Merciful Criticism


I understand feeling threatened by criticism. I mean, at the point where you’ve invested enough of yourself into something to really care about it – and that’s what art asks of us, that we care – that you spend time thinking about it, wondering what each aspect of it indicates, trying to figure out what might have happened before or after, seeking to understand what the artist was trying to communicate, once you pour that much of yourself into appreciating something, it becomes a part of you. To a certain extent, criticism of the work is inseparable from criticism of the audience, and sometimes it is, implicitly, incredibly harsh criticism.

It’s a kindness, then, to frame your criticism in a way which makes it easy to take, as not a direct assault on the identity of anyone who found it in their heart to love a piece of art. Make your criticisms specific, targeted at flaws, rather than denigrating the entire worth of the piece. Speak from your experience, of where the piece and you lost contact and where it failed to engage you, as a friend who parted ways rather than a nemesis to be hunted down. if possible, try to find a way it did reach you, or almost reach you, and explain why it failed at the last moment to fully realize that connection.

None of this is required. You can loathe a piece all you wish, and you can say so, and you can tick off its manifold inconsistencies and flaws, and you can speculate about what sort of cretinous mind could possibly concoct such drivel. You can do all that if you like. I’m not saying you can’t. I’m not saying it isn’t fun to rip something apart. But it is cruel – perhaps to the artist, but artists volunteer for that pain to some degree through the act of creation. It’s not a good enough excuse, but it’s something. Primarily, though, to the audience, the fans, who have assimilated the story as part of their identity.

We’re all made of stories. Don’t laugh just because you think a story someone feels is important seems stupid to you. You might be missing something – if not about the story itself, than about some thread in the heart of the person who loves it, some facet of history that ties them to a story inseparably.

Be kind to art, and maybe it will be kind to you.


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