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A Modest Proposal: Better Criticism, More Art

Read a news piece you disagree with? Leave a raging comment (sometimes in ALL CAPS) or down-vote it. Buy a $0.99 app that doesn’t have every feature we think it should? Post a one-star review. Take to Twitter, time to badmouth it. We’ve all been there.

As a former 20-something snarky, criticizing asshole, I can tell you that there’s another way. We don’t need to cut each other down with off-hand dismissals or “I would have…” That’s both too easy and doesn’t achieve anything. How many times have we commented, tweeted or reviewed work that may have taken hundreds of hours to make, and reduced it to a scathing sentence or a single star? As creatives, we deserve better criticism than that.

And there is always someone on the other end of a scathing comment that probably poured everything into creating what you cut down.

Instead, I propose an alternative: disagreements should spawn more art instead of more arguments. The mechanisms for complaining (Twitter, comment forms, Facebook) are easy to access. However, the mechanisms for creating art take time and thought.

Disagreements should spawn more art instead of more arguments.

Instead of all of this time and energy being put into drive-by opinions and critiques, we would end up with a vast amount of new and creative work and useful criticism that makes the work better. The world would be richer by having a grand and diverse body of work with varying opinions and ideas on every subject. It may be easier and definitely faster to judge someone else’s work than it is to create your own. But I guarantee you that in the long run, it’s more fulfilling to do the latter.

After all, not all criticism is created equal. Actual, useful critiquing typically comes from solicitation on the part of the creator. Can you please proofread my writing? Does this website work for your company and speak to your audience? Does this video hit the right notes and is it on-brand?

By releasing work into the world, we are opening it up for feedback and criticism. This happens, and mostly, isn’t wrong or even harmful. But when something has taken weeks, months or even years to create—only to be cast down with a single sentence that took five seconds and little thought to write, how valid is it? Should we not put more thought and mindfulness into the criticism we publicly dole out?

Not all criticism is created equal.

Imagine I wrote a book to illustrate a point or to teach you something that I hope will help in your journey towards working for yourself. Let’s say it doesn’t resonate with you. Instead of opinionating about it, why not use that as fuel to write your own book? Fill it with points you think will help others. You can even cite mine as a reference as a case study for precisely what doesn’t work. And if people aren’t helped by it and find no value in it, maybe they can then write their own books. The same can apply to movies, paintings, anything. This advances a larger discussion around the work’s subject, far more than pot-shot Internet comments do.

We can all learn and grow from hearing what other people think of our work in the right context, and most of the time, when it’s solicited. It can challenge us to change and propel us in new directions or just break down our spirits.

Everything creative and meaningful is subjective and thus subjected to, “You could have done this better by…” When instead, maybe it should be, “I can do this better by…” and seeing new creative endeavors as the end result. 

Go create what you’d like to see, use, or enjoy. That’s really what the world needs. The next time you want to criticize, channel that energy toward your own voice, your own art.

And, yes, by all means, let me know what you think of this article in the comments below…

More insights on: Motivation

Paul Jarvis

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Paul is a Gentleman of Adventure. He's also a web designer and author. If he's not in nature on some Thoreau-esque tangent (but with wifi), you can find him on twitter at @pjrvs.
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