Critique is something I struggle with, I think.
Making, not receiving, to be specific.
Writing a review seems simple enough; describe what you liked, or did not like, about a given product. It’s the constant battle between objectivity and subjectivity that leaves me stuck in the middle pondering my options until the hypothetical review is no longer relevant.
And before anyone starts parroting the notion that “There’s no such thing as an objective review!” I humbly request that they go tell that to Consumer Reports.
Yes, you can have an objective review, at least about a great many things. Art, however, is a bit trickier.
When I was young my father once pulled me aside, no doubt after I’d said something pretentious and judgmental, and told me “Listen; in matters of taste, everyone is correct.”
Words to live by, in my opinion.
Because without them, there’s no way on the gods’ green earth that I could possibly explain why people drink coffee, or eat caviar, or think that “modern art” is even a thing.
Objective measurements can be applied to those, of course. We can say that coffee is bitter, that caviar is salty, and that a great deal of modern art can be (and has been) accomplished by a bored chimpanzee.
But that has nothing to do with whether or not people like them.
I feel like a lot of reviewers and critics get so caught up in their own subjective opinion that they begin to regard it as objectively correct, and attempt to impose it on their audience, with predictable results.
It’s the progression of critical failure: “I do not like X”, morphs into “X is bad”, and ultimately emerges from its chrysalis as “X is bad, and you are bad for liking it“.
Critics are within their rights to say these things, mind. There’s no law against it, and saying that your favorite whatever is a steaming pile of crap is, while unhelpful without a decent explanation as to why (preferably one that moves beyond your subjective feelings), is a form of critique.
It’s just one of the lowest forms of critique.
Put in the extra work. Formulate a valid rationale as to why something is bad, or problematic, or whatever, and put forth the effort to phrase your argument in such a fashion that you might, conceivably by some miracle, actually persuade someone who does like it that maybe they shouldn’t.
But always hold in mind that your opinion is simply that: your opinion.
And, as the old adage goes, opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one, and they all stink.
Attacking people for having a different opinion than yours, particularly in purely subjective matters, is counterproductive. When you’re criticizing something, you’re attempting to make your opinion relatable, to let your audience understand why you hold that opinion, and perhaps why they should share it.
Attacks simply lead to counterattacks.
And once those lines are drawn, you will rapidly find yourself preaching to a choir, at which point your critique is meaningless. If you can’t wield it persuasively because the only people listening to you are those who already share your opinion, then you’re simply wasting your efforts.
I could rail against what passes for modern art all day, but the moment I cross that line and say “Anyone who likes modern art is a tasteless moron who would be better off gouging out their eyes and cutting off their hands so that they can neither see the garbage they make, nor create more of it” I can pretty much guarantee that I will no longer be able to convince any fans of the genre that maybe a single red slash of paint across an otherwise pristine white canvas doesn’t constitute a bold artistic statement so much as a failed attempt at calligraphy.
Every word I write or say from there on will be pointless, just another echo in the echo chamber. Or worse than pointless, it will simply cause people to further entrench behind their position that shooting a can of spray paint with a shotgun in front of a canvas qualifies as art.
Because some people believe that.
And that’s okay.
Even if it is ridiculous.