Too often, the critic stands on the shoulders of the artist. Perhaps it is set up that way. We write for years, then send our work to agents, publishers, critics, reviewers, contests, to judge our work, certain that they know if it’s good or not. Haven’t we, in a way placed their opinions above our own, made them smarter than ourselves? And when we read a bad review of our work, perhaps we take it hard. Why? What makes the critic so much smarter than the author?
Why should the artist be troubled by the shrill clamor of criticism? Why should those who cannot create take upon themselves to estimate the value of creative work? What can they know about it? If a man’s work is easy to understand, an explanation is unnecessary… And if his work is incomprehensible, an explanation is wicked.
-Oscar Wilde – The Critic as Artist
How necessary is this insatiable need to criticize anyway?
When buying a book on Amazon.com, I look to the reviews for guidance. Will it hold my attention, is it my taste? I’m not really looking for an in-depth critical review, I’m there to find out more about the story. Since I don’t have the book in my hands, I need a little more than the publisher’s fluff description. Right? Probably like you, I find many scathing critiques of the writer’s work. Even some of the classics get torn to shreds by so called critics. And why? What is the point of all these destructive reviews really? Isn’t it about the critic trying to sink his teeth into the writer’s neck while everyone looks on. “Yeah get him, pull him back into the mud with the rest of us.”
The bigger they are, the harder we want them to fall.
The best example of scathing critical reviews by anyone and everyone, surrounds the works of Stephen King. So many feel the need to bring this extremely popular writer down a notch. But frankly, I enjoy his writing and find him quite talented. There are some elements of his writing I don’t care for, but so what, he didn’t ask my opinion, and I don’t see what good it will do to offer them up. Reading is often done for education, but fiction is read for pleasure. At its best, it becomes literature and art; at its worst it is simply ignored, then forgotten.
Charles Dickens was wildly popular in his time, serializing his works and releasing them a chapter at a time in popular publications. We just take it for granted that he was always regarded as one of the great writers. But this was not entirely true. There were many critics who found fault in his writings and said so quite loudly. wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Dickens Sorry to compare King to Dickens. I only make the point that criticism is nothing new for popular writers, that their skin must be as thick as an elephant’s hide to plow through the insults.
What of the rest of us trudging novelists? Do we take the criticism and crumble under its weight because the critics are so brilliant, or do we shrug it off, knowing that what we write is our small leap at the moon. The critic is only heard so long as he clings to the neck of his prey. You certainly know who Stephen King is, but how many of his critics can you name?
Here’s another quote to firm your spine should you find yourself bending against the gale force of the critic’s foul wind:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles…the credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who at his worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
– Theodore Roosevelt, 1910 speech at the Sorbonne, Paris
* These and many more inspiring quotes from Madness of the Muses, the Art of Ingrid Dee Magidson