Good critique is useful in the arts because the point of critique is to understand. It comes from a place of knowledge, not just a place of opinion. We use it to make art better or to learn why something does or does not work. Good critique does not tear down to make the author of the work feel bad, but breaks down to make the work better. Good critique has nothing to do with the critic or artists themselves, but everything to do with the work being addressed. It is never personal.
Bad critique is often an outlet for a uniformed opinion. Bad critics do not understand the difference between “I don’t like it” and “Its not good”. They believe all opinion is equal; that ignorance is equal to knowledge. Bad critics think everything in the arts is subjective and there is no truth to be found, which goes against everything there is to be learned about art. Because if that were true, then what would there be to teach? Opinions are fine, but it’s often the hubris in uniformed opinion that makes a bad critic.
The worst critic is one who has never participated in the field they write about, positions themselves as an expert, and uses their opinions as an attempt to show the world how smart they are rather than service the industry they criticize. Their writing sounds as though they hate what they write about rather than coming from a place of love or even respect.
It’s not uncommon to find the worst critic thinking they are better than the professionals at skills they never put to the test. But as long as they don’t try, their pride doesn’t get hurt. I have seen multiple examples where these critics do try though, and fail. (Which originally inspired this post, as I’ve seen it recently.) Their goal is to appear intelligent to an audience rather than actually being knowledgeable about their chosen subject. They would never admit they were ever wrong about something, as to admit they were once not all knowing.
Their writing is often shocking for the sake of it because they probably lack any true confidence in themselves, let alone any ability to write something valuable without offense. They can dish the words out, but certainly not take it. They see themselves as a rebel in their field fighting the good fight against the old guard and use this façade as an excuse to be a jackass. They’ll proclaim their writing “is not for everyone” and think people dislike them because of their “disrupting opinions”, but really, people don’t like them because they’re just an asshole.
It is cowardice.
It may not all be intentionally malicious either. I’ve found most of the worst critics to be young and inexperienced. Everything they are is actually the opposite of what they would like you to believe. They are not as all knowing and intelligent as they think they are.
“The single most retarded, dumb-ass design decision in sports history was putting an American football team named the Patriots in a red jersey and white pants, I mean, come the fuck on.” — Me, once
Just because you might be right, doesn’t mean you’re not an asshole.
I believe good critique informs and answers questions, but also opens a discussion. The dialog that might follow should also be valuable and constructive, so it’s important that we can talk with one another about things we critique with honesty, with respect, and without fear. This is impossible for the worst critic, because their obtuse opinion is truth and you disagree because you’re not as smart.
Careful with the critics you discuss art with, because there are a lot of little men behind big curtains.