Everybody’s A Critic.

junkIn many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that in the grand scheme of things the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.

If you’ve seen the film Ratatouille you recognize those lines spoken by the appropriately named critic Anton Ego. I think about them sometimes when I write about graffiti. I’ve been writing about it for a year now. That seems like a long time even though the older I get the faster years go by, but that’s another story. I didn’t think I’d write this much, but I’ve found a lot to write about, and I’m especially grateful to those who’ve sent me their pictures (side note: please send your graffiti pictures to freethinkers@nerosoft.com!). Sometimes I’ve had to fudge it and write about things that aren’t graffiti, but when I started I really had no idea how much there was out there.

Even though I’m not a professional critic–just a guy who knows a little bit about art–it’s made me think a lot about what it means to be a critic. And I’ve thought about why I skip over some graffiti I see. Some of it I just don’t like, and even though I’m a critic I try to take the if-you-can’t-say-something-nice-keep-your-big-bazoo-shut approach. Something Anton Ego doesn’t say is that professional critics often move in the same circles as the artists, musicians, cooks, et al they criticize. Sometimes they know each other. If criticism–especially negative criticism–seems personal it’s because it likely is personal. It’s the critic’s way of saying, “You can do better.” Criticism, even professional criticism, is just an opinion, but at best it’s an informed opinion, and its purpose should be to either enlighten the audience or to push the artists to be better.

At least that’s my opinion. What do you think?

Source: Disney Wiki

Surprise me.

Anyway I plan to keep writing about graffiti, and, by the way, if you see any please send your graffiti pictures to freethinkers@nerosoft.com. And I’ll try to keep these words of Anton Ego in mind:

Not everyone can become a great artist; but a great artist can come from anywhere.

13 Comments

  1. Emily

    Sometimes the critic’s remarks are very personal indeed. I’m a violinist: many years ago one particular critic savaged my playing in his reviews. What was shocking was how much of what he said was fabricated. I didn’t know him personally, so I couldn’t ask. Some years later I ran into him at a reception and he said, “I’m sorry for all those awful things I said about you.” This’s was out of the blue, by the way; I was just doing polite small talk.
    Her was my chance to ask! And I, well-brought-up woman that I am, blurted out, “oh, that’s ok.” Rats. So I’ll never know.
    On the other hand, we have a local reviewer now who will not write a negative review, ever. He explained his reasons, and they’re very humane. He goes way out of his way to avoid criticism, often resorting to describing the music in great detail. I’ve learned to “translate” his reviews!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      First of all I’m staggeringly impressed that you’re a violinist. I’d respect the instrument no matter what but I spent a year of my life trying to learn to play because the violin is so beautiful but never made it past playing pizzicati. To be absolutely fair, and not unnecessarily critical, both my teacher and I were equally at fault. We were both incompetent.
      Also there’s no critics’ code of conduct but sometimes I think there should be and not fabricating should be at the top. And I love reviewers whose reviews have to be “translated”. Several years ago I read something about a small-town food critic who was being made fun of for her positive review of a major chain restaurant. But in a small town there can’t be that much to review, and people who knew her work pointed out that her review emphasized the decor. That was her subtle way of saying the food wasn’t good.

      Reply
  2. Sarah

    I think that criticism is not fun–but definitely important for improvement’s sake. When I did my Master’s degree in creative writing we spent the first half of the year with a poet named Jo. She was very maternal, nurturing, had nothing but good things to say about our work. By January we were all feeling pretty great about ourselves. 🙂 The second half of the year was run by the poet laureate of England, of all things. We were eager to impress him, and thought for sure we would (given how much Jo lauded our work.) I was the first one up to have some fiction workshopped. And, he LAMBASTED IT. I mean, he tore it apart and then taped it all together again and tore it up two more times. I was a wreck by the end of the day. I called home, crying and feeling like a total failure, and my parents rightly asked what I was doing there? Wasn’t I doing the course so that I could improve? Jo, as nice as she made us feel, wasn’t going to be the one to challenge us. Andrew did. After the second half of the year we all felt like we’d made real strides in our writing. (However, we all secretly missed Jo.) So, it’s important but causes panic attacks. There’s so much graffiti over here and I need to take some pics and send them your way. Will do! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Hold the phone. You studied poetry under Andrew Motion? And was it Jo Shapcott or Jo Bell? Unless you can’t say, in which case I’ll know it was Jo Shapcott. Anyway I’m not sure good poets, or even poets necessarily, make the best critics or teachers, so it’s a little frustrating that teaching is how most poets have to get by, even Poets Laureate. That case of Canary wine isn’t enough to live on even if they could sell it. And we can be grateful for the exceptions. Can you imagine what a miserable sod of a teacher Philip Larkin would have made?
      Anyway I’d love to get some graffiti pics. There’s a surprising amount just within walking distance of my office but it’s a widespread art form.

