Criticizing Critics

Let’s talk about critics. You’ve heard the old saying, “Everybody is a critic.” Well, that’s true. We all criticize. Whether it’s people, movies, books, television, politics, or whatever, we love to criticize. However, there is a difference between being critical and be a critic.

Being critical just means you have a bad attitude about something and eventually you’ll get over it, or someone will tell you to get over it. In either case, you’re just shooting your mouth off. However, being a critic means that you are claiming merit for your criticism. You are announcing to the world that you are an authority on a particular subject and, therefore, you know what is good and what is not.

“Nobody knows anything.” – William Goldman

I have found myself reading less criticism lately. The main reason is that I don’t always agree. The second reason is that I am a writer and if I read what the critics say about my work, I’ll go mad. Sometimes, criticism is good; it’s well thought out, meaningful, and profound. Oftentimes, though, criticism is thoughtless, meant to shock, meant to break down the artist and build up the critic, and wrong. An artist should never read what critics have to say, good or bad. It’s dangerous either way.

When Criticism Is Good

When an artist reads a favorable criticism of their work, they tend to believe it. Rather than staying true to their own core beliefs about their work, they suddenly find themselves relying on the opinion of the critics. This results in trying to please the critics, which results in creating garbage, in my opinion.

An artist may even begin to walk around with an ego that is too heavy for anyone to bear. This ego then results in the artist not creating anymore, but rather basking in celebration only.

When Criticism Is Bad

When an artist reads a bad review of their work, they tend to do two things: one, they become angry and deny it; two, they believe it. Both reactions are bad. Anger will eventually turn to frustration, which will then turn into careless work. Belief will do the same.

Everybody is a critic, but nobody knows anything.

Here are my favorite quotes about criticism and critics. Some of the names you’ll recognize; some you won’t. Look them up if you don’t know who’s who.

“A negative judgement gives you more satisfaction than praise, provided it smacks of jealousy.” – Jean Baudrillard

“Criticism should be a casual conversation.” – W.H. Auden

“Writing prejudicial, off-putting reviews is a precise exercise in applied black magic. The reviewer can draw free-floating disagreeable associations to a book by implying that the book is completely unimportant without saying exactly why, and carefully avoiding any clear images that could capture the reader’s full attention.” – William Burroughs

“The artist doesn’t have time to listen to the critics. The ones who want to be writers read the reviews, the ones who want to write don’t have the time to read reviews.” – William Faulkner

“When the reviews are bad I tell my staff that they can join me as I cry all the way to the bank.” – Liberace

“A bad review is even less important than whether it is raining in Patagonia.” – Iris Murdoch

“A critic is a bundle of biases held loosely together by a sense of taste.” – Whitney Balliet

“Give a critic an inch, he’ll write a play.” – John Steinbeck

“You know lots of criticism is written by characters who are very academic and think it is a sign you are worthless if you make jokes or kid or even clown. I wouldn’t kid Our Lord if he was on the cross. But I would attempt a joke with him if I ran into him chasing the money changers out of the temple.” – Ernest Hemingway

“Writing criticism is to writing fiction and poetry as hugging the shore is to sailing in the open sea.” – John Updike

“I write from my soul. This is the reason that critics don’t hurt me, because it is me. If it was not me, if I was pretending to be someone else, then this could unbalance my world, but I know who I am.” – Pablo Coelho

“The critics slap labels on you and then expect you to talk inside their terms.” – Doris Lessing

“Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.” – Dale Carnegie

“Criticism is an indirect form of self-boasting.” – Emmet Fox

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

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