Friday, September 15, 2006

The Art of Criticism

Pay no attention to what the critics say. A statue has never been erected in honor of a critic. ~Jean Sibelius

A critic can only review the book he has read, not the one which the writer wrote. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960

Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost what it feels about dogs. ~John Osborne


Quite apparently, critics aren’t the most endearing creatures to be found in this part of the universe; the underlying motivation for such dire emotions against them are not very difficult to understand. We, the living, have never really been able to submit ourselves to the irrefutable fact that our remarkable achievements and readiness to use technology have not necessarily rubbed onto our Maker, who still continues to be much retarded in technology-comprehending intellectual faculties and insists upon sticking to the age-old rudimentary processes of manufacture, which, of course, take ‘perfection’ completely out of the equation.
Going back to the three quotes that flagged off this article, I’ve got a question to ask about them. What exactly did these men of influence and eloquence have in mind, when they made such sweeping statements about this much maligned fraternity? Are these statements any more profound than just blatant ‘criticisms’ of the critics? A classic case of not managing to practice what is being preached, eh?

Truth be told, there’s not a soul in this world, and never has been, who has at some point or the other, not dabbled in the joy and soul-stirring satisfaction of unrestrained criticism. We all do it. And when other people do it, we criticize them for doing it, and then continue doing it anyway.

Critics, I’ve decided, can be classified into two broad categories. There can be numerous other methods of classification, I accede, but for the purpose of this discussion, this one will do just fine.
1. The ones that do it with enough arsenals to cover their arses.
2. The ones that do it with all the exuberance and energy they can muster, but forget to zip up their own pants in preparation.

There is another category of critics; the kinds that’ll perennially crib about the taste, flavour and quality of the ice cream you so kindly bought for them, and eventually end up losing their rights to savour un-self-earned ice creams for the rest of their lives. This category is its own nemesis and therefore, we shall not spend time discussing their plight in the after years.

The former bunch, those that are well informed and battle-ready, are the ones that derive the pleasure of the game to the fullest. And they manage to provide considerable entertainment value to those around them too. These are the people, who make the criticisms as pinpointed, and often the most embarrassing for the critiqued, as they can and offer the most well thought insights to the most mundane events. Whether the insights are indeed of any value whatsoever, is of course an entirely different issue.
There cannot be any doubt, that such people have an inborn flair for the art. What varies, however, is the motivation. Some do it with honest sincerity and a genuine desire to aid improvement; some do it to take their inner frustrations out on unsuspecting victims and some do it just for the heck of it.
This sect can be as devilish or as helpful, as it chooses to be.
On the whole, the world needs them. Because, they are the ones that find faults where most others can’t. And finding faults in the prevalent best today is the first and, perhaps, most important step towards finding a new prevalent best for tomorrow. Yes, when all’s done and dusted, no one remembers their names, but that doesn’t make their contribution any less important.

The other, more abundantly available and generally more trigger-happy bunch is not half as potent. Their most significant contribution to society often turns out to be making a fool of themselves and being a source of amusement to the rest. You ask for their opinion on, lets say something you’ve written, and they’ll come up with such pathetic responses as “I don’t know, it somehow doesn’t feel right” or “I can’t really put my finger on it, but it just doesn’t seem to connect” or worse still, “Oh! What utter crap have you written!” You need not fear this species; it doesn’t take long for the world to figure out the true source of the ‘crap’.

I shall end here. Don’t let yourself believe for a moment that I ended so abruptly because I couldn’t figure out a better way of doing so. Its just that I want to allow everyone an opportunity at criticizing my work, for once, and to show how much I appreciate and encourage criticism.

Note: The objective of this exercise is to educate the reader on the benefits of accepting criticism from knowledgeable quarters and take no notice of those that come from other quarters. And not to take these matters as personal affronts. And treat them as friendly evaluation meant to help in the continuous betterment of skills.

And yes, I belong to the first category.

6 comments:

gnothi seauton said...

on terra firma eh? as far as criticism goes...this post is from GOD himself i suppose..has anyone ever escaped our vile whiplash tongues? ;)

Sapan Oza said...

Kudos to another good (see i did not indulge in criticism....) write up from you....guess you have little plans to study for the exams waiting....where your profs will act as all-in-one type critics and rip apart your innocuous answers....!!! Good one though.

goutam said...

It is true that, u can not smell ur foul mouth & odour either.May be u people will coat it with the word,BRAIN STORMING to dilute CRITISISM. U express your mind well, keep it up son.
Goutam

Sapan Oza said...

Praise from the one who matters....Mr. Chowdhury (Sr.).....!!!

Keep it up....buddy.....you are garnering support...!!

This is for Mr. Chowdhury (Sr.) - Sorry for making your praise public...hope you wont mind it...But the kid is doing really well...

Cheers

Anonymous said...

Yes, critics may be a necessary evil
(or devil). But do they ever do anything worthwhile? Isn't criticism the noise they make to makeup for their emptiness? You see something you don't like, then go improve it, if you can. Else shut up.
I liked the way you developed the idea in this post.
But cowshall, me is waiting for a short story.

ht said...

Yes, critics may be a necessary evil
(or devil). But do they ever do anything worthwhile? Isn't criticism the noise they make to makeup for their emptiness? You see something you don't like, then go improve it, if you can. Else shut up.
I liked the way you developed the idea in this post.
But cowshall, me is waiting for a short story.