Thursday, October 11, 2007

Oh, All Right, You John Solomon Trollburger, I'll Read The Stupid Link.

So a little while after posting my thoughts on "Your Webcomic is Bad and You Should Feel Bad", I got a comment from "Salmo" telling me I should go to "" and read what that guy said about what I said. Since this was prefaced by the phrase, "Oh, wah wah wah," I was pretty sure it wasn't going to be somehow in my favor. So screw that, I thought, and I demurred.

(And isn't "wah wah wah" kind of an ironic thing to post, since the whole point of "Your Webcomic is Bad" is people bitching and crying that these bad webcomics exist, and waaaaaah they don't conform to my standards of quality boo hoo...?)

But then "anonymous" copy/pasted a wad of text from the site directly into my comments section, determined, I'm assuming, to maintain some level of drama by proxy between, if not me and John Solomon, me and some entirely different guy who kind of defends John Solomon. I guess.

Well, if baby gotta have it, then what the hell. All you playing at home can read "More On That Bad Webcomics Site" for yourself.

Solomon apologist Christopher Bird could probably have saved himself a lot of typing time if he'd not jumped to conclusions about what I'd written. In essence, he takes this notable phrase from my previous post:
The moment you really give a shit what a site like this (or any other) says about your webcomic, you lose.
And construes it into a declaration that no creator needs to ever listen to criticism. Which isn't what I said. His "counter", as he calls it, reads like so:
As a producing creative, you have to give a damn about your work.
But that doesn't run in any way counter to my statement.

Behold: the conceit of the Art Critic. It is the idea that all art and artists are, whether they know it or not, completely dependent on the critics for their very existence. Only an Art Critic can thusly confuse giving a damn about your work with giving a damn about what some crank with a badger up his ass thinks about your work.

He also confuses "not caring" about criticism with some sort of hermetically-sealed condition of "never reading" critique, which is, again, not what I said. That's extremely not what I said. And that means that a great deal of his talking about how valuable critique is and it should all be acknowledged has no bearing whatsoever on what I said.

I do indeed think that Art Critics tend to greatly overestimate the value of critique in general and their own importance in particular, but we'll save that for later.

Let's kick this damn thing in the head and kill it right off the bat. Here's the point in his post where he shoots his own argument in the thorax:

Art is something we create because we are driven to create it. We have a need, deep down, that cries out for personal expression.
Exactly. And if you really have that drive, that need, critique is irrelevant. Skill is irrelevant. You will create, regardless. If your drive can be thwarted by John Solomon taking a verbal piss all over your webcomic and your fans, then your drive to create is weak, and, as I said, you lose.

That right there should be all you need. Drive to create is greater than need for critique, and really, there's not much reason for me to write more, or you to read further.


But I did, and you may. But if at any time you feel uncertain or confused, or think I'm losing my way, jump back up over the asterisk line, re-read that. Set yourself straight.

In all actuality, one of the reasons I haven't posted this response sooner is that I began writing a long, point-by-point dissection of his dissection of my rant, and realized that the majority of it was just useless, considering his opinions were based on a complete misreading of my words. But I've preserved some of the better points for those trolls who may be disappointed I didn't come out all a-froth and tooth-gnashing. Enjoy.


I think I see where a lot of the difference in opinions originate, both between me and Christopher Bird and between me and John Solomon. They both fancy themselves critics, they both think critique is Important To Artists, and they have a distaste for artists who show ego they think is not deserved. It's an attitude that smacks of life in the traditional/professional publishing world, where, in order to get your work out there, you have to submit your work to someone else, let them review it, and hopefully convince them it meets their standards for publication. Since there's a lot of this kind of thing going on, it would be easy to forget that this isn't the only way art gets produced and disseminated.

Imagine Picasso, painting what he felt like for decades without giving a crap about what critics said, even when (especially when) they were calling his paintings "the work of the Devil" (cf Wikipedia). Yeah, your average webcomic creator isn't Picasso by any stretch. But then, the internet-wide institution of "webcomics" isn't the friggin' Guggenheim, either.

Let's quote some.

Dismissing a critic - any critic - out of hand is the stupidest, most infuriatingly arrogant thing any artist (or person who wants to be an artist) can do, because the application of criticism is literally the only way that people improve as artists.

Nuh-uh, wrong again. The only way that people improve as artists is by refining and practicing their craft. Critics can be a guide to that end, a signpost to indicate in which way to practice and refine, but they are neither essential nor necessary. Not to mention that there's a host of signs all pointing in different directions.

