Thursday, May 9, 2013

criticizing a criticism of critiques

Doug Beyer wrote a response to a question on tumblr about dealing with criticism, and it’s started to spread from Magic to the larger Nerd Art Community. As soon as I saw that a Wizards-employed person was writing about criticism, I almost tripped over myself in a silent movie-era slapstick manner to respond to it, because I have deep disagreements with most in the Magic community regarding criticism. Basically, I think it’s a valuable thing, and others disagree.*

Beyer, to his credit, doesn’t say that one should just ignore all criticism… but he starts off by saying that artists should try to see what the author of the criticism was saying. This is completely off, for a few reasons: first, intent is bullshit. I’ve criticized a lot of things in a lot of ways over a lot of different mediums. I’m not sure I could tell you what my intent was for all of them, other than I’m saying what I thought at the time. The artist doesn’t need to put themselves in the shoes of the critic, because all the information they have is there already, without the need to divine the authorial intent of the critic: they can already see the criticisms. They can judge each of those criticisms independently of the critic, and independently of each other.

Let’s use a non-artistic example here. You go for your morning run, since you’re an active, attractive person who cares about your physical health. Unfortunately, you have to deal with an emergency in the morning (eg someone in a forum Mafia game accused you of being scum), and are unable to take your morning shower. You dash into work, and the office bully, who you loathe due to the fact that well he’s just an idiotic bully, tells you that your shirt is “like, so gay” and that you smell “like a gym locker room today.” You can analyze these criticisms independently of who he is, and independently of one another: you know that your shirt (which features an elephant taking a picture of itself with its trunk) is the absolute best, while you smelling bad… there’s a good chance he’s right on that one.

In this case, getting outraged that he’s criticizing you for the smell is probably the wrong way to go. You will not look like a coward caving to a bully if you run out for some deodorant. You will, however, continue to smell terrible if you don’t, and no amount of loud protestation on your part will change this.

On the other hand, if your beloved mother, who has not an unkind bone in her body, comments to you that you will never get anywhere if you continue to wear t-shirts and jeans to work, you can safely smile and nod and entirely ignore that criticism because you work at Google and earn $250k a year. Sometimes, criticism from even your biggest fans and supporters doesn’t mean that you should question something, but instead that those fans and supporters have no idea what they’re talking about.

Especially when it comes to arts-related as opposed to smell-related criticism, there will be plenty of times when you make something that you know is incredible because it was exactly what you were hoping to end up with, and other people just don’t get it at all. These people might have even adored things you’ve made previously, but if you were previously recording solo acoustic guitar songs and now you’re the second coming of Jesus Lizard, it’s pretty safe to ignore that. This isn’t because of who those fans are, or whether they’re trying to hurt or help you, but by the criticism instead. Criticism doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong, and lack of criticism does not mean that something is right. There’s been plenty of great art intended to shock, offend, infuriate, grate, piss off, and even to itself criticize, so if that’s what you’re going for, then a lack of criticism should send up a red flag. People not caring can be worse than criticism.

Mr. Beyer ends by reminding us that criticism is “just words,” so who cares? This is the biggest load of shit I’ve read in quite some time. It’s very possible that what you’ve created is “just mostly-water organisms making vibrations in their throats,” or even markings on a page intended to symbolize that, and if not, then it’s still work made by and (probably) intended for human consumption that won’t affect the larger universe. Human communication is what makes us special as a species, so the communication we have with each other had better matter or we’re all fucked. Since this is all just words, I’d like to remind Mr. Beyer that mdj4jmf8ir.

In short: criticism does matter. It should not be ignored because of who it came from, and neither should it be listened to because of who it came from. Listen to it on its own merits. Sometimes, critics will be wrong. Use criticism as a tool to better make what you want to make.

*For the purposes of keeping this a short response to a specific thing Mr. Beyer wrote, I’ll use the same interpretation of “criticism” he was using, ie negative feedback given to an artist about their work, mostly unrelated to the fields of literary criticism, art criticism, etc. I promise I have some fascinating thoughts relating criticism in the Magic community to the art and ideas of Marcel Duchamp, however.


Unknown said...

Take your "thoughts relating criticism in the Magic community to the art and ideas of Marcel Duchamp" and throw 'em in the pisser! j/k, I will read the shit out of that post. I liked your examples of the office bully and the kindhearted mother in terms of criticism. I will probably blatantly steal that analogy from you at a later date.

Unknown said...

"Let’s use a non-artistic example here. You go for your morning run, since you’re an active, attractive person who cares about your physical health." I don't know if this is actually a Sweaty Nerd joke or not, but that's what I got out of it and I found that joke hilarious!

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