fiction story as "Science Fiction," because I was once on
a Sci-Fi show. That’s as idiotic as comparing the Dresden Dolls to
Marilyn Manson, and a great way to limit the potential audience.

When someone doesn’t like my work, there’s not a lot I can do about
it; I try to dig something constructive out of it, and move along.
But when someone just doesn’t get it, and uses an entirely
inappropriate comparison or categorizes me with another artist based
on something as stupid as what kind of makeup I wear on stage (ahem), it
makes me want to deliver the cockpunch.

I don’t know what it is about artists, but so many of us can’t ignore
the bad reviews. It’s almost like we think that they know something
real, something secret, something that nobody else is willing to tell
us. I think that, deep down, we all know that this thing we’ve created
really doesn’t suck, so we listen to all the people who want to
convince us that it does. It’s like we have a dysfunctional,
battered-person relationship with some invisible force called The

28 thoughts on “made of plastic and elastic”

  1. So true Wil. Sometimes it goes as far as to keep you awake at night wondering what you could have done better. But at the same time, at the end of the day, you just have to have confidence in yourself enough to say that you did the best you could, you’re happy with it, and if someone doesn’t get it…it’s there loss and there’s a special place for them on the short bus.

  2. I don’t know if I can break any new ground here, but here are my thoughts:
    For me, when I put something out there that I’ve created, I know that *I* like it. So, at one level, it has value. However, like many artists (I think), I’m a bit of an insecure and self-critical person, and as such look for external validation. Problem is, the self-critical part always accepts the positive responses with a grain of salt (oh, they’re just being nice), where as the insecure part accepts the negatives as the brutally honest truth. So, I end up not being able to find the validation I seek. Dysfunctional indeed.

  3. I agree that a lot of critics may go a bit overboard in their “criticisms” of an artist’s creation. But, can your argue that some criticisms provide the necessary exercise that helps build the artist’s creative muscle? Without these criticisms, how much longer do you think it would take for that artist to move beyond his/her creative plateau?
    I’ve provided criticisms, and have been criticized many times myself, and I tend to embrace these criticisms, but not in a dysfunctional manner or obsessive manner. The torn muscle may hurt and could keep you up at night, but once it heals, you’ll appreciate the added strength that comes with it. On the post’s general view of bad reviews, Wil, I tend to disagree with you. I’m not defending O’Reilly, in fact, I know O’Reilly can be both arrogant and ignorant in the way they handle their clients. The point I’m trying to make is that not all bad reviews are necessarily “bad” or manipulative. If I see a creative individual who’s creations are being overshadowed by his creative potential, I provide my feedback. I don’t that’s wrong.

  4. It isn’t just artists, Wil…it’s everybody. There’s a saying in the retail business that unfortunately holds true for every area of life:
    “When you do something right, no one remembers.
    When you do something wrong, no one forgets.”
    I always make it a point to let somebody know when I’ve received really good service from anybody because I know how few of the compliments we get vs. how many of the complaints and it’s the same sort of thing (sort of). That one good thing that somebody says about you can make your day, but that one bad thing can ruin your week.
    I’m one of those “I need your validation!” people although it’s something I’m trying desperately to work on (with limited success). I must admit that I LOVE it when something I have said or done is recognized in a positive way and I get uber defensive if it’s recognized negatively but I think that is just the nature of human beings. Even when someone says they don’t care what other people think, I think that isn’t true. If they really didn’t care, why bother saying they didn’t care?
    No matter what, there’s gonna be people that will tear your down on a personal level just because they happen to feel like it or because it makes them feel like a more substantial person. I don’t understand the mentality but I know that it exists.
    And we missed you on Tuesday…how’d that audition go?

  5. I second fitzwillie’s comment about self-criticism coloring how one reads reviews of one’s work, and I think there is an added layer of not wanting to become complacent just because I’ve gotten a good review. Also, I’m not sure if this is just a trait of the particular publications in which I’m occasionally mentioned, or of classical music criticism in general, but bad reviews of a particular performance tend to highlight specific flaws, whereas good reviews give more general praise, which makes it easier to dismiss them as “just being nice”.

  6. Of course, there’s a whole discussion to be had about the difference between ‘reviews’ and critiques. At some point, one must figure out how to ignore the trolls, and appreciate the well-thought-out analyses, whether they be positive or negative. Unfortunately, it’s easy to intellectually understand the difference, but hard to reach an emotional place where you can completely ignore someone saying, “I hated your work, and you’re stupid, and you’re feet stink, neener neener neener!” And harder still to get to where you can internalize the negative critique and use it to improve your craft.

  7. It’s human nature Wil – can I call you Wil? 😉
    I work in IT (about as far from artistic as you care to get without becoming an actuary) and usually, the best I can hope for in terms of good customer service is “no one noticed me doing my job, therefore I’m doing it well”.
    Artists suffer from it more, because of the generally more public display of personality traits (or at least what we attribute as personality traits for someone we’ve never met and know only through a sometimes carefully orchestrated exhibition).
    It’s tied to self-worth to some degree. Art is personal expression. When someone hates my art, they by extension hate some piece of me that led me to produce said art.
    Yeah, that’s tough to get past, but it really shouldn’t be, since the critic generally has no real idea of WHO the artist is.

  8. That’s part of the growth we all go through. The ability to recognize whether the negative critique we receive is critique we ourselves embody, or whether it is simply the ramblings of an angry and disgruntled troll….

