Fourteen Ways To Spot A Bad Critic

Criticising someone’s work accomplishes a number of things, but I think that two of those accomplishments rise to the top more prominently than others. Firstly, it can help the creator of that work spot weaknesses that might otherwise go unnoticed and improve upon future creations. This is healthy and wondrous. Secondly, it can make the critic feel superior to the creator. I mean, if Mr. Creator has been deemed “amazing” by making something that’s entertained a lot of people, and I then belittle his work, I must be even more amazing than Mr. Creator! This is unhealthy and pathetic. So how does Mr.Creator know which critic to listen to and which to ignore?

Have you ever seen those American Idol clips of people who were just terrible at singing, but were convinced that they’re actually very talented and that the broken notes they were belting out sounded breathtakingly beautiful? Singing just seems to be one of those things that some people think they’re good at, when they’re actually not. Some activities, like weight lifting, are obvious as to whether or not one is good at them. Can you lift that barbell? No? Then you’re not really, really good at this yet. Simple and obvious. But with singing, tone-deaf people can believe that the tones they’re producing sound fantastic. In this regard, I think that criticising the work of others is less like weight lifting and more like singing.

Here are fourteen ways to know how to spot a bad critic.

1. Anyone who says “This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life“.

Sometimes, people who are unable to properly and succinctly make a point, reach for ridiculous extremes. Odds are, your work is not so terrible, that it’s genuinely the worst thing your critic has ever seen in his entire life. If it is, then your critic has led far too sheltered a life to be criticising others’ work. Someone throwing a phrase like this around, should probably be ignored.

2. Anyone who criticises your work without seeing the whole thing.

It really doesn’t matter how adamantly a critic defends the swiftness at which he’s come to judgement on your work. If he didn’t encounter your entire project, then he’s unqualified to critique it. I’ve had someone loudly and hatefully critique my entire comic after reading just one page. I’ve even had someone see me drawing a panel live online, then rush to my forum to offer a biting critique of the art in that particular panel before I had even finished it. There’s no excuse for this. If they didn’t completely see, hear, taste or otherwise experience the work in question, they’re bad critics who should be ignored.

3.  Anyone who uses the word “history” in a comparably definitive way.

This is similar to point one, but in an even more arrogant manner. “This is the worst thing of its kind in history“. “Throughout history, no one has made anything this terrible“. “In the history of art, no has ever…” Alright, stop right there. The person critiquing your work is unlikely to be aware of history’s entire archive of the genre or medium being discussed. If he’s wielding the kind of delusions needed to confidently say something this encompassing, he’s a bad critic.

4. Anyone who writes “period” as a way of re-enforcing a previous point.

This is terrible. Period.” This is a great way for a critic to demonstrate an inability to accentuate. Using the word “period” like this, would suggest that there’s no room for debate. That what’s being said is final and absolute. That there’s nothing left to say on the matter. This contradicts so much of what being a good critic is all about. If you have nothing much to say, then you’re not much of a critic, are you? To quote what I used to say to my kids when they were toddlers who were having trouble getting a point across… Use your words.

5. Anyone who jumps to conclusions about behind-the-scenes reasoning.

The creator of this work is just trying to get more money because she’s panicking because the last thing she created sucked because she’s probably pissed off because Madmen might not be renewed for another season which I assume is her favourite show.” This is far more common than it should be. I’ve seen people come to crazy assumptions about my personal life and then use those assumptions as spring boards for why my work is the way it is. An actual critic will understand that he doesn’t know you personally and doesn’t have any inside information about what’s going on behind the work being critiqued. A real critic will simply review the creation on its own.

6. Anyone using multiple exclamation marks or caps lock.

Have you ever seen anyone discard an intelligent point because there was only one exclamation mark at the end of the sentence? Have you ever seen anyone have trouble understanding an insightful statement purely because it wasn’t in ‘all caps’? Whether the review is positive or negative, a good critic has intelligent things to say and a vast army of well placed words to say them with. A BAD CRITIC HAS NONE OF THESE THINGS AND SO INSTEAD TRIES TO RAISE THE VOLUME OF HIS POINTS LIKE THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! “Multiple exclamation marks are a sure sign of a diseased mind.” ~Terry Pratchett

 7. Anyone who uses the phrase “One word comes to mind…”.

One word comes to mind when I see this work. Terrible.” The “one word” can be anything, but if that’s all that comes to your mind while reviewing someone’s work, you’re not a very good critic. On the other hand, if plenty of words come to your mind and you incorrectly use this overused statement in an attempt to sound witty, you’re not a very good critic.

8. Anyone who uses the phrase “I want my X minutes back“.

If you have ever used this phrase in a critique, I’d like you to stand up, go find a mirror, look at yourself and realise that other people are creating original art while you can’t even muster up the creativity to insult that art without vomiting a pathetically overused phrase like this.

9. Anyone who tells you to stop creating.

You know how companies will say “Our employees will never ask for your password“? Well an actual critic will never tell you to stop creating. A good critic would genuinely like to see you improve and make something better next time.

10. Anyone who says “This sucks“.

That’s not a criticism, that’s an insult. If you can’t tell the difference between those two things, you’re a bad critic.

11. Anyone with terrible spelling/grammar.

Let’s be clear here. A good critic doesn’t need perfect spelling and grammar. Every painter drops his brush from time to time and there’s no shame in that. But if you’re dropping your brush evry singal tim u tuch teh canvus… well, you might not be very good at what you do. And if you’re purposely mistyping in an attempt to save time or look cool, then you’re definitely a bad critic.

12. Anyone who brags about themselves during the review.

This work sucks. And I know it sucks because I once fought a bear! Who was driving a tank! Plus I’m very handsome! Wait… what was I reviewing? Anyways, the point is that I fought a bear!” Sometimes I’ll be reading a review of something and I start to get the impression that the critic is just looking for ways to point out how many awards he’s won or how often he’s been published. Once, someone justified his critique of my artwork by stating “I happen to own a guitar signed by the comic book artist Jim Lee!“. Yes, this stuff really happens. Good critics don’t use their review of your work as a way to brag about themselves.

13. Anyone who tries too hard to be funny or focuses too much on creative ways to insult your work.

A good critic is entertaining as well as informative. This means that sometimes they’ll find funny ways to point at a flaw in your work. Don’t be upset by this, the critic is just doing his job. However, if the review briefly states “This is awful” and then follows with an entire paragraph colourfully explaining how he had to pour gasonline on his eyes and light a match while having a team of tap dancing priests cast satan out of your work before throwing it into the fires of Mordor, he might be working harder at trying to be funny than at trying to fairly review your work.

14. Anyone who says “You can’t take constructive criticism“.

This is possibly the most cowardly thing that a bad critic can say. Sure, it’s possible that a good critic can review someone’s work and that a creator can over react, causing the critic to fairly exclaim “Wow, that person can’t take constructive criticism“, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the cowards who use that phrase as a shield to defend themselves against creators justly reacting to hateful insults. There’s nothing constructive about telling someone that they suck and there’s nothing truthful about claiming that the creator can’t take constructive criticism at that moment. Most creators thrive on constructive criticism and welcome it. Very few of us thrive on being told that we should “get a life“.

As always, thanks for reading.

~Thunt