(Memo to entire world: if you want a ton of unsolicited email from total strangers asking your opinion about practically everything under the sun? Start a blog. It does not fail, I assure you. Not that I’m complaining, because replying to it/acknowledging it is completely optional, because the writers in question understand that you are a very busy person who has a blog.)
Now, most of the link in question is just flaming and “he’s full of shit,” and I don’t care about that, because either you enjoy reading John Solomon and company’s rants or you don’t. It’s a taste. Presumably the people who don’t like reading John Solomon likewise have an intense dislike for the works of Joe Queenan or Ambrose Bierce or Lester Bangs, and this is, I believe, their loss.
(It’s certainly stupid, of course, to suggest, as some have, that John Solomon is a “bad writer.” I recognize the need to claim bullshit as gospel truth out of a sense of spite, but come on – either you recognize simple writerly skill at crafting inflammatory rhetoric, or you don’t. As Penny Arcade once said, paraphrased – which is it, are you stupid or a liar?)
But one thing about it caught my eye – not least because the author took double-plus care to make sure it would catch any reader’s eye by bolding and italicizing it, so I don’t think it’s presumptuous to think this the main idea he wants to communicate with his essay:
The moment you really give a shit what a site like this (or any other) says about your webcomic, you lose.
This is quite possibly the stupidest thing I have read in a very long time, and understand I’ve spent the last month reading bullshit court decisions that nonetheless established binding legal precedents of dubious value in Canada – so when I say “stupidest,” it carries with it some weight. (It is, granted, less stupid than the dialogue of Carpoolers.)
Let me counter the aforementioned statement with my own, likewise bolded and italicized:
As a producing creative, you have to give a damn about your work.
I probably should have underlined that as well. Maybe print it in bright red. I’ll have to remember to do that next time.
Dismissing a critic – any critic – out of hand is the stupidest, most infuriatingly arrogant thing any artist (or person who wants to be an artist) can do, because the application of criticism is literally the only way that people improve as artists.
Now someone at this point will likely interject something about positive reinforcement or something of that nature, but positive reinforcement doesn’t make you better. Positive reinforcement might help you weather criticism, it might be the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down, but all improvement in any craft is predicated upon one simple rote: “You’re doing it wrong.” Over, and over, and over again. The person who’s telling you what you’re doing wrong might tell you what to do right, or they might not, and this is never a universally correct one-or-the-other choice: sometimes it’s better to tell a given person how to do it right, sometimes it’s better to let them figure it out for themselves.
If you choose to ignore criticism, you are, in effect, asserting that you don’t need to pay attention to criticism, because you are too good for it. Or, worse, that you just don’t care, and the latter is more troubling by half because egotism is a lot easier to stomach than apathy.
The problem: this is crap. You are not too good to be criticized, ever. Particularly if you’re working at a creative endeavor, because god knows the one universal constant about art is that ultimately every opinion has a given level of validity, even if that level is only “does it appeal to me personally.”
I am not suggesting that John Solomon’s words are gospel truth. Sometimes I think he and his merry band are wrong, either in essence of argument or choice of technique. Not often, because most of what he reviews is total shit. But sometimes, yes. I honestly wish Solomon would completely remove the aspersions on personal character that he sometimes throws into his reviews and just take the time to more thoroughly dissect and destroy the works he chooses to review, because that part is inevitably more entertaining and interesting.
It’s his choice to take a purely antagonistic stance; I don’t necessarily agree with it, because I am of the school of thought that improvement of something bad is better than cessation of it. This is because I am of the school of thought that a rising tide of quality floats all boats, and if we raise standards high enough we will never again see a dogshit movie like Crash win Best Picture. (I know – I’m dreaming.) Also, attacking only the horrible shitty work and not the person behind it closes that door so many of his victims rely upon, the “no critic should get personal” door. Not that this would stop them, of course, but at least it would be wholly invalid as opposed to only partially invalid.
But the important thing to note is that Solomon is no mere troll scrawling “you suck” fifty thousand times in a row, and his commenters usually elaborate greatly upon what Solomon initiates. A recent review of the webcomic Broken Mirror, for example, focused entirely on the horrible writing (and it most certainly is horrible writing – gratituous, pretentious, overblown dialogue with no attention to individual character, nonexistent characterization, and pacing best described as “insufferably glacial”), and both Solomon and the commenters quite astutely noted that the artwork, while not particularly amazing, was perfectly serviceable.
That’s a fair review. It’s not nice. But it’s fair.
How do I know this? Because I don’t dismiss Solomon out of hand – and I don’t dismiss the emails I get telling me I suck, either. (And believe me, I get my fair share – along with a regular and healthy variety of comments over at Torontoist complaining about how lame my work there is. I don’t write in a style meant to cater to all tastes. Such is life.)
The only way to tell if criticism is useful is to read it. It may be useless. You may consider it inapplicable, nitpicky, or simply wrong – not all criticism, after all, is created equal, and critics can be wrong. But if you’re going to be a serious producing creative, you have to acknowledge it, because without it, your creative output will be essentially static.
Wholly negative criticism, like Solomon’s, can be the most useful criticism you can receive, for the same reason there are times in life when we need particularly need a cold shower rather than a comfortably warm one. One of the most important lessons anybody can learn when receiving criticism is to learn to ignore the phrase “I liked this.” This is because that particular phrase is completely useless to you. Your audience is supposed to like your work. You have to focus on what you did wrong and learn to do it right. It’s how you get better!
See: people are – for the most part – shit at figuring out when they have created something subpar or done something wrong. Most people dramatically underestimate; some depressives overestimate. The ones who know when they have (mostly from a lot of experience receiving criticism and being able to mentally simulate it by themselves) are good artists. The ones who know when they have before they’re finished are great artists.
Yes, a lot of great artists are neurotic, but the creation of art isn’t something one does for occupational therapy unless you’ve received a lot of shock treatment. Art is something we create because we are driven to create it. We have a need, deep down, that cries out for personal expression. I don’t keep writing on this blog because I have an audience (although I appreciate having one, to be sure – you’re all so cuddly!) – I keep writing on this blog because I deeply enjoy expressing myself to the universe-at-large, and because I need to do it.
If you don’t have that drive to create, to express yourself? Don’t do it. Go for nature walks or take up bowling or something. You’ll be happier in the long run. Despite what many people will tell you, this is not less noble a choice to make. There is nothing innately noble about the creation of art. (There is especially nothing particularly brave about “putting yourself out there,” a phrase which needs to be taken out behind the barn and shot through the head. When you “put yourself out there,” you are by definition angling for praise.)
It’s just another form of work. Yes, the creations of people like Beethoven and Monet and Dickens and the Beatles (before they broke up, anyway) have made the lives of the entire world richer, but that’s just because they were at the top of the skills pyramid in their particular area; you can say the same about Louis Pasteur or Nelson Mandela or James Watt or the Wright Brothers. (In any field there’s a lot of getting it wrong before you get it right, and the Wrights are a wonderful example of that, really.)
To sum up: you either hunger for critical opinion, or you just don’t care that much. Sorry, it really is a lightswitch choice with no middle ground. Art is like that, sometimes.