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The Elephant In the Room

Thumper’s dad was wrong. I know we all learned “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all,” whether from Bambi and Thumper or our parents. Gogo asked whether we agreed with that statement the other day. I absolutely disagree.

There are situations where casting about for something nice to say is ludicrous. Yeah, that Ted Bundy may have been a serial killer but he sure had nice hair. Tell me something nice about slavery. If people followed that guide, the world would be in a terrible state. We need the people who say something about terrible things. They are the ones who change the world.

Creative Commons from Wikipedia

However, I do think the saying is applicable a lot of the time, but I also think most people misunderstand it. Most of the time when people say “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” they really mean, “If you have even one negative thing to say, shut the hell up.” To that, I can only respond with…

First, let’s review a few terms because some folks need a new dictionary. I went to the OED.

  • Criticism: The art of estimating the qualities and character of literary or artistic work; the function or work of a critic.
  • Critique: An essay or article in criticism of a literary (or more rarely, an artistic) work; a review.
  • Dirt: Scurrilous information or gossip; scandal.
  • Opinion: What one thinks of a person or thing; an estimate of character, quality, or value.
  • Review: A critical appraisal of a product, service, etc., intended for the guidance of consumers.

What Gogo offers at JuicyBomb and what makes her a successful blogger is that she offers criticism. She has asked herself who she wants for her audience, the designers or the consumers and has chosen the consumers. There is no unearned praise in hopes of getting more promotional items from designers. Designers are not her audience.

However Gogo is Thumper after all. I have yet to read a blog post from Gogo where she does not have something nice to say. Even the posts that resulted in shit storms of hurricane force included several positive comments about the items being critiqued. It’s just that some people think that only positive opinions are allowed, but they are wrong.

I like the way Gogo critiques items in her blog. She does not say “this is crap.” I think we should all know by now that if something was crap, she would not blog it. Have you ever seen her shoot herself looking terrible? It’s not going to happen.

Gogo does not dish dirt. She does not make allegations about people sleeping with each other for one reason or another. She does not allege copyright theft or make insinuations about people’s integrity. She does not offer scurrilous information or gossip or traffic in rumors.

Gogo offers criticism – in the artistic sense. She assesses the good and bad qualities of an item and reports them as accurately as she can. When something is objectively wrong, such as the fabric not lining up at the seams or the inside being alpha so that people see gaping holes from different angles, she reports that. If something is subjectively wrong, she points out that this is based on her personal taste which may not be the same as yours. If she does not like mature skins or big eyes or bold prints, she admits out that her critique is based on personal opinion and that mileage may vary.

Of course, criticism stings. Even if it is something minor and even if it is wrapped in layers of praise. It is human nature to ignore the 93% good and focus on the 7% bad. That’s why we lock our doors and hire policemen. We are hardwired to focus on the negative. However, I think that means we miss a lot of opportunities. Especially if we are designers and creators.

Criticism when it is well done, when it is specific and detailed, is the most useful tool a designer can have to improve and grow. It is a gift, if only people would stop complaining long enough to unwrap it. The most successful creators in Second Life are not stagnant, they improve constantly. They send out works in progress for advice. They listen to criticism and separate the objective from the subjective and use it to make their products better.

And that is good for all of us.

Cajsa Lilliehook blogs at It’s Only Fashion

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  1. Torley

    What a thought-provoking post! There is ALWAYS room for improvement, and what a wonderful thing that is — for growth keeps us moving forward and being excited about making new dreams come true.

    I always look at the intent of criticism. Pragmatically, the only useful criticism is that which actually induces progress in the artist. Some call this “constructive”, though that may be misunderstood because tone also matters. After all, one can enhance the content of a delicious meal with auspicious presentation, resulting in a more cohesive sensory experience. Everything else (including being rude) is not helpful.

    There are also cases where the goals of the critic don’t match the goals of the creator, when an opinion is put forth which may be thoughtful, but points at a different path. For example, in music, if a critic says “This song sounds too distorted” but that’s exactly the point the artist was trying to make, and the artist felt they mostly accomplished that… then the criticism isn’t helping the artist move closer to their own goals either. These can sometimes be useful opportunities for OTHER creators to step in and fill a perceived need, where paths diverge.

    I’ve found it incredibly encouraging to be vocal about praise. A kind word can make someone’s day, especially if it’s coupled with curiosity about their future creativity. So often (both in SL and outside), I’ve found it to be “human nature” that people are open about complaining but do not praise in abundant proportion. They keep kind words to themselves, even if an artist would benefit from hearing such declarations of awesomeness. Sometimes this recluctance is out of shyness, but by gosh, find an icebreaker and give praise! And you’re not just doing it for the artist — you’re doing it because their art has touched you and makes you feel good, and this is your own self-expression as a result of it.

    Closely related, you gotta see:

    • Elle Couerblanc

      “There are also cases where the goals of the critic don’t match the goals of the creator, when an opinion is put forth which may be thoughtful, but points at a different path”

      This is so true. I had a very nice person contact me a couple weeks ago about one of my images on flickr. For that particular image, I decided to leave the shadows around the nose instead subtly smoothing them out as I often do. When I explained to her that I left them their intentionally, her response, in a very calm and mature manner, was “it looks amateurish”.

      The point of my talking about her critique is to not slam her or seek out praise for my photos, but to reinforce what Torley is saying here. She didn’t get my reasoning behind my goals of the image which in turn can lead to more misunderstanding. Sometimes when you defend your work, the critic takes it as if you are arguing with them. It’s a slippery slope in both instances.

      Now in this situation, the critic was more than gracious to accept my “defense” and I praise her for that. She was a very good critic. 🙂

  2. Kitty O'Toole

    This is a great article, and a very relevant one.

    As a blogger it is at the forefront of my mind when writing something that I judge it accordingly. That means that if I spot an issue I’ll point it out but in a way that isn’t designed to cause offence. Unfortunately, we seem to live in a time when people can find something offensive about whatever you say, even if you have been positive in your expression. That said, this passage ” I think we should all know by now that if something was crap, she would not blog it. Have you ever seen her shoot herself looking terrible? It’s not going to happen…” also applies. I don’t want to look awful on my blog, bloggers prerogative and all that!
    Last nbut not least, I like what Torley says about praise. I always tend towards the effusive with mine, but that’s my nature, I can’t help it, and if someone has created something good they need to know about it. Encouragement is essential in life, but criticism is just as valid too.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking piece!

  3. Alecks

    I like the article and hope one does not have to shut their mouth every time feelings are hurt. Its part of growing up… taking the punches and then maybe getting some though skin. When you produce something nobody buys but all praise when asked its not making the creator any good. That is in itself a form of cruelty.

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