Friday, October 07, 2005

To Criticize a Critic

Today’s write-only exploration will cover the subject of criticism, particularly the elegant and courtly means by which Second Life residents guide each other to betterment. What? Ya … SCREW YOU TOO BUDDY! Every exhibition or competition, from Burning Life to State of Play inevitably features some variation on the following dialog:

Aristotle Omega: Your build sucks!

Plato Midnight: What? Who asked you? Your ATTITUDE sucks!

Aristotle Omega: *GASP* You DARE criticize the critic?! If you don’t want unsolicited critiques, you should hide your build from the public eye and become a critic! Good DAY to you SIR!

Besides the fundamental right to free speech, Aristotle does have a valid point. We are all being judged for everything we do, either silently or in the public forum. If we aren’t ready to accept this, then we should just hide under the blankets. Most of us are painfully conscious of the judging eyes upon us, even if only on a subconscious level. When we expose some part of ourselves (like our work) we are secretly asking for public approval. We also feel extraordinarily hurt when our efforts are ripped apart like a dog’s chew toy. But hey, that’s the risk we take when we put our efforts “out there.”

But what about criticism? When critics critique, are THEY putting their efforts “out there” and opening themselves up to counter criticism? Or should they enjoy some sort of de facto immunity from having their comments critiqued? It seems most critics, particularly the unsolicited variety, are incredulous when their animadversion is condemned! The problem is that any argument supporting one’s moral right to criticize also supports the right of others to criticize them right back.

So the question is ... can we criticize our critics? Think about that while I go hide under my blankets.


  1. That image totally cracked me up.

    Artists need to accept the fact that critics will emerge. Critics should accept the fact that they're also going take heat when they decide the world needs to hear their opinion.

    One advantage I had growing up with a writer for a father was getting to hear his take on critics. It was roughly shaped like this: examine a critique for things to learn, but don't expect such useful tidbits. Never let it make you doubt your artistic purpose or drive. In other words, be willing to listen but be stubborn and independent as well. Stay true to yourself.

    Our little conflicts between creator and critic are nothing compared to the real world. One of the more dramatic (and funny) wars fought both in the press and the courtroom was between the artist James Whistler and the critic Ruskin (who was also a painter, but not a great one). Whistler had a razor sharp wit. For more on Whistler's take on critics and his view on art, I recommend reading his "10 O'clock Lecture" (can be found in The Gentle Art of Making Enemies).

    While some critics have interesting things to say, too often they simply become arrogant. I wish that more people didn't depend on self-annointed arbiters of quality.

    One of my favorite quotes on the topic is from Robert Henri, a leading American artist at the turn of the century:
    "The man who has honesty, integrity, the love of inquiry, the desire to see beyond, is ready to appreciate good art. He needs no one to give him an art education; he is already qualified. He needs but to see pictures with his active mind, look into them for the things that belong to him, and he will find soon enough in himself an art connoisseur and an art lover of the first order."

  2. Someone should make avs for those Muppet characters. I used to call the "Waldorf and Astoria", o my.

    The upside to someone being a rude "critic" is, hey, they've removed all doubt of being a jerk. No longer need you ponder over ambiguity, their attitude is crystalclear! I like to have a good laff and move onto something happier.

    One blessed thing I've always considered is, when someone gets all critical, they are choosing their time to talk--even in a negative way--about YOU. They are spending fractions of life devoted to your existence! What could be more empowering than that?