On Handling Critics

Anyone who produces art, or voices opinions, or does anything publicly, will have critics.  Guaranteed. I wrote a post about frugality that got a tiny bit of attention on the web and was bombarded with insults.  Did I care?  Well, sure I cared.  I had all sorts of emotions.  Was I wrong?  Could I have explained my point better?  Was I missing something?  Should I have said X instead of Y?  I absolutely cared.  But, this doesn’t mean I was neurotic, or hated those who disagreed with me or hurled insults my way, or lashed out, or hermited* away somewhere.

Handling criticism is a telling indicator of someone’s personality.  Some people instinctively get defensive, even if they make a concerted effort not to.  Some people shut down entirely.  Some people take criticism to heart and try to learn from it, at least when it’s legitimate criticism.  But, even the most learned and eloquent people respond in ways you might not expect:

“A poet that fails in writing becomes often a morose critic. The weak and insipid white wine makes at length excellent vinegar.” – William Shenstone

“Reviewers are usually people who would have been poets, historians, biographers, if they could; they have tried their talents at one or the other, and have failed; therefore they turn critics.”  –  S. T. Coleridge

“Reviewers, with some rare exceptions, are a most stupid and malignant race. As a bankrupt thief turns thief-maker in despair, so an unsuccessful author turns critic.”  – P. B. Shelley

“He who would write and can’t write can surely review.”   – J. R. Lowell

“Nature, when she invented, manufactured, and patented her authors, contrived to make critics out of the chips that were left.”    – C. W. Holmes

“Critics are like eunuchs; they can tell you what to do, but they can’t do it themselves!”  – Harry Cohn

“Critics in general are venomous serpents that delight in hissing.”  – W. B. Daniel

“The public is the only critic whose opinion is worth anything at all.”   – Mark Twain

Holy shit!  Notice a pattern here?  These are all a variation on “those who can’t do, teach”, only much nastier.  Even my beloved Twain falls victim to this ad hominem fallacy.  Just because you’re a critic, or a teacher, certainly doesn’t mean you can’t do what the artist has done.  It doesn’t make you a eunuch, or a failure, or a halfwit, or a thief, or scrap.  To disregard criticism whole hog like this is silly.

Now, at a certain point, you’re going to have to disregard some critics.  If you get big enough, you can’t possibly listen to all of them, plus, if you simply pandered to them, you’d never accomplish anything anyway.  But, are you telling me Sam Clemens didn’t have an editor?  Or someone he bounced ideas off of?  If the public’s opinion is worth something, then surely the opinion of 1000 or 100 members of that public must carry some weight.

My point is, criticism is valuable.  Take it.  Use it.  Don’t build a shell so thick that you’re impervious to it all.  If you do, you’ll have no one to help you realize where you’ve gone wrong.


*This should definitely be a word.  Who do I contact about this?

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4 Responses to On Handling Critics

  1. *words develop with people. If you insist on using it, and start using it more, you’ll influence people who read your stuff and talk to you, they’ll start using it and it’ll soon find its way in the language. Then it’s a matter of a few years for it to get noticed by linguists and added to a dictionary.

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