Leave the room, authors. Nobody is talking about you. Yes, your name will be used because you are the creator of the work in question, but criticism is not for you. It’s not *for* you. It isn’t about
Criticism is for everybody else. It is for the audience of a work. Any intonations toward addressing an author in a critical piece are strictly rhetorical. That said, critics: we have to stop acting as though we are in conversation with authors. We are in conversation with work.
We exchange ideas and methodologies and the work in question is often the ball as well as the court. I am thinking of tennis as a metaphor. But nightmare tennis where you are one player and on the other half of the court are dozens or hundreds of other players. The work you are discussing is the net, ball and court. Your intelligence is your racket. No pun intended. This is a terrible metaphor.
We are human. Exchanging dialogue about things is a large part of what we do. It just is. We see the biggest mammoth ever and we get back to the hearth and tell our fellow tribesmen how big it was. Communication brings us closer together and strengthens the bonds of community.
The same instinct compels us, a few short years later to sit around on Mondays and discuss the most recent Game of Thrones episode. Something happens and we talk about it. We compare views. We reaffirm our belief or adjust our perception. It’s just the way we are, human.
Besides scratching an evolutionary itch, what are the more abstract benefits to critical intercourse? I’m glad you asked.
I have heard it said many times “I don’t need a critic to tell me what to read/watch/listen to. Critics are useless.” To that I say “scroll up.”
Criticism isn’t for the benefit of suggesting what you should consume. Criticism is for those who have already experienced a subject to unpack their shared experiences. It is a post-experience learning.
Analyzing is the critic’s job. In my biased opinion, a critic improves if they consume from more than one source, if they have peers with whom they can develop their thoughts or an active audience that they can trust.
For those of us who engage in criticism, you know this. For those who don’t:
Criticism increases one’s own pleasure in the artform that is being analyzed. When we focus harder on a work of art or media, we begin to see through what is apparent on the surface and find a more intimate connection with the work. These deeper connections are often very personal and may not be native to the work itself. But they will be our own connections and we cannot be robbed of those.
The humor. Shared experience is the stage upon which jokes are performed. That guy in the third row knows what I’m talking about. Sometimes you have to watch a bad movie just so that you can understand the riffs on it. Sometimes you have to read a book that you wouldn’t ordinarily just so you can sit at the hearth. This is community. This is culture.
When it comes to authors finding their names brought up in unflattering contexts, in my experience, it usually happens to people like Jason Aaron who once wrote a vicious essay titled “The Year I Stopped Caring About Alan Moore,” in which he wrote the actual sentence (as its own paragraph) “Go fuck yourself, Alan Moore.”
Or Darwyn Cooke, an author of DC Comics’ “Minutemen” who criticized the Minutemen’s creator Alan Moore for being so darn bleak.
Sometimes authors make it impossible to look at their work objectively. People like that asked for it. Sorry Jason Aaron, writer of Wolverine and the X-Men.
Lost my train of thought. Looked up that essay by Jason Aaron to get the title correct and drifted into a quiet rage.
File this essay under #CritChat.
An idea occurred to me some weeks ago. What if there was a way to discuss comic art without worrying about if it was good art or bad art or if the person who made it is kind or mean or an idiot. What if you just put your face in a page and studied what is actually happening? What if art that you didn’t like is still interesting?
What if there was something more worth discussing than beauty or even intelligence? What if I could burn off the artifice and even the ambition of a work and see what it is actually doing on the page?
What if I could read comics?