Critique versus Criticism

By  Evelyn Rainey @ Evelyn-Rainey.com

The easiest way to tell someone what you think about them – their clothing, their art, their choice in spouses – is to criticize them. You may offer constructive criticism, but that is still just an easy way to tell someone how you think they should be.

The way to help someone improve and hone and enhance their clothing or their art or their choice in spouses is to offer a critique.

Both critique and criticism have two parts – its intention and its focus.

The intention of a criticism is to align the other person with the criticizer’s personal preferences. The intention of a critique is to align the other person with the universally-accepted best that they can be.

The focus of a criticism is to make the victim feel less than worthy. The focus of a critique is to establish a base-line and aim toward areas of improvability.

Dictionary.com defines criticize as:

  1. to censure or find fault with.
  2. to judge or discuss the merits and faults of
  3. to find fault; judge unfavorably or harshly
  4. to make judgments as to merits and faults

Conversely, Dictionary.com defines critique as:

  1. an article or essay criticizing a literary or other work; detailed evaluation; review.
  2. a criticism or critical comment on some problem, subject, etc.
  3. the art or practice of criticism.
  4. to review or analyze critically.

As writers, words are our bread & butter. Look at these two definitions again.  Criticize – summed up – means to judge with the purpose of finding fault. Critique is the ART of applying criticism with the purpose of evaluating it.

So, as writers, we need to go above and beyond the easy step when helping our fellow authors with their writing; we need to listen and evaluate with the intention of improvement, not just point out the errors and mistakes with the intention of finding fault.

That being said, the art of critique must be based on natural talent as well as learned and applied skills.

Consider this situation. You have a painting you would like someone to help you with. You bring it to your local Art Guild and present it to the three main members. Suppose these members are Michelangelo, Mozart, and Me. Mozart and I would be able to look at the painting and give our opinions of it – its color schemes, theme, background and foreground, medium. That’s probably the extent of my art expertise; I’m not sure about Mozart.  However, Michelangelo would be the best person to offer a critique of the painting – it is his area of expertise, he has spent decades improving and evolving his techniques, and he has become a professional in the field of painting.

Learning to couch your phrases as critiques rather than criticisms is the first step to helping your fellow writers hone their skills. But these evaluative statements must be based on actual knowledge of the skills needed to become a great writer – this includes book learning, practice, and public acknowledgement of expertise. When you offer a comment to a burgeoning author, consider the intent of your remark – are you telling them how they should write it because of your personal opinion or is it based on your knowledge of the art of writing? Also, consider the focus of your remark – is it based on helping the writer fit into your world of preferences or fit into the universally accepted art of writing?

When an author receives a criticism of their writing, they react in alignment with their natural tendencies – they fight or they flee. Groups which spend their time bickering, arguing and defending their work are most likely criticism-based. Writers groups which support and encourage criticism-based evaluations do more to kill off the creative spark than anything else.  People leave such groups with bitter feelings and a sense of defeat.

When an author receives a critique of their work, they react in alignment with their creative tendencies – they accept the suggestions or they adapt the suggestions to fit their creation.  The sound of writers group which is based on critiques is often filled with laughter, support, relaxed camaraderie and joy. They leave such groups with feelings of accomplishment and a sense of empowerment.

As with most things, the choice is yours.

EJR

 

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