Sri Lankans Can’t Handle The Heat

Posted: February 6, 2011 in Uncategorized

Yeah, I said it. Booyaka!

I’m totally disgusted by the epic lack of criticism that ‘artists’ get in Sri Lanka, and I mean actual meaningful criticism, not the stuff you read in the Sunday Obsoletever. Whether it’s playwrights, visual artists, photographers, event managers, musicians – people check out their stuff, and leave criticism to the gossip at the water cooler, while sugar coating their actual written reviews with totally bogus praise.

Why do you want to criticize? It’s not nice, asshole!

Criticism of someone’s work, is not necessarily saying bad things about it. It’s actually just speaking the truth, whether its nice or not; or your perspective of the truth based on your personal opinions. It’s not saying ‘your art is a piece of shit,’ but rather ‘your art fails to convey any meaning to me, maybe you should explain it better or try out a new medium altogether.’ But yeah sometimes if it is just that bad, it’s kinda just saying ‘your art is a piece of shit.’

Why should we criticize?

If you don’t criticize an artist, the artist thinks his work is just dandy, and continues doing what he does – and if what he does is crap, then we have a problem. Simple logic. Artists can only evolve if they receive brutally honest feedback.

The amount of ass kissing that ‘writers’ in Sri Lanka receive makes me lol so hard. Bad writing, and lately I’ve noticed really bad journalism, goes totally unacknowledged and unaddressed – like you’re at a wedding and someone whispers that Aunty Monica just got into rehab after going absolutely bonkers, and everyone says ‘Sshhh! Don’t bring that up, it’s not nice.’ We’re not a family at a wedding, folks. I wish we were. I wish work and art was about wattalapam and fun tunes, but no.

I weep, sometimes, listening to some of the music local bands play. And not from joy either. They really do suck. And yet, you open a magazine review page, and at most it’ll say something painfully subtle and polite like ‘the turn out was rather disappointing’ or ‘although relatively young and inexperienced these musicians show some potential’ or my personal favourite, criticism-quickly-coated-with-an-asskiss ‘there is much room for improvement for these maestros of melody.’ I would like to say, ‘the band’s music was so horrifying I was in physical pain,’ but I’m pretty sure any magazine editor would opt to make it sound more ‘gentle,’ lest the poor, poor little sensitive band members read it and cry into their palms.

Why don’t we criticize?

I think Chavie put it aptly when he said, “Sri Lankans don’t criticize because Sri Lankans don’t like to be criticized.” It is a dumbass community-mentality of, you be nice to me and I’ll be nice to you. Falalala! Hand in hand goes the need for most self-proclaimed critics to kiss ass in order to maintain friends higher up.
Sri Lankans take criticism personally. Which is understandable if you’re an impressionable young naive thing just learning the ropes in your field of work – so harsh criticism can get you down. But really, I’ve seen even the most hoity toity utterly experienced of Colombo playwrights get all angry-monkey for the show of the slightest honest criticism. Grow some balls, fools. So somebody thinks your work isn’t absolutely wonderful, doesn’t mean you have to throw a tantrum or cry in a corner over it. Scoop your ego off the floor and get over it, you’re not twelve.

The biggest problem about this norm is that even artists who want criticism – can’t get it. Because everyone is too busy being ‘polite’ and wouldn’t dare tell the ‘artist’ what they really think.

Who’s a critic?

A critic is somebody with an opinion, in my opinion. Some critics are less qualified to say what they say than other critics, based on their intelligence and knowledge of the subject they’re criticizing. Tolerating criticism is basically tolerating a wide range of opinions. Nobody can really say they’re the supreme judge of all things (unless it’s like, Shakespeare critiquing you on your grammar or something), but it’s basically the notion of getting different ideas from your audience on the stuff that you do – there is real constructive conversation between you and the people you’re serving or entertaining.

I want to actually start something, maybe online before it becomes something more real, that serves as honest critique. Of Sri Lankan art, plays, music, events, hangouts, food joints, whatever. Writers will probably be anonymous, at least at the beginning till people get used to it, what with people getting all butthurt and ‘oh no you di’nt!’ about hearing what’s hard to hear.

What’s the best part about the existence of criticism?

When those same critics look at your work some day, and if its truly good work, they’ll say it is. And it’ll actually mean something for once, instead of just sweet nothings meant to pamper your ego and keep the peace.

  1. PseudoRandom says:

    Having been vilified for giving (what I considered) constructive criticism, I totally agree. It’s an odd situation, considering the fact that throughout our childhood, we’re told we’re not good enough. It’s the complete opposite here: children are brought up with an inflated sense of self-worth, and then they crumble at the realisation that it’s a tough world out there. I don’t get it.

