Monday, March 12, 2012

Critical Thinking (and Viewing): Why We Need It

This morning I came across a post by Laini Taylor about the recently released movie John Carter and critics in conjunction with that. After I read the post, I sat there with a frown on my face because I honestly couldn't agree with everything I had read. Don't get me wrong: I love Laini Taylor and her books, but there's just something that irks me when an artist of some kind says something akin to "Why must everyone be a critic?" To me, I can't help but think it synonymous with "If you like it, gush about it; if you hate it, shut up."

I can understand that art-bashing is bad, but why the critic-bashing? Critical readers and viewers are getting a bad rap these days.

My view: critics and their views help ensure that we don't just receive low-quality books and movies. If not for them, we'd probably be on the receiving end of too much fluff and not enough substance. One of the functions of critics is that they push artists to do better work than otherwise might have been done. (We won't get into the critics who gleefully rip apart anything that comes their ways because, in many ways, those people's continual criticisms become empty. To be a true critic, I believe you need to be able to see both the good and the bad within a work and be able to comment on both.)

Sure, artists have their grand ideas and visions on their own, but sometimes I think some artists would "settle" if not for the reminder that an audience (and a mish-mash of praise and criticism) were waiting for them beyond the door of their creative landscape. Some artists will buckle under that kind of pressure, but many will flourish even in spite of it and soar beyond even their own expectations.

As a reader and viewer myself, I like the power of being able to think critically of anything I read or see, to deconstruct and pick apart the things that I like and the things that bother me. Art may be able to be admired by just seeing, but that seems empty to me. Where's the depth if you just take something at its face value and accept it for what it is? You can't do that with people -- expect a lot of a heartache if you do -- so why should you do that with art, the product of people?

Of course there's a place for popcorn flicks and fluff reads -- but can they seek to enrich and enlighten you in some way? Or will they just be consumed and forgotten?

I've been a regular visitor on the book site Goodreads since 2009, and I have to say that many of the critical reviews there have helped me to think more in-depth about my own writing endeavors. Not everyone likes the "quick fix" read or a "dime-a-dozen" story. Some people want more than that, something they can savor and think about later, something that's memorable instead of forgettable. Rather than write a mass appeal story that'll be forgotten almost as soon as it's released, I want to write the kinds of stories that stay with those people, and I want them to be able to deconstruct and pick apart my stories to their hearts' content.

Let them be critics: I welcome it. I'd rather they pick apart what I write and hate it than eat it up, plaster a smile on their faces, and tell me it was perfect the way it was. The kind lie may be less painful, but the cruel truth is what will lead to growth and betterment. And that's what all we artists should strive for: to better our crafts and, through those mediums, better ourselves as well.