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Tuesday, 11 August 2020


I've been trying to be less critical, less negative for some time now- with varying success. One should never say stuff just to be hurtful, and I'd much rather be positive about things. Being critical of everything just consumes too much time and energy- save it for the stuff that really gets under your skin, then have at it so everyone knows exactly why.

Good post, Mike. I hope your days off are restorative.
- Mike

Actually, the best kind of negative criticism is not a retreat at all, as it will draw on positive examples (real or ideal), assertions and beliefs to argue the case, meaning that the critic has to expose at least as much of her perceptions, beliefs, and thought process as she would in an appreciation, if not more. That's not cheap. On the contrary, that kind of criticism is fully engaged, and encourages engagement in kind from would-be responders. Examples? Plenty of them on this very site.

Your ex-girlfriend was (and hopefully still is) a wise lady.

The problem with negative criticism is that it has been so often used as a club to beat the critics opponents with, it can therefore be deemed mostly unreliable. My Grandma always said: "...consider the source...". Unfortunate, because we have been inundated with so much bad stuff, it is much needed today in the internet age!

What is missing is a concise explanation of what the critic objects to, point-by-point, and therefore one can make one's own decision about the value of the information and the critics own education. Constructive criticism has been replaced, mostly due to the internet, with "wise-assery" and trolling.

I used to know a couple involved in the arts on an educational level, who would not make ANY critique associated with art, they would shy away from any comment. You could show them the most god-awful stuff perpetrated by the most ridiculous people for the most ridiculous reason, and they would find something marginally positive to say about it. I came to realize after a while, that it was a defense mechanism against THEIR art being comment on negatively: i.e. if they didn't disclose that the emperor didn't have any clothes on, no one would lash back at them!

Sometimes, being critical "all the time", might mean that you are involved with substandard art (or whatever), for a large part of your waking hours; because God knows there's a ton if it out there! Rather than being "more positive", one might try to be less involved with the process!

This kind of thinking could revolutionize the interweb.

I may have told this story before, but it bears repeating, I think. A number of years ago, an older lady whom my wife and I knew showed paintings at various local venues. I was not very impressed - they looked like blobs with perhaps an interesting color scheme. But fortunately, I refrained from criticism. After a couple of years and at perhaps the fourth show, the "aha" moment hit. Those "blobs" were a subtle and beautiful midpoint between pure abstraction and representation. I can't really describe it adequately, but it was like a window opened in my mind's eye, and I started to see the beauty and the visual subtlety and sophistication of the work. Ever since, I've been reluctant to criticize. Something may be as dull as I think, but equally, I might be missing something well beyond my immediate understanding.

"If you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all". This is one of those phrases that was drummed into me as part of my education. Easier said than done of course. My experience at managing people has proved to me that this is very sound advice.

Three points about this topic:
1-If you are a teacher or workshop instructor, I think you are a better instructor if you praise more and criticise less. Sometimes it can be hard to do, but try to give 2-3 praises before saying: maybe you could try this way...
2-At work, or in similar situation, it is easy to find fault in just about anything. It won’t work, we have tried it before, too expensive, too difficult. The rule in any meeting should be that you are only allowed to criticise if you can at the same time suggest a better way. We are trying to solve problems, if you only criticise, you are not solving problems, you are the problem.
3-And in general, if you have nothing good to say, it is better not to say anything.

de gustibus non est disputandum.
"matters of taste are not matters of dispute"

In movie criticism, I've often found that negative reviews showcase the cleverness of the critic--it's an occasion for the felicitous turn of negative phrases--and thus a reader may learn more about the reviewer than about the movie, whereas positive reviews awaken the observational and interpretive intelligence of the reviewer and make more available to the reader the possibilities of the movie.

Nice article! In my case, I try to avoid giving criticism unless specifically asked for it. Unasked for, advice can be dangerous. Hopefully, it will be be on point, but in some cases it might not. If it is not you might make the recipient needlessly overthink (or worry) about an issue, which could end up being destructive.

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