And look, this "infuriatingly arrogant" business? This comes from an Art Critic, who practices an activity pre-loaded with hubris.

If you choose to ignore criticism, you are, in effect, asserting that you don’t need to pay attention to criticism, because you are too good for it.

Unlike the critic, whose hubris rests in the idea that his or her opinion should be vital to any given creator. Reading a critic complaining about an artist's ego is the magic key that summons Jörmungandr, the serpent that bites its own tail.

Ignoring criticism doesn't have to be a result of either complete self-satisfaction or apathy. A third possibility is that by ignoring criticism, you filter out irrelevant chatter that may distract from your singular vision. And that does sound kind of self-important, but there's a world of difference between saying "I don't need to improve" and "I know exactly what I'm trying to do." "I don't care about my work" is miles apart from "I don't care what YOU think about my work".

The problem: this is crap. You are not too good to be criticized, ever. Particularly if you’re working at a creative endeavor, because god knows the one universal constant about art is that ultimately every opinion has a given level of validity, even if that level is only “does it appeal to me personally.”
But at that given level, opinion is meaningless to anyone but its possessor. The homeless guy in the alley sipping rubbing alcohol and singing about "Puppy Jesus" may have a valid opinion, but that's not going to make me take him seriously.

[...]but all improvement in any craft is predicated upon one simple rote: “You’re doing it wrong.” Over, and over, and over again.

Maybe. But whose "wrong"? In the "Lust" section of the "Seven Deadly Sins" thing that sparked all of this, "Lilith Ester" writes about unrealistic, "bigger than her head", "spherical, shiny" breasts as something not to do. Perhaps if you want to impress Lilith or at least not make her upset, that's good advice.

But if you don't give a rat's ass about what Lilith likes or hates, and if what you really want to achieve is the creation of the hugest, most ridiculously wankable, shiniest, roundest boobies ever, that's lousy advice! Now, you can argue about the relative merits of each path, but this illustrates the flaw in the idea that everybody's opinion actually matters, because if you really count everyone, you get every opinion possible, and that leaves you in the same damn boat as if you heard no opinions.

I will agree with the point that nobody is ever too good to be criticized. In my opinion, rare is the artist worth the title who feels they have reached perfection; good artists are never entirely satisfied by their own work. But heeding outside criticism is simply a matter of taste and preference more than any necessity. It certainly isn't mandatory. Now, do John Solomon's opinions matter? Maybe:
A recent review of the webcomic Broken Mirror, for example, focused entirely on the horrible writing (and it most certainly is horrible writing - gratituous, pretentious, overblown dialogue with no attention to individual character, nonexistent characterization, and pacing best described as “insufferably glacial”), and both Solomon and the commenters quite astutely noted that the artwork, while not particularly amazing, was perfectly serviceable.

That’s a fair review. It’s not nice. But it’s fair.

How do I know this? Because I don’t dismiss Solomon out of hand - and I don’t dismiss the emails I get telling me I suck, either.
In that case, here's hoping "Mightygodking" doesn't dismiss this post out of hand, either, because this bit isn't exactly clear. What is he referring to when he says "how do I know this"? Does "this" refer to his knowledge of the contents of the review? If so, wow. He read the review. Amazing.

Does "this" refer to the fairness of the review? If so, the only way one can judge the fairness of a review is to examine the work yourself and compare your conclusions with those of the reviewer. To know if the reviewer is right about the "glacial pacing", you must experience the pacing yourself and decide if the reviewer is telling the truth. Otherwise, you're taking their word for it on blind faith, which is every bit as stupid as completely ignoring their opinion supposedly is.

That is how you know something is "fair", in the latter situation, and dismissing John Solomon or not has nothing to do with it. In the former situation, we're probably looking at more of this mistaken notion that somehow I think no critique should ever be read by the artist. Which seems to be borne out by this:

The only way to tell if criticism is useful is to read it. It may be useless. You may consider it inapplicable, nitpicky, or simply wrong - not all criticism, after all, is created equal, and critics can be wrong. But if you’re going to be a serious producing creative, you have to acknowledge it, because without it, your creative output will be essentially static.

In one paragraph, here, he's both supporting what I've been saying (critique is fundamentally an opinion, everybody has one, they aren't all made equal or relevant) and trying to push this idea that at the same time you have to listen to it all.

To be clear, I think well-considered critique can be very useful for an artist in the right circumstances. But I think there are circumstances where artists can get along just fine with minimal critique.