      Reply
      1. Sarah

        It was Andrew Motion and Jo Shapcott–how did you guess Shapcott?? Strangely enough, given that they are both poets, I studied fiction writing under them. 🙂 There was one novelist in the bunch–Susanna Jones. Are you familiar with her? It was an excellent course in a way, but it also managed to hurt my writing. I hate to say that, but it did. I left feeling so BLOCKED and have struggled with writer’s block ever since (and never did before.) But, the other people on the course were just awesome and we’ll be friends for life. Haha I know Mr. Motion is a HUGE fan of Larkin. And no, I would not have wanted him to be my teacher. 🙂 I’ll definitely send some pics your way! I actually took a picture yesterday, but it didn’t come out that well (I was too far away.) I’ll get some that are actually visible and send them over.

        Reply
  3. michelle

    Oh I see, graffiti criticism… *tumbler falls into place*. Now I understand an earlier comment you made in a post.
    I’m all for constructive criticism, for sure! I mean, I try to be okay with it, and take suggestions on board, because I don’t think I’m very self aware as a writer and getting a second or third opinion is bound to be helpful. And I enjoy a well-worded negative criticism as much as anyone but I feel a bit guilty afterwards and sorry for the one being criticised. I could never name and shame a regular someone in a snarky post because I would feel like a piece of shit if anyone did that to me. I’ll disagree with someone, sure, and give my reasons, and I’m okay with poking a *bit* of fun but there’s no need to be mean.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Constructive criticism is usually a good thing, but the thing every critic should keep in mind is that every criticism is personal. It’s just the nature of it. Even when we’re criticizing a thing we’re still, no matter how indirectly, criticizing the person who made it.
      It’s very funny you bring up snarkiness and jokingly poking at someone because this weekend I read a memoir by a guy who wrote for MAD magazine. The creator, William Gaines, loved to play jokes on people. Someone would call and he would lay the phone down and yell, “What’s that pain in the ass want this time?” and then he’d get on the phone and say he was just joking. People knew they belonged when they got teased. But the best part is that while he enjoyed dishing it out he loved being made fun of more than anything else. The guy who wrote the memoir said, “I had to go yell something mean at him every day because if I didn’t he’d think I didn’t love him anymore.”

      Reply
  4. Ann Koplow

    I agree that everybody’s a critic, Chris, but I never skip over your blog.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      And I try never to skip over yours, but I never feel a need to criticize anything you have to share.

      Reply
      1. halfa1000miles

        Ann has a blog? What? Hurries off to follow Ann’s blog….

        Reply
        1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

          In case you have trouble finding it:
          https://annkoplow.wordpress.com/

          Reply
  5. halfa1000miles

    At work we have people whose sole job is to critique and approve/reject stuff before it gets OK’d to ship. They are assholes. They reject nearly everything at least twice, and these things they reject are so very commercially acceptable. I think they have the easiest job in the world. I wish I could say about every single thing “Well, it doesn’t meet up to MY standards”. Then my ass would always be covered. I admire people who have the guts to freaking APPROVE something. Ha! My workplace frustration is coming out here. Bad, Linda. Bad.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Let it out, Linda, let it out. Now though I feel kind of guilty because I’m usually the person who’ll find something wrong with things I have to deal with at work. My problem though is mainly with developers who throw together a program at the last minute and take the attitude of “You’re the user. You figure out how to use it!”
      Okay, I’m getting off-track here. I hope someday you’ll be able to slip something by those guys.

      Reply

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