The role of the critic within our culture is one that is often times misunderstood. All too often, we see them as pretentious hecklers, sent to completely deconstruct one’s creative expression, the feedback being positive or otherwise. They attempt to regurgitate what they believe is their own original interpretation, masked by wordy language with their noses high in the air, and we as the listeners are to take what they say to heart, and therefore adopt the opinions as our own.
We then start to develop filters, our imaginations being stifled and our skepticism increasing. But then again, is that the most basic element to critical thinking? It is not the only the role of the critic to remain skeptical, it is his passion, nature and central reason for existence. But all too often, we envision our idea of a critic as a haughty, self-absorbed, yet eloquent rascal that seeks to indoctrinate its audience. As ludicrous as this notion may seem, this is true for the most part; critics have the capacity to possess over-inflated egos and get their jollies from people being influenced by their lovely, sonorous voices, but that does not mean that they do not have a purpose.
I extend an open invitation to be critiqued. I become flattered at the scrutiny, because it means somebody has taken an interest in my own, self-made expression, whether they offer me positive feedback or otherwise. They offer first, second, third, fourth and fifth opinions, allowing you the pleasure to listen to them huff and puff on about how it the diction in your short story is bland, or your musical performance is sloppy and unprofessional, or your mediocre crayon portrayal of your house is not good enough to go on the refrigerator because it is simply atrocious. Nevertheless, it is this collection of feedback that kicks us down and raises us up when we wish to mature in our journey to hone our own forms of expression.
But how does all this pertain to the critic? I have often taken a gander at many individuals sneering at the very word itself, as if it were a venomous serpent. I have often grimaced at the thought myself, seeing it as the primordial bane to all imagination. For a time, I too hate the nature of the critic, seeing it as a soulless profession that existed solely to destroy the ideas of others with their own elitist outlook. It was only after my junior year of college that I began to truly learn the internal workings of the critic’s role.
The first thing I learned was how to approach criticism, which is nothing more than trying to compare your own subjective opinion about a some shining example within the holy trinity of art (visual art, written word and music) with that of another human being, all the while deciding in your head which opinion is more valued. But these comparisons should sharpen our minds, rather than dull our emotions.
One should beware of becoming engulfed within the words of these surgeons to expression, slicing and dicing apart the creative process of a person’s work, reducing it to schools of thought, theme and symbolism. Their empathy and sensitivity to human emotion is folded into nice and neat little parts. But we as human beings should not neglect these examinations to inner expression and human emotion. Rather, we should embrace the critic’s role, which provides filters that help us make sense of the world.
I vividly recall a quote from the movie “Midnight in Paris” that said, “We all fear death and question our place in the universe. The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair, but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.” If the artist is to provide the antidote, then it is the job of the critic to find out how the antidote remedies the emptiness. They are our ambassadors of insight, making more transparent the murkiness that comes with unrefined self-expression. The critic may deconstruct, dissect and sometimes even disembowel one’s creative process, but it exists as a necessary evil that must be approached with a grain of salt.
Imperative as it is for a person to form their own refined opinion before seeking the feedback of these authoritarians of creativity, the critic supplies us with various lenses of examination. Nevertheless, we alone hold the liberty to select these lenses as we see fit, picking and choosing want we like and what we believe is totally snarky malarkey. It is this practice that will allow us to develop and mature as creative thinkers; holding on to our imagination and creativity is what makes expression come to life, but it is the critic that acts as the cultivator to the development of an individual’s creativity.