Our Critical Nature
I can be very critical of things. When I read a book or an article, watch a TV show, go to the movies, walk around a museum, etc., there is a part of my brain that’s busy soaking everything in. But another system is always running beneath the surface. This second system is the constant critic — furiously scanning for errors, for flaws, for imperfections, for the things that I would do differently.
We live in an age of abundant content, and we all have this internal critic surverying the landscape. However, what percentage of us actually tries to create something and put it out there? It’s a scary thing; we know that this same judgment employed to scrutinize everyone else’s content will now be turned toward our own.
Helpful vs. Unhelpful Criticism
I’m not saying that criticism is bad or that those who create should be given a free pass. Criticism can lead to huge strides for the artist/creator who is willing to truly listen. But when you create something yourself, you realize the courage it takes to put something new into the world. It’s a big hurdle to overcome just to throw your hat in the ring, it takes a thick skin. And if more of us earnestly tried to create something, I think we’d have a little more empathy and understanding toward other artists and creators.
It may even cut down on the unhelpful, discouraging remarks that trolls and provocateurs like to hurl. Things like:
“This is shit”
Uh, gee, thanks, I’ll try not to suck so hard next time. Or maybe I just won’t try to do anything again, don’t worry. What’s the goal here? To make the creator feel bad, to bring someone down because they tried something, to spread more gloom around?
I admit, though, that the waters get a little murkier when you factor in the goals of the modern creator. Now that page views, headlines, comments, clicks, reactions, and social media shares have become premium currency, it’s harder to discern what truly motivates those who create. It can pay to be incendiary, to blatantly copy others unthinkingly, to pump out work you don’t really believe in. Sex sells. Controversy sells. Being outrageous and offensive sells.
So then, where does that leave us? It’s up to us to discern not only the quality of the creation, but the motives of the creator. When “art” comes across as being completely inauthentic, overtly ego-driven, opportunistic, or just a thinly disguised money grab, it’s hard not to feel pissed off as a viewer/consumer. I get it.
But let’s try to not let that jade us to everything new that’s put into the world. Not everyone is in it for the wrong reasons. There are lots of young artists out there who may go on to create your next favorite Netflix show, painting, podcast, comedy special, or novel. And, truthfully, they may suck right now. But let’s give them a little time and space. Allow them to grow. The right amount of criticism can sharpen and hone artistic ability; too much can kill the desire to keep creating at all.
I’m going to try to take a few deep breaths before I form a knee-jerk judgement about an artist’s work. I’m going to recognize the surge of courage it took to introduce that creation into the world. And if, upon reflection, something does have major faults, I’ll be more thoughtful in articulating what they are and how they could be improved.
Because ultimately, I want more quality content. Lots of people are capable of creating remarkable things. I’m routinely amazed and inspired by the creators who dedicate themselves to the never-ending journey of making great work. And every one of them, at one time or another, had to overcome the fear of criticism that all artists face.
Every one of them had to have the courage to create.