We live in a world that is ripe with hostility, especially when it comes to dealing with different opinions. At least that’s what the internet will have you believe. Don’t get me wrong I love a good debate, even a heated one, because sometimes passion for the subject matter overrules calm and collected banter. And it’s more exciting. But sometimes people do it wrong, and eventually someone gets tired enough of something they love getting criticised that they throw out the clichéd argument of “let’s see you do better if you’re so quick to criticise.” This sadly is a stupid argument.
I am fully content to agree that sometimes critical people, like myself, can be a tad bit frustrating since we like to analyse and discuss things, big or small, ad nauseam but from my experience I do this to learn, expand my knowledge and assess what I like or don’t like about something and why. I know that it can sometimes come across like I know better or something, but that’s simply down to the passionate delivery of an opinion and deep interest in the subject matter. Not to mention I review games on EGMR, so it’s practically my job to criticise things.
What people get wrong about those who are critical or not easily pleased is that the decent folk don’t do it out of some secret hate for what they claim to love or because they can never be satisfied. I’m highly critical, but I can sing the praises of all the things I love until the sun goes down. It’s just a matter of having high standards and wanting to see quality. That doesn’t mean everything has to adhere to those standards, as often someone in my position knows what they should be expecting. Going to see Transformers? Don’t expect The Dark Knight, but rather something you can switch off and be entertained by and smile at over popcorn. Random example, but it’s fitting.
Now I’ve become more self-aware since publishing my first book, truth be told, because if I believe it’s just okay then I’m sure someone with high standards like myself could easily believe it to be bad. Obviously that can make me a bit self-conscious of criticising other material. But after establishing some context and backstory up above, I want to now address the issue of how being unable to criticise because you can’t perform better is a thing. A stupid thing.
See, the obvious is that by virtue of the fact that you wrote the material you’re probably your own worst critic already. Have you ever heard the expression that you’re “too close” to something, and sometimes you need to step back a few paces or go away for a while to see what’s wrong with it? On top of that, as the creator of something you can get lost in the excitement of the creative process and easily lose sight of many small to big issues that you don’t see at the time. People on the outside have a far better chance of spotting inconsistencies and problems and analysing material after the fact. They can see things that you don’t because you’re too close to the project, and thus an outside pair of eyes is always valuable. It’s why we have editors, friends, peers and critics.
More importantly, the nature of art means that it’s often at the mercy of the observer. Different people have different interpretations and perspectives. Contrary to some beliefs, the author of a famous poem didn’t have half the interpretations your English literature teacher forces you to stomach at the time of writing. Those were all established after the fact by people of different interpretations. That’s the beauty of art. I can sit down and discuss my favourite things, or least favourite things, for hours with friends or family and keep discovering new things, learning new perspectives and picking up something I previously did not. To some people certain themes or narrative details might be more important than others. There are endless differences from person to person, and this evolves the art, it does not diminish it. It deepens its meaning. After all art has to speak to you, and what is language if not something up to interpretation?
You don’t need to be George R Martin himself or Tolkien to criticise Game of Thrones or A Song Of Ice And Fire (the book series the TV show is based on), because that is beyond unreasonable and unrealistic, prevents expression of opinion and actually prevents the deepening of the art itself. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen new perspectives on things from people I don’t agree with or have a different opinion to. I love conversing with people who differ or disagree with me, as well as those who are similar. We may bicker and share banter, but at the end of the day we learn and evolve our understanding or vision of the art form. It’s entirely a good thing.
Of course I could have used the emotionless argument, which is that if you buy something you have the right to criticise it or express dissatisfaction. That isn’t up for debate in my opinion. But the more meaningful argument is written above, in that it broadens your own perspective and increases the value of the art itself to debate it and criticise it. Bear in mind that I’m talking about constructive criticism at all times, and not “I HATE THIS BECAUSE IT ARE GAY AND YOU AN FAGGOT FOR LIKING IT.” Please, if there was to be criteria to criticise something, it would at least be that you have a brain upstairs and not resort to hostile behaviour, but share your opinion constructively.
We all have our expectations and visions in our head of what things should be like, and we measure them according to those standards. But those standards shouldn’t be a limitation. No one is saying your opinion always has to change. Many of my opinions towards things often don’t change, but I learn a lot more about them through criticism and discussing with other people. Just be open minded. Encourage criticism between those who care and have interest.
I would love it if one day something I wrote was up for debate and discussion. Yes it would be difficult to endure lots of criticism, but why create any art if you don’t wish for people to experience it and have the freedom to experience it in their own way? I will never tell someone “pick up a pen and do better” if they criticise my work. The only thing I would ever ask is that if you criticise at least justify it, present it constructively and if possible explain how you think it could be better. That is not just valuable to the rest of the audience, but to the creators themselves as well as other artists.
In short, don’t discourage the evolution or deepening of art with stupid arguments like telling people to do better if they want to criticise. Rather spend your energy debating with people who are constructive and reasonable, and shying away from those who are simply hostile, rigid and unreasonable. Critics often get shafted for their job, but don’t forget that their insight is valuable, just as credible as anyone else’s (when justified, constructive and explained) and what they do often contributes greatly to the success of good material while getting little credit for that or their passion.
That is from experience. Trust me on that.