No matter which of the arts a creative person works in, there are always “critics” offering their opinions of the artist’s work. Some critics may be well-meaning. Others, however, are simply spiteful little trolls who would destroy if they could, and barring that, are happy to sling their warped notions your way as “friendly advice” or “honest assessments” in the hope of doing damage.
During my years working as a writer / illustrator, I’ve seen all sorts of critics from a high falutin college professor turned critic (who had apparently failed to publish enough to keep his position and therefore felt it his duty to take pot shots at my first novel) to people who offered genuine criticism that helped me improve my work. Those in the latter group are great (though their assessments may still sting); I like to think the former have a place prepared for them on the sixth ring of Hell.
Perhaps the weirdest criticism I’ve had to date came from a preacher who sent a long email, the key point of which was his opinion that my Christian art proved I was the “Spawn of Satan” (exact quote). At the time, his hateful missive really hurt, doubly so since I was trying to help the same community he claimed to be a part of. Fortunately I had been working with a preacher (the ever-wise “Johnny the Baptist”) who offered support and reassurance.
Today the hurt from being branded the Spawn of Satan is no longer there, and I can now laugh at it now. And except for this spawnish blip my experience with Christian groups has been quite good with many continuing to employ my artwork for religious books, presentations, and in one case a large print behind the main pulpit. (I’ll note that sadly there are some bad eggs out there working behind he pulpit; but in my experience, most “men and women of God” do an amazing job, often working for little pay, and generally without much thanks. Where I’ve been slighted this once, they are slighted on a daily basis, and it’s hard for me to imagine they don’t get pretty discouraged because of this.)
This is not to say Christian groups aren’t without fault when it comes to the arts. There’s a tendency of churches to view the arts as propaganda tools, or at least only methods for spreading a message, rather than seeing each beautiful work of art as a glorious gift that reflects the Lord of Creation.
One writer that addresses this issue if Franky Schaeffer in Sham Pearls Before Real Swine and Addicted to Mediocrity: Contemporary Christians and the Arts. While I don’t agree with all of Schaeffer’s views on Christianity, he makes some very valid points about the church and the arts.
Franky Schaeffer writes, “The modern Christian world… is marked in the area of the arts and cultural endeavor by one outstanding feature, and that is its addiction to mediocrity…. Of all people, Christians should be addicted to quality and integrity in every area, not be looking for excuses for second-best…. Art, creative human expression, and the enjoyment of beauty need no justification. The ultimate justification is that they come as a good and gracious gift from God above.”
(I suppose his skewering of the church’s attitude toward art might also be a criticism of some of my own artwork given its use by some Christian groups, but I hope not.)
Of course outside the church the arts have become more or less a religion in and of themselves for many, and that can take some strange twists and turns no religion ever even thought about. Bottles of excrement, piles of cans, or other rubble and trash are declared art by this religion’s high mucky mucks run amuck with their disciples unable to perceive the ridiculous results of their blind faith. In a world where some live in squalor, the prices tacked onto such “art” seems in itself as obscene as some of the subjects portrayed in the artwork. As John Weaver has noted, “When an unmade bed is valued at £150,000 and yet an African child’s life is not valued at a dollar, something is seriously wrong with the values art promotes.”
Robert Hughes nailed the situation when he wrote, “When you have the super-rich paying $104 million for an immature Rose Period Picasso — close to the GNP of some Caribbean or African states — something is very rotten. Such gestures do no honor to art: they debase it by making the desire for it pathological.”
So there are flaws enough to go around.
As for critics, the catch with many is that they aren’t knowledgeable about what they criticize or, if they are, are petty, hateful, and jealous people deep down inside. Such folks can do a lot of damage to the ego of creative people. And in my experience, many creative people are actually more sensitive and emotional than the average person — making them vulnerable to the slings of the jealous.
So hurtful critics often leave wounds of the artist’s heart. Minor hurts, yet they can be very discouraging to an artist, especially those just starting a career. Yet for most, the wounds eventually heal to leave scars not unlike the red badge of courage received in battle. In the long run, these injuries can also make an artist stronger once they are overcome.
But it is wise to limit the damage. Avoid negative people. Never seek out reviews about your work.
Woody Allan never reads reviews of his movies. I think perhaps this is good advice for anyone in the arts. As are the words of Charles Haun: “What did you gather today? Were you in the field of bitterness filling your hearts with an abundance of bitter attitudes because someone hurt or offended you?”
An artist should never wander into fields of bitterness. One way of doing this is to avoid reading what critics write.