In my last Facebook thread I was roundly chastised for being a critic, charged with acting judgmental. The online dictionary describes a critic as a 'person who expresses an unfavorable opinion of something.' I was certainly doing that.
But a critic is also defined as a 'person who judges the merits of literary, artistic or musical works, especially one who does so professionally.' That's the critic I hope myself to be - a self-appointed world critic at-large. I've put in the years. I've seen. I've heard. I've learned. I've earned my credibility and authority.
When I comment on people, places and things, I am doing it with some level of honestly-gained expertise. I am not intentionally trying to be judgmental or unkind. I want to be insightful, even wise. I want to uncover some truths, share my observations, post my conclusions. They have value. I am looking to be enlightening, maybe persuasive.
I am not ranting. To rant is to 'speak or shout at length in a wild, impassioned way.' My online postings are (for the most part) carefully crafted and meant to be thoughtfully considered. I try to start with an issue or concern - then gather facts, establish a premise, develop an argument, defend a position, come to a conclusion and support a belief or understanding.
Many have said my so-called "rants" on Facebook are inappropriate and insulting. They implore me to keep them to myself. That shout-down, meant to stifle my expression is an affront to intelligent discourse and stimulative debate. I don't intend to be kept quiet.
It is the reader's choice to consider my musings, challenge them, debate them or disregard them. But, I will not have them dismissed as toxic rants without merit.
The irony is that Facebook is exactly the place where people express their "likes" and dislikes? It's pretty much 90% criticism - postings for and against whatever.
"Hey, look at these cat pictures. Aren't they adorable?"
"Hey, listen to this band. Aren't they awesome?"
"Hey, read this commentary. Isn't it disgusting?"
"Hey, spread this meme. Isn't it hilarious?"
"Hey, check out this personality/celebrity/politician. Aren't they idiotic/brilliant/right/wrong."
Pretty much everyone on Facebook is a critic in some manner or another, giving thumbs up or down to people, places and things.
Another reaction I have been getting is the idea that if I express a critical opinion I am somehow acting superior, looking down on everyone else. This is a disturbing notion I have seen online and particularly in politics.
It's not anti-intellectual, per se. It's anti-expertise. "Who is he or she to tell me anything about anything? What makes him/her think he/she is any smarter than me?"
Well, ya know what? Some people are smarter than other people, have bigger brains, better educations, deeper understanding. They think more clearly - can analyze and understand problems and see and develop solutions. I try to listen to those people whom I know to be smarter than I am.
But, too many people only want to hear from people who are just like them, think just like them. Hence, the high regard in low intellectual places for the likes of Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. It's why a large part of our society is becoming anti-intellect, anti-science, anti-government, anti-compromise. They don't want anyone telling them anything. Those who think that way, in my opinion, have severe inferiority-complexes that prevent them from accepting that we are not all equal.
It is rare in online discussions to see any understanding or articulation of nuance. You don't see or hear many people intelligently developing a thoughtful argument. Mostly, people take extreme, one-dimensional positions and demonize any and all who would deign to disagree with their simplistic outlook. There is no common ground, no mediation, no meeting of the minds.
In the arts community here in Seattle I often hear a hue and cry against anyone who would have the audacity to say some painting or composition or literary work isn't worthy. The prevailing idea seems to be that all artists and their works are of equal merit, just because art is somehow a higher calling and can not and should not be judged by anyone other than other artists.
This is, of course, false and ridiculous. As I have said ad infinitum, not every creative person is awesome or amazing (constant Facebook designations). There are different quality levels of novelty, innovation, creation. Some people suck at what they do. Not everyone should get a gold star on their failing paper or a trophy for coming in last, just because they tried. Endeavors in this world need to be critiqued to establish their merit to society. Everything is not of equal worth in any discipline or field of work. Superior, ground-breaking work should be recognized and exalted.
We need critics - learned authorities on artistic, scientific, social and political thought. Instead, for a large part, we have online bloggers who can only share how something made them feel. They have no particular expertise or perspective on the subjects of their inquiry and comment. Their uninformed opinion is not of equal merit to an informed one.
The idea that a gallery owner who has been hanging works of art for decades has no more expertise on the quality and value of art than an art student ruminating on his/her Twitter account is absurd. The music club booker who has been presenting live performing acts for years does indeed have more expertise on what makes a great live act than someone running an open mic night.
In my last Facebook thread someone posted this comment: "I'm aware of critics, and frankly all they do is put artist(s) down and don't create anything themselves worth talking about...hence why they're "critics"...I try my best to ignore them. … Don't ever back critics. They're a fucking joke who judge people who are pouring their hearts out through their art without ever making anything themselves worth talking about. They are 100% of the problem, make sure you're on the right side of the art movement. Don't stand up for critics, it's a waste of breath and good art."
This belief shakes me to my bone and worries me to no end. Intentionally ignoring critical thought is a perilous act. It perpetuates ignorance and misunderstanding.
Daniel Mendelsohn wrote in The New Yorker: " The role of the critic is to mediate intelligently and stylishly between a work and its audience; to educate and edify in an engaging and, preferably, entertaining way."
The ancient idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder has held true for all of humankind. Literature, music, painting, sculpture, composition, theater tell the story of our existence. Criticism tells us whether that story is true.