I don't have a webcomic for John Solomon to savage, but if I did, I would probably not read what he said about it, and if I did read what he said, I wouldn't care. But it wouldn't be because I refuse to hear any criticism. It would be because:

  • Having read other reviews by John Solomon, I know that he writes in an obnoxious, insulting manner that often crosses over from comments on the work itself to personal attacks. I don't think there is any critique so insightful that someone needs to let someone else abuse them in that way in order to glean whatever scrap of real wisdom they may have buried in the shitthrowing.
  • All I know about John Solomon's aesthetics are what I've read in those reviews, and it pretty much boils down to "I hate damn near everything that has passed in front of my eyes". He may like some other webcomic. I wouldn't know. But someone who hates everything is a useless critic, because they hate everything. Why bother getting his opinion when you can predict the answer? He hates it! Big surprise.
  • Would I really care about the approval of such an obnoxious bastard? One of Curt Cobain's complaints about his fame, before he decided to make moot all his grievances, was that the very same people he despised, the jocks, the mindless frat boys, were now the ones following his music in hordes. I wouldn't consider it worth blowing my skull apart over, but Solomon's favorable opinion would have very little value to me.

So if I dismissed John Solomon out of hand, I'd have decent reasons to do so.

Wholly negative criticism, like Solomon’s, can be the most useful criticism you can receive, for the same reason there are times in life when we need particularly need a cold shower rather than a comfortably warm one.

This analogy is fucked. It might hold true if you were submitting your work for publication by some comic book company (one with standards of quality). You submit your work, the editor takes it apart, burns it, pisses on it. You learn that you really aren't ready yet to work at that company. But one assumes that you submitted your own work voluntarily, specifically to get reviewed, even if the results aren't what you hoped for.

And when one needs a cold shower or warm shower, one assumes that you decide for yourself what kind of shower you want to take.

In the case of this analogy, a John Solomon review is like having some stranger bust into your home uninvited as you're taking a shower and turning off your water heater in order to try and give you hypothermia.

Or for a more extreme example, the cops kick in your door and train the fire hose on you.

Putting something out in the public eye isn't automatically inviting commentary, but it is making it available to be commented upon. Still, any such commentary is surplus to requirements in an arena where literally anyone with a computer that can put some boxes and scribbles together with some text can make a comic, of sorts. And if an artist has a huge ego for not heeding criticism, how much the ego of the critic who thinks his opinions ought to be heeded regardless of whether or not they were solicited?

I'm willing to concede that many artists have trouble spotting flaws in their own work. But there's very little in art that isn't completely subjective, and what may be a flaw to one eye may be a gem to another. Something like "is this a correct and accurate representation of human anatomy" is about as close to an objective question one can ask in graphic art, and even that has value only if an accurate representation of human anatomy is a goal of the artist.

Beyond all that: if someone is so close-minded as to refuse to acknowledge that they are in any way not a perfect creator, all the review in the world, nice or otherwise, isn't likely going to change that. Can anyone seriously believe that John Solomon's "cold shower" is going to "wake up" anyone who is determined not to change? Bullcrappery. They'll just get mad and defensive, and other than that it's BUSINESS AS USUAL. Which makes Solomon's reviews, AS reviews, ultimately pointless.


Anon, A Mouse said...

"[...]but all improvement in any craft is predicated upon one simple rote: “You’re doing it wrong.” Over, and over, and over again."

Only after posting that big essay did I finally remember what this reminds me of: Pink Floyd's album The Wall, with the schoolteacher character/voice from "Another Brick in the Wall". "WRONG! DO IT AGAIN! IF YOU DON'T EAT YOUR MEAT YOU CAN'T HAVE ANY PUDDING!"

I give you the mascot and hero of Art Critics everywhere: that guy.

AltWorlder said...

Actually, MGK is the guy behind the awesome Marvel Civil War photoshops.

I'm just sayin'.

Anon, A Mouse said...

Wow, the slowest conversation ever. I came back to this post to refresh my memory of something I wrote, and I find a reply made NINE MONTHS later.

What the hell? Okay, I'll reply MORE THAN A YEAR later. I win.

Yeah, I know MGK did those Civil War bits. You say that like "well, IF ONLY HE KNEW about these photoshops, he'd lay off the guy! CLEARLY some funny jabs at Marvel excuse COMPLETELY any other dumbass things he might blurt out while he's twisting the Art Critic baton that's found shelter in his colon."

In other words, SO WHAT.