  2. Angel says:

    Can I join the vilification bandwagon? Sometimes I wonder why bothering, especially with the emo, angry monkey reactions followed by a “oh yeah? Well you have split ends and no dress sense” type of reaction.

  3. Vivimarie says:

    Totally agree. I think writers, artists, whoever should be able to understand that some people will like their work and some people will not. And that there maybe valuable lessons to be learned from constructive criticism. You got to distance yourself from your work for a bit, and not feel so insecure, they you can take meaningful criticism in the right spirit. Or choose to ignore it but refrain from retaliating or insulting the critic. As shown in the article you have linked to in the Sunday Obsoletever (love your name for that sad excuse for a newspaper), I met that clown somewhere recently and he looked at me hopefully and expectantly, hoping i would come over and cry and tear my hair but I just nodded hello and he looked terribly disappointed. Even though what he had written is drivel, I respect that he has a right to his opinion. Anyway, great post, and I wish you success and offer my support with the magazine/website/forum you initiate to bring an ethos of healthy criticism of art in Sri Lanka.

  4. Vivimarie says:


  5. Tulie says:

    You’ve raised some valid points Maks; but I hope you realize that the ‘critics’ you need to enroll in your pet project have to be really mature, emotionally to hand out constructive criticism – it would be very easy to get carried away with this sort of thing.

  6. T says:

    I agree. And I also agree with Tulie. Criticism needs to be handed out in a constructive way, instead of just mud-slinging. In fact, if you ARE going to start a forum for such purposes, I think it’s important that the critics NOT be anonymous or at least have a blog link to their pseudonym or just something to hold them accountable for what they’re saying, because it can easily turn into just a bunch of trolls badmouthing everyone.

  7. Chavie says:

    Your intentions are admirable, Maks, and I wish you guys will figure something out. But – like T and Tulie mentioned – precautions must be taken, and you’ll be all set. 🙂

  8. Gehan says:

    agreed! well said maks, and yes, such a forum might be just what our arts circle need to get to the next level.. i remember when i was in India, college bands used to get trashed mercilessly if they sucked, but it really builds them up in the long run.

    and yes, like Tulie and T said, lets not just make this for artsy trolls to sink their teeth into.

  9. Namali says:

    Hey i don’t totally agree with everything ur saying but i really believe Sri Lankan art suffers from e lack of good criticism. I often get told to edit out whatever not-so-positive comments from reviews etc. when i write for Mirror. I’m on if ur serious abt e criticism website or whatever and need writers.

  10. Maks, I hear you. I share similar sentiments – it drives me nuts when people keep quiet when they should be screaming. From paying for a rotten beef-curry in Raheema to surrendering to uncivilized conductors in buses, Sri Lankans are a spineless bunch. They vote for the sake of voting, not because they weigh and measure the outcome… I could go on and on, but I think we are on the same page.

    Well said, Maks, well said.

  11. Ash says:

    Let’s face it, no one likes a bad review(er). Having said that, I agree, critics are important, but while entertaining, like Simon Cowell, can get too wrapped up in their own self-importance cs slinging shit at others is just so much fun sometimes.

  12. Hijinx says:

    Mayb thr’s a reasn ppl can’t take the heat? Sri Lankans r the snarkiest, most unkind critics I knw, & criticisms, rather than discuss merit, tend to cntain mutterd allusions 2 what ur mother did w whom to breed a kid this free of talent. Ya, I exaggerate.

  13. Dulan says:

    Well, it’s all relative isn’t it? Being able to take criticism will also depend on the critic.

    For example long ages ago when I was young, we had a friend sing “Music of the Night” (off Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production) at a talent contest. One judge stood out (apart from being a Rock band fella) by saying “Machan, you shouldn’t be singing Celine Dion songs” in a very haughty manner. To this day, I wish we’d beaten the crap outta him for that. I mean, I’d forgive him for critiquing the actual singing, but to ignorantly make assumptions and then base criticism on those assumptions – to what purpose?

    You’ve forgotten the legions of Sri Lankans who carry opinions based on confidence/gossip (as opposed to fact) in your list of critics. There are so many who will criticise without actually being qualified to do so, that I guess people develop a bad reaction.

    I agree with you on the point that people should be able to take criticism in a mature manner, but then that doesn’t give people the right to criticise everything.

  14. Jack Point says:

    Hey Maks

    it seems great minds think alike. I thought you had invented it but others seem to be using it as well, but maybe with a different meaning: See following links

  15. Criticism is both terrifying and necessary; all I could ask from a critic (and everyone’s a critic) is that he (or she) be fair.

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