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The conundrum of criticism

Maltese people in general are not very good with criticism.

Maltese people in general are not very good with criticism.

I’ve always been one of those people who value honesty above everything else. I’ve never sought to be comforted by lies. To me, nothing comes above the truth because it’s only through embracing the truth that we are able to grow and evolve in what I consider to be the right way. Unfortunately, I realised quite late in life that just because I have embraced this way of thinking in its entirety, it doesn’t necessarily mean that people around me are ready or prepared for the same bumpy ride. Of course, once critiquing became an integral part of my job, the stakes became even higher and the shark-infested waters harder to navigate. How do you tell someone that you don’t really know that while they are lovely, their work leaves much to be desired? 

A few years ago, a designer approached me after a show and asked me for my honest opinion about his work and after wringing my mind for a couple of seconds to try to balance the sweet with the sour, I told him that while his ideas were great, the finishes left much to be desired. I told him that with more time and patience he could be one of the best. I thought I was being fair and that I was being helpful; after all, what I had said was nothing compared to the dark mutterings that many people around me were making about his work. However, despite my tact, he took what I said extremely personally and decided that I bore some kind of grudge against him. What made it worse was that the same people who had been lambasting his work left right and centre just a few minutes earlier were praising him up and down to his face.

It’s not easy to tell someone who has asked for your opinion the absolute truth: you don’t want to hurt or discourage them and you certainly don’t want them to feel crushed or demotivated by what you’re saying. On the other hand, we do a great disservice both to the creative industries as well as to ourselves when we choose to lie to make someone else feel better. Maltese people in general are not very good with criticism. For some reason they see it as a sign of disloyalty, however, I would like to think that when it comes to the creative sector we are better than that. If someone you respect tells you that your work can be improved and gives you valid reasons for why they think so, chances are it’s not because they dislike you but it’s because they want to see you improve and reach your full potential. You don’t necessarily have to take what they say on board, but you should at least be open enough to want to improve and not think that you’ve made it after a season or two in the sun. Some people just need a nudge in the right direction and there is nothing wrong with admitting that you have a lot to learn. We are all on a journey; don’t be afraid to change direction.

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