Friday, September 2, 2011

On Criticism

Dear Fellow Writer,

Greetings on this Labor Day weekend.

Finally got my computer back. Not with all the data intact of course - that would be way too much to ask. But at least my favorite computer and its big fat screen is back and it works. At least that's something - a wonderful thing, really.

I hope life - and your computer - is treating you well and that your urge to write is intact and filling those blanks pages with ideas!

In today's article, we ask: why don't critics automatically see the positive?

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On Criticism

Rob Parnell

Cynicism is rife. The urge to criticize and find fault is endemic.

In many ways this can be a good thing. If everyone was positive about everything, writers, artists and technicians and even tradespeople wouldn't need to try so hard.

Acceptable would be good enough. Okay would be fine.

There'd be no need to go that extra mile if your every effort was greeted with enthusiasm and praise, even adulation. A bit like I imagine Heaven to be - a place where you can do no wrong, where every piece of creativity is faultless and everyone is appreciative and encouraging of your every whim and desire...

Alas, we live on Earth, where the standards are apparently higher...

... and where we're told criticism is good for us!

Maybe that's why we feel so validated by doing it.

I remember at school it was hip to be cynical. Being a cynic when we were fifteen was the equivalent of saying, "I'm a dude of the world. Seen it all, been around," etc - it was that cool...

Probably because we really had no idea what it meant - only that it sounded cool to be unimpressed by everything - as I suppose it does to most adolescents, to whom being unmoved is seen as a more mature response, a less embarrassing reaction to childlike glee.

Maybe that's why we're tempted to hold on to cynicism as we move into adulthood. It's our fear of being uncool. Perhaps it's safer to hate everything. Then you never get caught out!

But is being so tough on creators right and fair?

I guess part of the problem is that we're so spoiled for choice nowadays, it's easy to flippant about another book or film or music track or computer game or TV show. All these things take a lot of time, planning and resources to create.

Even an ad campaign, new website or magazine edition involve copious amounts of effort which we tend to yawn over rather than lose any sleep.

Fact is, we really don't care about all the hard work, the inspiration, the angst and the sheer volume of combined toil that goes into creating something new these days.

Especially when that something is designed for mainstream consumption. Somehow that makes it worse to our over stimulated psyches.

Almost belligerently, we are unmoved by newness - simply because we're not supposed to be!

Writers especially are used to be being criticized, devalued and most often ignored, if not ridiculed for their creativity.

Makes you wonder why we bother, doesn't it?

Well, there are three main reasons to create:

1. Fame

You never know. You just might invent the next big thing. Harry Potter, all those superheroes, programs like Glee or CSI, silly things like the Rubik's Cube or strokes of brilliance like iPads were all once ideas in an inspired mind.

We are often compelled to create because we want to change the world in some way - and be recognized for our efforts.

There's nothing wrong with being motivated by fame. Tesla, Henry Ford, Shakespeare, Gauguin, Edison, they all created new things with that view in mind.

2. Success

Success is not always the same as fame - and the term itself is relative.

Many writers, artists and technicians are successful in that they maintain a very good and comfortable life for themselves - even if the average person is unaware of their existence.

We have this strange idea that if you've never heard of someone artistic then they're not really successful in our eyes - a patently ridiculous idea considering the billions of people on the planet - many of whom are wealthy and well respected in their own fields.

We can't know everyone. And not everyone successful wants to be famous!

3. Personal Satisfaction

A double edged sword - though the most important reason.

Doing it for yourself might make you feel better - in a cathartic way - to experience the sheer joy of invention.

But often, it's the reason why artists are not taken seriously. The argument goes that, well, you would have done the work anyway. Our appreciation is not required - we don't have to 'get' what you do.

Plus, given the lifestyles we now have and the technology at our disposal, it's much easier for anyone to be creative - or at least appear to be.

The yardstick we use to judge artistic merit is often couched within the first two of the above motivations - fame and success. As if we're not sure if an artist is any good unless they've achieved recognition and/or monetary gain.

In an ideal world, we should all be openly encouraged to express ourselves artistically. But we can't all be famous - and perhaps we don't need to be. Famous people often complain about the trappings of notoriety!

Jean Cocteau said one of the problems with fame is that you're most likely remembered for the stuff you're least proud of - and there's no guarantee your best work will move anyone in the way you envisaged. I'm sure the likes of Madonna would agree.

The simple fact of it is that you can't live purely by the need to be recognized. Your writing, your work, has to be self fulfilling. It has to make you happy - no matter what the critics say.

Because being a critic is easy - the effortless option. You just have to be innately cynical and pick holes - whether deliberately or because you want to appear smart to your peers.

But being a creator, a proud crafts-person, requires a whole different mindset: an open, inquiring nature, the ability to feel joy at the moment of inspiration, the brave willingness to experiment, the acceptance of failure as a learning process - and the need to push yourself - and public perception - beyond what is accepted as the norm.

There will always be critics - who often seem to want to keep the world a dull and predictable place where innovation and inspiration are to be shunned and discouraged.

It's up to writers and artists to push the boundaries, to create for the sheer joy of creating, no matter what the responses may be.

Keep writing!

Rob at Home
Your Success is My Concern
Rob Parnell's Easy Way to Write


"Your goal should be out of reach, not out of sight."
Anita DeFrantz

Previous Newsletter includes:
Article: "The 7 Story Plots"
Writer's Quote by Taigu Ryokan

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