Saturday, August 20, 2016

Subjectivity and Criticism

I've seen this word floating around quite a bit on the PitchWars feed, and I thought I would talk a little bit about it.


  • : based on feelings or opinions rather than facts

When I was in college (art college mind you all), this word was bandied about with abandon. "Art is subjective" is probably the most commonly spoken phrase in any art curriculum. It was a vicious, competitive environment at times. There were occasions when students were bullied by other students ( and even by some professors). There were occasions when professors brushed off complaints of bullying with soft-mouthed reassurances that "things would be done", to no real effect.

Seeing the word has brought back memories of round table critiques with my work pinned up on a board with the rest of the class where we'd all pick a piece and start talking. You were supposed to follow a pattern. The critique sandwich, as it's called. Something positive, something that could be improved on, end with something positive.

Supposed to doesn't always happen. People left those critique sessions in tears. We were sleep-deprived, over-caffeinated teenagers--and some of us were mean, horrible little monsters away from home for the first time in a highly charged environment. You got thick-skinned or you didn't last. Pride was taken in our school's typical freshman class drop-out rate of 50%. (Yes, I said 50%.) Kids had nervous break downs. Kids dropped out. Kids swore off art and transferred to other schools to do something else (I very nearly did). This was the reality of a boiler pot of creative children vying for attention and praying to make it big.

And above it all you had some fantastic teachers and some...not fantastic teachers. And in both camps there were teachers who would use the word "subjective" when explaining why you got a B when Sally got an A and so forth. Imagine being graded every single day, not necessarily wholly on merit or skill but this elusive thing you couldn't describe. It was frustrating. Maddening. 

And over and over again, "Art is subjective."

I say all of this so that you'll understand where I'm coming from when I say, that while my art school experiences are the foundation that built my distaste for the word, this business we're in?

It's subjective.

It isn't personal. It isn't always based on facts and figures. There's no magic formula that will get you published. All you can do is do the work. Learn to take criticism (perhaps in a more healthy way than I did) and remember that above all, this is not personal. If you ask me to critique your work and I send back five pages of edits, it's not personal. I want to help you be a better writer. I want you to succeed. I want to cheer with you and for you. The CP's and Betas and Mentors of PitchWars? They want the same thing.

That being said, there are horrible, mean people out there who will tear your work apart just because they can. There are predators in the writing community and it's important that we talk about them. Shine a light on them and keep them away from the fresh-faced writers taking their first steps into our community. We keep track of those people, we make lists and databases (Writer Beware, Preditors and Editors and more) in an effort to keep our community safe and well-informed.

You will also meet amazing, wonderful, loyal friends in this business. You will read amazing books and learn from every encounter.

We may not be in the same exact boat, but we are all on the same ocean. We sink and rise together. There are aspects of this business we can't control. Waves and eddies, storms and bright days but we weather them together.

Just. Keep. Writing.

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