Should we listen to 'critics' or show them the door?

KillRamsey

Hall of Famer
Jun 20, 2012
Hood River, OR
Kyle
Once he defines what he means by "critics," sure, I agree with him. Based on the title, I didn't. Real, informed critique is vital to just about any art form, as far as I'm concerned. It's just so very rare now, given the internet.
 

Ray Sachs

Legend
Sep 21, 2010
Not too far from Philly
you should be able to figure it out...
Depends on whether we're shooting for the critics, for broad public adulation, or for ourselves. I'm not sure listening to critics necessarily makes an "artist" better or worse, but it MIGHT make their work more acceptable to that particular critic going forward. I've heard a very common criticism of my street photography and the funny thing is that I fully agree with it, but I simply don't view it as a negative. So I keep on happily shooting more or less the same way, generally competently, very very occasionally a little bit artistically, but what I do is of no use to some folks out there. And I have no problem with that - zero problem, they're more than welcome to go find the stuff they find meaning in. Or, if they enjoy it, they can stay on my case, but I'm generally not listening very closely. I enjoy what I do and generally like the results, limited as they may be. I think I'm a pretty decent documentary photographer and for me, that's enough. I don't see a grand artistic vision in any of what I do, there are no deep or hidden meanings, what you see is basically what you get. For some, that's a worthless pursuit, and possibly evil on some level. And I don't have any problem with them feeling that way and recommending how I can be better, deeper, more artistic, etc, etc, etc. But my goals are limited and I'm generally not listening to them beyond a general awareness when they talk about my stuff.

In early days, when I was just beginning to figure out composition and how to find images in a photographic frame rather than just taking photos OF something, I was very open to criticism and learned a lot from it. And I think I improved pretty rapidly over about a 2-3 year period. But that's damn near 40 years ago. These days, I sort of know what I am, am OK with it, and will be happy to improve to the extent it happens organically, just by continuing to do what I enjoy doing and inevitably refining what I do bit by bit. But not by taking scathing criticism to heart, doing a deep and violent self-examination, and making a hard left or right turn in my "approach". So, I do what I do basically for me. I think critics do what they do mostly for themselves too. So we all go home happy.

-Ray
 

grillec

Veteran
Jan 16, 2014
I agree with him to be always clear of the source from which the critic is coming. There are too many who parrot "traditional" opinions without an individual check.
 

Lightmancer

Legend
Aug 13, 2011
Sunny Frimley
Bill Palmer
Aston Ego summed it up perfectly for me:
" In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the *new*. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends. "
 

Ray Sachs

Legend
Sep 21, 2010
Not too far from Philly
you should be able to figure it out...
I always listened to Don S ....... but maybe he is not a critic
I still listen to him. He's an advisor, a mentor of sorts. Not specifically a critic. But mostly I look at his photography and revel in it because I realize that no matter how good I ever get, or don't get, I'll never see the world like he does and being able to see it through his eyes is a gift.

-Ray
 

MiguelATF

Hall of Famer
Aug 27, 2013
Talent, Oregon (far from the madding crowd)
Miguel Tejada-Flores
Interesting article.

It reminds me of part of Neil Gaiman's 'advice to writers' - Neil Gaiman being himself an extraordinary writer and storyteller who has, over the last several decades, revolutionized and reinvented several genres, while continuing to write remarkable things in other ones. Several years ago he wrote several thoughtful "Rules of Writing" to think about -

His Rule #5 treats a similar subject to what Don Giannatti is writing about. Gaiman says -

"Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong."

It's surprisingly helpful advice for writers - because, reading between the lines, Gaiman is suggesting that all 'criticism' is, of course, subjective - and that when someone expresses a subjective opinion about your work, they are at least 'right' for themselves. Because our work - whether we are writers or photographers or whatever - will never totally 'work' or appeal to everyone. So if someone opines that something 'doesn't work for them' - they're really giving a valid personal/subjective reaction. Like it or not, our work may not work for everyone - and discovering that it doesn't can, at times, be an incredibly helpful tool. At least, it can for writers (my day job). I think in certain circumstances, it can also be or do that for photographers.

The second part of Gaiman's cleverly understated 'Rule' is even better - namely that even the best-intentioned advice someone (let's call these someone's who offer advice 'critics') gives you about how to 'fix' something - is almost always wrong.

Why? Because....they're not us. They're not you or me. And the only way to 'fix' - i.e. improve - something - is to find our own way of doing it, something that makes sense and/or works for us.

As part of an amusing and apt earlier 'Rule', Gaiman also suggests, when we are about to show our work to others, to - "show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is". Here he's on common ground with Giannati obviously - because in the best of all possible worlds, it would be great to be able to show our work to those "whose opinion (we) respect". It seems so obvious, but it's worth saying. But the second part is less obvious but no less worth thinking about - not just to people whose opinion we respect - but to those "who like the kind of thing that it is". Therein lies the rest of the crux of the matter for me. As a writer, if I write what I consider to be a brilliant horror story - and want feedback/reactions/criticism to it - it's a terrible mistake for me to show it to someone who, though I deeply respect their opinion in many things, also happens to either dislike, hate, or simply not understand the 'horror' genres. Ditto for us photographers - and for the people we expose or give or share our work with.

My favorite part of the article was the Theodore Rooseveldt quote at the beginning. It's so apt for so many things - I 'get' why Giannatti has it on his wall :)

Thanks for starting the thread Andrew / gryphon1911 .... definite good food for thought.
 

gryphon1911

All-Pro
Feb 6, 2015
Central Ohio, USA
Andrew
I still listen to him. He's an advisor, a mentor of sorts. Not specifically a critic. But mostly I look at his photography and revel in it because I realize that no matter how good I ever get, or don't get, I'll never see the world like he does and being able to see it through his eyes is a gift.

-Ray
And not seeing the world as others do is a very fine and valid thing. We all may agree on some things, but not seeing the world the same is how creativity helps us try to explain what we see and how we see it to others. I think this is one of the greatest things. Finding interesting ways to express that which we cannot tangibly share with others, but must express through approximations.
 
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dalethorn

Guest
If the critics are known to be real critics with good reputations, you might learn something. Otherwise anything goes, often not good.
 

tonyturley

Legend
Nov 24, 2014
Scott Depot, WV, USA
Tony
If the critics are known to be real critics with good reputations, you might learn something. Otherwise anything goes, often not good.
Therein lies the rub. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to discern the intent behind a critique. I just accept that my interpretations may not suit someone's fancy. Likewise, if I see an image that doesn't resonate with me, I just stay silent and move on.
 

ErichH

Veteran
Jun 11, 2020
On an uplifting note to those listening to critics: most great artists aren't recognised as great until after they're dead. At which point they probably don't care an iota about it.
 

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