Criticism vs. Feedback, Know the Difference by Theresa W. Bennett-Wilkes
Criticism is easy, art is difficult
Le Glorieux  act II, sc.v
Criticism can be harmful. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, offers the following definition: “…1a: the act of criticizing usu. unfavorably, seeking encouragement rather than˜….c: CRITIQUE 2: the art of evaluating or analyzing works of art or literature…”
The same lexicon defines feedback as: “…2b: the transmission of evaluative or corrective information about an action, event or process to the original or controlling source; also: the information so transmitted…”
Obtaining input on expository and literary writing is a helpful – if not valuable – method for assessing legibility and internal consistency. Understanding the difference between criticism and feedback empowers the discerning scribe. The two are not similar. Arguments parsing perceived comparability miss the point. Recognize the source! Is it commentary, disapproval, interpretation, or judgment? How can it affect your efforts?
I love writing. When I put pen to paper I am in my element and life is good. It’s my passion and I pursue it joyfully. As I became more immersed I eventually experienced the startling sting of criticism: blunt, cruel, damning, and perplexing. What had I done to invite such ugliness into my life? I discovered not everyone – and I use the term loosely – agreed with or approved of my decision to become a writer. At times I was stunned by the vociferousness of cutting comments, snide remarks, and crass insinuations from people I thought had my back.
I value commentary and interpretation. They are substantive forms of criticism enabling me to see my work through someone else’s eyes. When content which initially made sense comes under more rigorous scrutiny I can be proactive if I so choose. Judgment – or disapproval – is a strong indicator of the impact of what has been written. The inditer who elicits reactions has achieved the success every writer should aspire to. Neither attitude, however, is useful as feedback. The practice of “reviewing”…in general has nothing in common with the art of criticism, wrote Henry James in his essay, Criticism, 1893. In and of itself it is damaging simply because of what it is. Feedback is an objective analysis. Criticism offered as a form of condemnation has nothing to do with creativity. It’s an expression of animus bordering on hatefulness. It screams how dare you?
I recall the first time I solicited feedback from someone I trusted. I felt pretty good about what I’d produced. What I received was a stern rebuke for indulging my imagination. It was a reaction to me and my efforts to realize a dream. It had little to do with what I’d written. My short story got ripped to shreds. Looking back I recognize the error I made: I expected the person with whom I shared my work to be objective. It never occurred to me to consider the reasons for my choice.
Exercise sagacity when soliciting feedback. Engage one or two people you believe will be objective. Do your homework first: take time to acknowledge the rationale behind your selections. Determine what kind of input you want. Discuss your expectations, and if they aren’t met, write the interactions off as lessons learned. I came away from my initial experience wiser. I knew I needed to do a better job of identifying the persons with whom I chose to entrust my manuscripts. I know what I want when I request feedback. I also know what to do with the negative stuff. “I am bound by my own definition of criticism: “a disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world,” wrote Matthew Arnold in The Function of Criticism at the Present Time.
Learn to distinguish between criticism and positive feedback. The former won’t knock you off your game or throw you off kilter. The latter offers opportunities for improvement. Evaluate the input, consider the source, and pull out the nuggets worth keeping – if there are any. Criticism versus feedback: KNOW the difference.
©October, 2014 by Theresa W. Bennett-Wilkes. All rights reserved.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Theresa Bennett-Wilkes, owner of Holly Tree Publications, LLC, is a freelance writer, published and self-published author, consultant, and writing instructor. She has more than 150 published feature articles and blog posts under her byline. Visit her on the web at: www.alwaystheresa.com.