Thursday, February 24, 2011

Some thoughts on… Criticism… and another bunch of Lemmings!

Some thoughts, you ask? Well, yes… I don’t really do Critique Groups. Oh! I have been on at least one of the sites that Greg usefully, and helpfully, provided links to… but I left very much reminded of Lemming-aid (thanks for the prompt, Greg! Quite apposite!) So I thought I would get together with Oscar W. and rack my brains for some thoughts around the subject of criticism (and Lemmings).

A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.
OSCAR WILDE, The Critic as Artist
OK. So, if I stand here in the moonlight of my own existence, and I see what I see before anyone else, then what I write is my view...and there is no one with the authority to be able to critique what it is I see. Who are they that do not see what I see, to say that what I see cannot be seen or described so? What is the purpose of critique to the artist struggling with their dreams?
All great ideas are dangerous.
OSCAR WILDE, De Profundis
Art is subversive. It will threaten the understanding of some and challenge their views of their reality. Any artist true to their art, and writers are no exception, must expect that not everyone will like their work. Some may even be positively unpleasant in their slating and damnation of our words. The more dangerous you try to be with your ideas, the more negative reaction you can (and should) expect. Indeed if a whole damn mass of lemmings slate your work, you could be on to a winner! (…albeit posthumously)
Everything is dangerous, my dear fellow. If it wasn't so, life wouldn't be worth living.
OSCAR WILDE, The importance of Being Earnest
If you want to live as an artist, as a writer, then embrace danger… or you run the risk of not living your dream. Walk out in the moonlight and embrace the dawn… so what if you trip up on the way because you cannot see obstacles in front of you… but in seeing the dawn you can appreciate its originality and leave others (those few who are left who can connect with you) in awe of your ideas. Do not, as lemmings and critics (a.k.a. head lemmings) do, walk about in the day light seeing nothing new. Lemmings will walk over a cliff in the daylight – led by the chief critic!
Art never expresses anything but itself.
OSCAR WILDE, The Decay of Lying
If you live dangerously; if you embrace the dawn of your existence and no one else’s, then your art will never be anything other than your Art. Express what you see, not what others see (or want to see). If your writing calls for adverbs then what the heck? Why have adverbs, if they’re not required? It is your art, take control. As you practice your craft of writing in the process of expressing your art… you do not need a critic! It is not their vision, their idea or their danger. BUT DO USE AN EDITOR (AND PAY FOR A GOOD ONE!)
A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.
OSCAR WILDE, The Critic as Artist
Ah, Oscar! Sincerity? Sincerity of the artist or of the critic? Here is a paradox. If the artist is totally sincere in following their dream… is living dangerously… then, fatally, they may have no one who can see their dawn and all the artist sees is the bunch of lemmings gathered in another corner of the world following the me-too critics. And if the head lemming is overly sincere and cannot interest other lemmings in the danger of the artist’s vision, then, fatally, the artist who is more comfortable amongst lemmings will be an outcast and feel bad about it. Reality is, surely, where most artists are not totally sincere and neither are the critics… for without a lack of sincerity there would be no Art and no Critics.
The only thing that sustains one through life is the consciousness of the immense inferiority of everybody else, and this is a feeling that I have always cultivated.
OSCAR WILDE, The Remarkable Rocket
The Artist, then, who is one who may have to stand apart from lemmings (and be happy about it), is conscious of the critical voice, but arrogant enough to take no heed, for, ultimately, the critic has little authority to comment on something they cannot truly see. But the critic is necessary… for the critic, as head of a bunch of lemmings, controls the destiny of lemmings and decides what the rest of the critters do. Do artists crave to be a member of the pack? Chose your critics wisely… not all lemmings are sane!
Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.
OSCAR WILDE, Aristotle at Afternoon Tea
Consistency is both internal and external… something that good ole Oscar’s comment fails to acknowledge. On his behalf, then (such arrogance!) I feel I must offer a qualification. Consistency with the external environment, with what has gone before, may well gain the approval of the critics and lemmings that surround us, but it really is the last refuge of the unimaginative. Internal consistency, between our work as artists and the vision we are attempting to realise, is important. This is the sort of consistency that we risk sacrificing if we adopt to much critical input at too early a stage in our artistic process.
When people agree with me, I always feel that I must be wrong.
OSCAR WILDE, The Critic as Artist
I’m letting Oscar have the last word here…


  1. I adore Oscar Wilde. I think he's my long dead, long lost twin. Everything he said resonates with me. Plus I love his work!

  2. Great job, David! Your post showed a lot of insight. Loved the quotes and how you wove them in to express your opinion. My favorite: All great ideas are dangerous.

    Really makes you stop and think. Well done!

  3. Not all lemmings are equal, me thinks.
    I'd like to trust my own writing and not get confused with everyone else's opinions, but unfortunately I'd never make any $$ as a writer. And my writing would be s**t.
    I'm surrounded by dangerous ideas just going to the grocery store.
    Guess I could apply a few of those to my art as well. Real problem is not the information, but what you do with it, what advice to take.
    Eggs, anyone? I have blue and green ones.

  4. Hi Julia,
    Thanks for stopping by... I just made a quick visit to your blog and saw that variation on a bloody mary! Bloody marvelous, I'd say!

    Thanks, C.J. ...though I don't know how it would have turned out without Greg's lemmings!

  5. Sharon,
    All lemmings are born equal... it's just that some are more equal than others - now who said that? ;) (I'll take the blue eggs!)

  6. Aha. Just had to throw some "Animal Farm" in there because of the lemmings.

  7. D'ya know, Greg, that's one book I've got on my list to read... one day, perhaps!

  8. I know, David. It's great to have a novel on such an exclusive list but to have two is absolutely amazing. I have both "Animal Farm" and "1984" in my library.

    One day, I might try to see if they've been put out on books-on-tape so I can add them to my iTunes.

  9. Greg, I re-read 1984 last year - it was a far better read than when I had studied it at school so long ago! But I'm not sure I'm ready for books on my iTunes!

  10. David, I agree with the majority of your post. It's so true, especially the metaphor about the artist seeing the dawn before the rest of the world. Personally, I hate crit. groups for that reason. I love my beta buddies, though! There is a difference between crit groups and betas. *nods knowingly* <<Oh look, and adverb.

  11. Hi J.D... the majority? Prey tell - you are allowed to disagree! :)