Storytelling critique

By Limor Shiponi

This post follows the previous one – Storylistening and the ability to review performance. There it was mainly about my daughter’s thoughts, some remarks made by me and comments by other storytellers. I wish to thank all of you.

I waited until we had time to speak again. I read all the comments for her. Here is what she said:

“Come-on, if people are saying there isn’t a possibility to criticize storytelling performance it’s as if they are saying they expect a student to walk out from every lesson at school totally satisfied. That’s not real.

It also seems as if you people imagine ‘a critique’. Since when do you rely on a single opinion? If you want to find out about a performance, you ask several people. You read several critiques.”

I brought up the word “objective” and the claim that what a person thinks about a performance is his subjective opinion. I wanted to know if she can tell me about some “objective” performance indicators. She almost lost her patience… 🙂

“Duhhh?! if a storyteller is telling red riding hood from the end to the beginning, drops out words and parts of the story, takes brakes in the middle and yawns, tells at the the pace of a turtle and has an uneven-voice, will that be objective enough for you to agree it is bad storytelling if you can at all call it telling red riding hood?!”

I thanked her for being the kid in the house for this discussion. She is off minding her own business, it is me from here on:

I assume many years ago other arts were busy with the same discussion. Developing art-critique was part of their evolution. If they want to keep evolving, this discussion is supposed to continue for them too.

Art-critique is part of the art in all art-forms. Without it you can’t really challenge any kind of development. You can’t really tell whether you are moving somewhere or not. We can all tell if we “like” a performance, if we prefer a specific teller. We can tell if our performance was “better” than a previous one. We do use measurement.

The fact we don’t talk about it out-loud does not mean it does not exists.

Storytelling critique is a touchy business just like in singing. The instrument is the person, we can easily get hurt.

Art critique is formed in words. You read it on the newspaper. There is something “weird” about criticizing storytelling in words. I could say the same thing about literature – but it’s not the same. Some storytelling components cannot be put into words that sit still on a page. It’s the same for music. There, people use metaphor. In storytelling, metaphor is the language…

Personal preference has turned into a sort laziness-weapon. In music no one would alternate a text and say “but this is my way of playing the piece”. The piece is kept intact and you are expected to interpret it. You’re interpretation should be based on knowledge. You should be able to argue in it’s favor with more than “but that’s how I feel it should be.”

Measuring time | aussiegall | Flickr

I started studying art. Every semester our work is evaluated by the staff in front of all the class and other members of the school. I watch the masters very closely. I’m curious about their evaluating process. How do they know what to look at? how do they differentiate “style” or “personality” from solid artistic parameters? how do I evaluate other storytellers? or my players in the orchestra?

I asked the headmaster of the art school. He said, “the first thing I look for is the  progress of the student in mastering the core materials of visual art – sketching, composition and color.”

Sketching is a set of knowledge, skills and practice (experience). The same I can say about composition and color. What about music? the same applies there. The materials of music are known.

Notice the art master was not speaking about “artistic ability”. Coming to think about it, when I evaluate a musician, I rarely think about it too. “Musicality” develops from working on the materials of music.

What about storytelling? I say the same applies here. We just need to agree on the materials of storytelling.

Some years ago I tried to bypass this miserable long-standing argument in the world of storytelling by creating a survey. It had 70 questions on it. Question 56 was about the materials of storytelling. I figured we might not be able to agree through discussion so I tried accumulation. I suggested various components of the art and asked the participants to vote for everything they found relevant. You could also suggest “other”. After the first round I created a single question poll, using only question 56 with all the first answers and the suggested “other”s. You can read about it here.

I think we need to take this discussion deeper. Like, what for instance does “sense of story” mean? is it really part of the materials of storytelling? how is it measured?

2 thoughts on “Storytelling critique”

  1. Pingback: Storytelling Business Social Media Marketing PR & Technology Curated Stories August 18, 2010

  2. Which makes me think – maybe I’ll start writing about the materials of storytelling. If anyone cares to help just let me know.

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