A Little Perspective From Tom Church

There is a fine line between helpful insight and thoughtless malice. In the words of Harry S. Truman, “Art is parasitic on life, just as criticism is parasitic on art.” While I don’t necessarily believe that art affects life in such a negatively connoted way, he got the second half right.

Criticism is meant to change, whether it be for good or bad. Criticism, at its base, is stumbling upon a function that is not your own, and then depositing some sort of input to alter the output in a way that directly benefits you or everyone else.

This is helpful insight. This is walking up to a painting and saying “I like how the whole face is blank except for the nose. But I say add an eye, then we’re in business.” After an hour or two of perfecting the eye, the artist is overwhelmed with praise from the art community, all due to the help of the wise onlooker.

And then there is the malice we see so often. Things that are said with no intention of improving the subject in question. I am not fond of this kind of criticism, for I see no point in critiquing someone’s work negatively when I know I could not do better myself. I give books chances and I focus on the positive aspects of lame movies. You can ask Erin- “bad” movies that we consider cheesy are often our favorites just for that reason. I enjoy the professional as much as I enjoy the mediocre, but in different ways. I am not trying to preach from a soap box how it should be; I am just saying how it is. My case is, most likely, not the only one.

It’s difficult to take criticism. It really is. Even if it’s helpful. My writing career has been nothing but praise and  helpful insight.

I remember writing a story about a male ladybug killing a chameleon and riding back through his small village, suddenly a hero. It was a silly, childish story, but it was a story. I was proud of what I made.

It had mistakes, and it had plot flaws. And it had all sorts of strange quirks that were particular to myself at the time that no one would have understood. My dad walked me through each and every one, by no means an English major, but wise enough to show me a thing or two.

I remember being in tears by the end, because what I saw as a sturdy block of Emmanteler cheese, my dad saw as flimsy, pre-packaged Swiss. The story was ruined. I messed the whole thing up beyond repair.

My dad told me I didn’t. He said with a few simple fixes, the story would be as coherent and understandable as ever, and just as entertaining. He said I didn’t have to sell my soul to fix my story.

That’s how it should be. You shouldn’t have to give up the entirety of your story, your creation, to ‘fix’ it. And perhaps it’s just fine in the first place; it’s really up to the artist to decide. It’s as subjective as you want it to be. But be sure to weigh your stubbornness in with the rest of the factors you come up with.

Recently, Erin put up a portrait she drew of me. I admitted to her that it wasn’t her best work, and that she isn’t the best at drawing people quite yet. Who can blame her? This is her first year in any formal art class, and she has avoided drawing people almost entirely before this unit. She did a good job.

Apparently, not everybody thought so. She received some form of malicious criticism one morning about her portrait of me. And while I won’t go into detail, and I don’t necessarily wish to dwell on it… no matter how much someone else says “don’t listen to them, it isn’t worth it,” it hurts. It always does.

I love Erin, and while she’d never admit it openly, she’s very critical of herself, which is lame. I tell her all the time to be proud of everything she makes, every last little thing. If nothing else, she made it, and she reserves the right to ignore any criticism, helpful or not, and keep it the way it is.

And when she figures out how to do just that, I know she’ll be more than just a brilliant and talented, promising young artist; she’ll truly understand one of those unspoken tenets of creation and artistry:

There is only one person in the world whose pride in your work matters, and that is you; therefore, be proud of it all.

There would be a large and desolate hole in the world of art if this tenet were obeyed any less than it has been, and is today. And I’m sure many artists teeter on the brink of pride and shame at multiple points in their career.

I have so much faith in you, Erin. And maybe if I do, you will too. (:

aestheism, not atheism. 


Comments on: "Responding To Criticism (Thom’s Thoughts)" (1)

    You do the backward smiles too Thom??!!

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