On Art, Craft, and Trusted Criticism

I was having a talk this evening with a friend of mine about grammar.  Really the talk was about head injuries (Ever bang your head against a wall really hard? Geez!) and things sort of devolved into the proper use of lay vs. lie.  You see, while I graduated cum laude from Morehouse College with a degree in English, I can still never remember the difference between lay and lie.  I figure I'll get it one day when my brain can keep that information in check (telling me in the comments of this post still likely won't make much of an impact, trust me), but for right now it's just one of those things that I'll miss from time to time, especially in unedited, extemporaneous conversational English.  The thing with this friend of mine is that he's a bit of a grammar fanatic and will correct any mistake made in the middle of a conversation.  I've come to accept this and ignore him immediately afterwards because I find this behavior to be rather gauche.  I doubt I'm alone in this sentiment.  But from there, the discussion went on to the nature of this blog and my malleable grasp of grammar.  I went on to bluntly tell him that there are few people to whom I turn on the matter of my writing.

Writers seem to be like this. The ones I know and have seen anyway.  There are those to whom we turn when we need an opinion on a take of an article or some quick editing of a letter or celebration over a published submission or commiseration over a rejection.  Among all my friends, there's a different level of trust I share with my writer friends.  Even with my closest friends, I don't always turn to them when I've written something.  It's a different level of trust.  Now, the manner in which I told my friend about my writing could certainly have been worded better, but that still won't change the fact that I only trust a certain few people when they give criticism on my work.

The thing is, most arts, crafts, and jobs are like this.  This isn't a far-fetched concept.  Every job has a certain degree of "paying one's dues."  A large part of this has to do with respecting a certain infrastructure but other parts of this involve "learning the ropes" and establishing that aforementioned trust with future colleagues.  There are some who may disagree with me but there's a certain degree of necessity for this system (not completely, although saying there's a need for it at all is still rather difficult for me to say).  When it comes to any kind of workplace, it doesn't just help to know a work record or read through letters of recommendation, you still need to work with someone a while.  You still need to figure out your new colleague's habits.  You need to establish trust.  This is harder for some people to do than it is for others.

Applying criticism works on a whole other level from this.  It's truly respected when you're in the fold.  Even a good idea is still without proper context if its source isn't from the fold it is criticizing.  Currently, my alma mater is receiving a lot of criticism for its new dress code and when I read that criticism, I'm going to weigh the opinion of Morehouse Men higher than that of anyone else because they have the distinct perspective necessary for this kind of matter.  Beside the fact, I trust them more for being cut from the same cloth and going through what I went through.  I'm not completely discrediting the opinion of others, but they certainly don't hold the same standing.

The same can be said after the Terry Teachout Wall Street Journal editorial.  Teachout's critique of jazz's reach and audience was particularly harmful and incendiary not only because it didn't offer any solutions and cited a rather skewed source, but also because Teachout isn't a true jazz fan.  Teachout was talking about something he didn't truly know.  Teachout isn't one of us, so why did he feel he could speak so knowingly of this matter.  If he actually is one of us, he certainly a) could have made a better show of it and b) he could have written a better piece with better research.  He criticism came from a very bad place and was in a very public forum.  That's a large reason why it raised such a fuss.

This is part of the nature of art, craft, and criticism.  As A. G. Amo's hermeneutic circle states, there is a connection between the separate spheres of work, author, and audience.  Because these spheres are separate, there's little that can be done to stop any of them from acting independently.  Yet, on the matter of criticism, the audience has the choice on how to discern a critical work.  In a way, an audience must be like Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes: the audience is aware of criticism but must weigh some critics higher than others in order to discern who is more trustworthy based on compatibility with the author of said criticism, esteem in his/her industry, prestige of his/her publisher, and other attributes that are deemed important to each reader.

So because of this, a business does have the right to try by fire each employee to discern how close the rapport will be and then to discern whether said employees ideas are worth their salt.  Each artist will bind closer to other writer friends or kindred spirits to know how to improve his/her work.  And sometimes, we just have to tell our friends, "while I appreciate your input, when it comes to what I do, I just don't know you like that."  Art and criticism really aren't things to take lightly, especially when you're an artist.


Jeremy said…

Sorry I just saw this. My point with my blog post was not that people should come in fresh and immediately be thrust into high-profile projects because 'paying your dues is dead'... My point was 'paying your dues' being equivalent to 'get us all coffee and be ignored when attempting to contribute anything substantive to the conversation' is not productive and doesn't teach anyone anything.

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