Here’s the thing about being an artist.
- You have to communicate to do art.
- Communication requires someone on the other end.
- You require feedback to know whether you’re communicating.
- Critique requires time, thought and investment in your art by someone else.
- Art (and all communication) is subjective, so not all your critiquers will agree. Some will strongly disagree.
- Sorting through widely divergent critiques is not a comfortable process for the artist.
- While some may be more useful than others, none of the critiques are wrong.
I have a good friend with whom I’ve had exactly one fight (plenty of arguments, but that’s part of the fun). He’d written a book that he felt was the best thing he’d ever written. His critique group thought it was the best thing ever, period. He asked me to read it.
It took me forever. I didn’t want to keep reading or to pick it up again after putting it down. It left me feeling icky and cheated. I hated it. (Sorry, dude.)
I usually like his stuff, so I spent some serious time breaking down which parts of the book were causing this reaction. I spent a couple of hours on just one email to articulate my overall problems with it and plenty more on the usual line edits. I scoped out continuity glitches and pointed to places where characters fell flat. I spent extra time with this book that creeped me out to be fair and give him what I normally give him from a critique.
I then spent a few hours talking to him mostly about other stuff but with the conversation frequently circling back to the book. By the end of the day, he said he’d figured it out. The book was deliberately manipulative. I dislike being manipulated. Therefore, I didn’t like the book.
I was immediately upset, but it took me until I got home to realize the full extent what had just happened. After all that work, I had just watched myself being categorized and filed away. I’d been explained. To my face. Needless to say, I kicked his ass for it. He took it quite well, since he really does understand the whole critique thing. The wide difference of opinion had just briefly overwhelmed his judgment.
Filmmaker Randy Olson has just done the same thing on a larger scale, soliciting reviews of his new film from 50 bloggers, then releasing a memo classifying the positive and negative reviews by the character of the reviewer the day after the reviews came out. Abbie at erv, quite rightly and beautifully, starts the ass kicking.
Randy, you say you’re listening. I hope you do it better this time, because you’ve got a few things to learn on this particular subject.