the futility of criticism

In childhood, I proved my bravery by watching horror movies like Nightmare on Elm Street. Settled onto the brown carpet littered with popcorn and Reese’s pieces, one arm clutching my knee like a life raft, I kept my eyes open the whole time. As we walked home in the dark, I’d chant One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…

Freddy Krueger was meant to scare me, and he failed because he never imagined a courage like mine.

But then, alone one evening sometime in the mid-90s, I watched the PG-rated comedy Ernest Scared Stupid for the very first time and was emotionally eviscerated. I’m okay now, but when I think of the scene with the troll in Elizabeth’s bedroom, to this day I feel the echo of emotional trauma. 

Everything hits everyone a little differently. Maybe this is why all these years later, I don’t pay much attention to critics.

A creative thing exists simply because it’s supposed to exist. What bored you to tears might have inspired an addicted man to come clean.

While one book reviewer says, “[t]his book blew me away and put me on the path to healing all my childhood wounds,” another says, “I read it on the plane. When we went through extreme turbulence and the cabin shook violently, there was a moment where I thought the plane might crash and I didn’t even care because this god-awful prose had taken away my will to live.”

Both are likely true, and the only truly honest criticism gives those two extremes equal weight. Every work of art is both a triumph and a disaster, and as Rudyard Kipling wrote, we ought to “treat those two imposters just the same.”

Sometimes a work of art just exists for mysterious purposes that you’re not meant to know. Sometimes the purpose of art is the same as pouring a concrete foundation for someone else to build on later. Sometimes it’s to inspire. Sometimes something exists to get the attention of a person who needs a spark so she can take an idea further.

And all of that is okay. You don’t have to make “good art” or “bad art,” you just have to create.

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