A CRITIC CRITIQUES CRITICISM CRITICALLY
I am a writer. I also teach writing – in an academic setting and otherwise – to children and adults from six years old, through sixty years old. I have found, throughout my decade of teaching the craft of writing, people have little understanding of the difference between criticism and critique. This has caused problems of great magnitude. Writers who have had their work criticized and have been hurt because of it, become defensive when anyone begins to offer a critique of their work because they are unaware that there is a difference between critique and criticism.
We often throw out criticism (mistaking it for critique) of someone’s work and when the person gets upset, we then scoff at them for having “thin skin”. We do not consider for a second that their reaction was to our destructive handling of their work. If someone attacks, you should defend. This is not having “thin skin”; it is having intelligence.
Criticism is a cutting-down, or diminishing of an idea, thought, creation, circumstance, way of life, word or action. Since being affirmed in life…being recognized…being acknowledged is almost a sacred meaning of life to us, we spend our lives worrying about being criticized for what we do and for who we are. Our world, then, often becomes that of avoiding criticism.
Criticism is meant to arrive at a higher or better ‘truth.’ The assumption is that there is a single ‘truth’ and it can be accessed through certain thoughts and disciplines and lifestyles. It is a knowledge-as-dominance game. Thus, if we are criticized, it is taken as an indictment of our self. It means that we, ourselves, are not good enough. We are insufficient. It is based on identity.
Critique is not born of identity-making. Critique is not in service of a single ‘truth’. It understands itself to be toward liberation and its possibilities. Critique opens questioning and makes single-truths unstable so as to be more inclusive of difference.
In closing, I would like to remind us of how valuable it is to examine the meaning of words. We should understand words and the power inherit in them. To do otherwise can lead to misunderstanding, hurting others and being hurt. Please, understand that a critique is a detailed evaluation of something. Critique, as a verb, is not synonymous with criticize. “Milton critiqued my story” means Milton evaluated my plotting, character development, dialogue and descriptive techniques, but does not necessarily mean that he found it lacking. “Milton criticized my story” means that he had a low opinion of it.
- Criticism finds fault. Critique looks at structure.
- Criticism looks for what’s lacking. Critique finds what’s working.
- Criticism condemns what it doesn’t understand. Critique asks for clarification.
- Criticism is spoken with a cruel wit and sarcastic tongue. Critique’s voice is kind, honest, and objective.
- Criticism is negative. Critique is positive.
- Criticism is vague and general. Critique is concrete and specific.
- Criticism has no sense of humor. Critique uses humor to soften the “blow” of the critique.
- Criticism often looks for flaws in the writer as well as the writing. Critique addresses only what is on the page.
I wish you continued success in all you do.
Less fighting; more writing!