  9. Everyone who works on an artistic endeavor has to deal with this. And it sucks, because everyone and their mom has a Really Important Opinion on what you’ve created – whether they know what they’re talking about or not. I think fitzwillie is entirely correct when saying you have to seperate the trolls from the people who actually know what they’re talking about. :/

  10. Hey, that’s two people who liked something I said. Maybe I *am* smar-
    Oh, wait. They’re probably just being nice to me.
    Thanks to dulcian and christy for your positive comments! :)

  11. I’ve noticed that with myself and others, when people like what we do (be it visual or performing arts, writing, what have you), it’s like, “HA! I have them fooled! I hope no one sees through my façade!” And thus bad comments/reviews seem more true, more real, because they’ve broken past our “charade” to see what we “really are.”
    In actuallity, we all just sell ourselves short…

  12. How odd that “Just a Geek” was classified under science fiction.
    You will be pleased to know that at the University of British Columbia Bookstore that it was shelved under the computer book blogging category

  13. “deliver the cockpunch”
    This is a phrase that must be used more in every day life.
    That being said, I agree about type-casting/pigeon-holing. All they tend to do is encourage ignorance.

  14. Wil,
    The desire to hear and learn from dissenting opinions is what I call a Jaffe, named after a character from a great but shortlived tv show who said “If you’re dumb, surround yourself with smart people. If you’re smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.”
    It’s the only way to grow. You can’t improve if you’re just pleasing yes-men.

  15. You know when critique is accurate or unjust by checking in with your inner-fan.
    If your inner-fan sincerely disagrees with the negative critique your artist received, then dismiss it.
    You can’t fool your inner-fan. He knows you too well.

  16. They classed it under Science Fiction? Oh, jeez. And I thought movie ratings were inaccurate these days…
    Oh, and to quote you if I may: ” I think that, deep down, we all know that this thing we’ve created really doesn’t suck, so we listen to all the people who want to convince us that it does. It’s like we have a dysfunctional, battered-person relationship with some invisible force called The Critics.”
    Many thanks to you and all the others who replied here who see that as clearly as I forget to sometimes.

  17. Good afternoon,
    As an aside, this is nothing new as even an artist like Anton Bruckner was unmercifully criticized during his lifetime. It seems that praise was seldom given. From the wikipedia article regarding Brucker:
    “Bruckner was a very simple man, and numerous anecdotes abound as to his dogged pursuit of his chosen craft and his humble acceptance of the fame that eventually came his way. Once, after a performance of his Fifth Symphony, an enthusiastic young person approached him and said his work was the greatest creation since Beethoven. Bruckner, overcome with emotion, and not knowing how to respond, reached in his pocket and gave the young man a silver piece and told him he had waited his whole life just to hear someone say that.”
    – DFisherman

  18. not cool for people to assume your books are “science fiction”. However, I do consider DD to be “goth”, but then their are diff. flavors of “goth”, just as their are diff flavors of “punk”. Curious if the comparison to MM was in the review she was reading or wither it was a conclusion that Amanda came to.

  19. I agree with these posts.
    It’s everyone’s fear that they’re not good enough. Not good enough for *insert activity/feeling/person here*
    Truly, we all want to think that we suck, because then, we wouldn’t have high expectations and when we actually accomplish something, it’ll be amazing. Also, the lows aren’t as bad if you’re expecting them, right?
    Everyone wants to please everyone. That’s human nature, mostly.
    So if there’s even 1 person who doesn’t like what you do, your product, your personality, etc… you wonder.
    What can I do better? what did I do to make this person not like me. Because we have a tendency to believe that it is our own fault, and not just a matter of the circumstances, or the other person. We like to think we can always do better, and so, we try to rationalize the critics’ comments to prove to ourselves that we can.
    Kinda like the French expression “Tourner le couteau dans la plaie”, or “adding oil to fire”.
    We stay up at night wondering, knowing we should have tried harder, or put in extra effort or just one more take, one more day to proof read (I’m a journalist 😉 and trust me, I’ve felt that one lotsa times!)
    But honestly, sometimes, you just couldn’t do anything more. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel like crap, or feel guilty etc.
    So you just have to grin and bear it.
    Hope this rant wasn’t too long and boring 😉

  20. This is true everywhere. I do training sessions and get evaluation forms at the end of each one. I won’t claim 98% wonderful like Amanda does – that’s truly awesome! – but I do get maybe 90% who love what I did. And what do I focus on? The 10% who weren’t happy. The trick is to keep it all in perspective. If 9 out of 10 people think I did great, that says more about that 10th person than it does about the training I gave.

  21. It is a known phenomenon in human psychology that negative feelings often outweigh positive ones. When it comes to hearsay or reputation, they say that you have to hear 17 (or maybe just 7) positive recommendations about something
    (say, a business you are thinking of patronizing) to outweigh one negative review. And that people who suffer a loss are often more risk-averse in the future, even when the stakes are good. I think there may even be neurological studies about how the brain often responds more strongly to something negative.
    So it’s not surprising that everyone – not just artists – tend to focus on the negative more than the positive.

  22. About believing the bad:
    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
    Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
    It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
    We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?
    Actually, who are you not to be?” (Nelson Mandela)
    (Aside: um, aren’t Dresdon dolls blonde and blue-eyed???)

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