Feedback And The Art Of Selective Brilliance

What could be better than to be brilliant?

(Actually, if I was being facetious, I could probably come up with quite a good long list but, you know, who needs facetious?) Aside from all the other things that would be nice, I can’t think of anyone – certainly not in any artistic field – who wouldn’t trade them in to hear someone say “that was brilliant.” You may not be able to take your money with you when you die, but you can take your brilliance. But how do you know whether you are, or not?

It’s generally thought poor form to bestow brilliance upon yourself, though that never stopped some people I could mention. Brilliance, along with its imposter sibling, excrement, is subjective. So subjective that it’s not even a surprise to have the exact same football match described in such contrasting terms, by two different newspapers, that you begin to wonder whether you had been at a different stadium.

And so it is with art. For the heaving mass of insecurity that makes up the majority of artists, that can be hard to deal with. That nervous wait for the first night reviews. The cast, huddled in the late-night bar waiting for the first edition. We’ve all seen the films. “Brilliant!” goes the New York Times and there is much whooping and toasting. “A triumph of will,” says The Guardian, as more Bolinger is quaffed. “Putrid introspection fit only for the weak of mind,” says Time Out. Wait, what?

Over in Twitter Land, small presses, publishers, and indie authors are relentlessly flogging their wares. One of the main marketing ruses is the use of feedback. Reviews. Good ones. Loads of them. Mainly from the behemoth that is Uncle Amazon. And what Twitter has done, with its crippling 140 character soundbite limit, is relaunched the selective review content so prevalent in film and theatre posters of old. Those press quotes with the dodgy “…” joining up fragments of sentences like a jeweller stringing together a beautiful necklace using the best pearls. “What a joy…brilliant” says the blurb, rather than the original: “What a joy to see the end credits, and to stagger, brain-addled, into the brilliant sunshine outside.”

Of course, I’d do almost the same. I like to stick to complete sentences, though. I may once or twice have linked two unrelated clauses if the intervening words were irrelevant, or written in Dutch. And, of course, when any of us do that, we pick the nice sentences. The positive ones. The ones that tell us we are brilliant. We have no shame.

So what happens when we realise that someone has not taken our piece of art well? Not only that, but they have decided to share this view. For yes, of course, there will always be a crap review. Please feel free to enjoy it. I did.

No, I didn’t.

I take it all personally. Along with every other writer and artist, I say the right things: “you can’t please everyone, all the time; one man’s meat is another man’s poison; if you try to please everyone you’ll please no-one, etc., etc., etc”.

But that’s all bollocks.

I’d like to be all rock and roll about it; provocative; sticking two fingers up; but I want everyone to like me. In an ideal world. That this is impossible makes no difference. Writing is hard work. It’s not proper working-class, Victorian ethic hard work, but it’s certainly not easy, or even much fun. As writers don’t exist without readers, the opinions of the latter ought to wear heavily on the former. The problem with dealing with crap reviews is that if you decide to ignore them completely (“because this person is clearly deranged”) then you must do the same with all the good ones, surely?

There’s the rub. A couple of days ago I noticed, over on Amazon, this great review.  So you have to take the rough with the smooth. Or ignore it all completely.

Or hold out for the occasionally surreal reviews such as this final one, possibly the greatest 5-Star book review in history.

See you next time.


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