Thursday, November 21, 2019

90. Constructive Criticism

Criticism is hard. Rather, criticism is hard for me to do.

Years ago, when I was sort of an elder-statesperson in the AIGA Mentoring Program, I remember sending a cheerleading email in response to a brilliant colleague's information. The colleague, Emma, had lifelong experience in outreach, community, organizing, thinking—and was in many ways superior to most peers and people. In reaction to my rah-rah response, she in turn replied that constructive criticism was welcome. In other words, where was the substance? What did I really think?

Setting aside the question of the quality of my thoughts, I'm simply going to parrot/amalgamate/repeat what strike me as great thoughts noted by Craig Taylor in a review of Daniel Mendelsohn's Ecstasy and Terror. From the Greeks to "Game of Thrones."

Taylor writes about Mendelsohn's reviewing techniques:
Most reviews should be a mix of positive and negative assessment; they should not "devolve into flaccid cheerleading." They should keep a sense of humor. Honor the subject. Edify readers.

Ah. Flaccid cheerleading. A great phrase and my personal bete-noir.

Taylor notes a recurring theme of Mendelsohn's book is
"that critical decisions must come through an appetite for learning. "'To think is to make judgements based on knowledge; period.' . . . 'A good critic, he [Mendelsohn] writes, "hungers to make sense of that new thing, to analyze it, interpret it, make it mean something.' A good critic also ensures his omnivorousness extends to the reader."
Being a critic, it seems to me, isn't that different from being a teacher. More importantly to me at the moment—as I struggle to communicate, tell a good story whether in English or in Italian class—is how to edify, engage a listener, make an opinion or a criticism mean something and engage a reader or listener.

(Slated for October 9, 2019; posted November 21)

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