Tonight I watched The Sketches of Frank Gehry (directed by Sydney Pollack) with my family. I particularly liked the way that the documentary portrayed the architect's creative process. The fact that, in his early career, Frank Gehry aligned himself with painters and still holds painters in esteem was a revelation. I love to see the interconnection between various disciplines in the arts.
Perhaps, what was most poignant to me was Gehry's thoughts on his critics. He says he tries his critics' remarks on like a coat and walks around in them. I like that visual image. Criticism as a coat seems small in comparison to the huge buildings of Frank Gehry. I imagine the coat to be a little tight around the shoulders of the architect. And it should be. The time, effort, and expense that goes into Gehry's buildings defy my ability to comprehend such enormities. I happen to admire his architecture, as many do. His sculptural interpretations of landscape have transformed what we think of as "building." But a completed building is a vision realized in its fullest glory, and the critic cuts it down with one printed word: ugly. Pollack interviewed one of these critics who said something to the effect that it was his responsibility to look out for the consumer.
I have received negative reviews with the good ones. Some reviewers give me both the nod and the shake in the same column. I am a bit surprised by negative press--not because I think my book is the greatest piece of prose ever written, but because my work comes from such a pure place. I am in the zone when I write, and I feel as though I am receiving dictation from my characters--characters who are very real to me. I can handle the criticism in the editorial process. As a fabric designer, I was used to receiving input and using it to make a better product. But after I have taken six years and made 50 passes through my novel, I feel that the work needs to be respected as creation. I am not sure that respect for the process and the artist's path is inherent when critics do their part as community watchdogs/consumer advocates.
Gehry said that ours is not a "culture of affirmation" or a "culture of embrace." How I wish that as a society we were more gentle with our artists; they get buffeted around enough as it is. I am not saying that I need each person who reads my work to be a yes person. I write from joy and will continue to do so. As for my book in the world--I have two wishes: I hope that my book will bring me necessary abundance to continue on my artistic quest and that it will bring me into conversation with readers and writers alike. Criticism is part of that conversation. In a world where anyone with a computer can offer opinion (I am aware of the irony) and in a society where American Idol rules the phone lines, I guess I'm just looking for a little more Paula and a little less Simon.
Have you affirmed an artist today?