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Submitted on
April 7


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Well, I'm back from MoCCA Fest.  Had a great time.  I didn't sell too many books or posters, but I met some great people and had a fine time hanging around with Jim.  Me and him, we're tight now.

But that's not what I began this journal entry to say!  And I didn't start it to drum up support for a humanitarian petition either, though if you're interested there's one right here.  Sounds like a good cause, and worth a few seconds of time.  Think about it, won't you?  Actually, what I really wanted to contemplate here was the nature of the "can you do better" line of reasoning.

You've probably heard this one before.  Someone asks you, after or during some form of criticism, if you can do better.  And if you can't, it's implied, you have no right to cast judgment.  What gets me about this is that the argument might conceivably be valid in some cases... but in most of the examples I imagine, it's really not.  It doesn't make sense.

I started thinking about it when I commented on a movie trailer recently.  The science behind the plot seemed pretty phony to me and I went off on one of my little rants.  I probably was being a bit obnoxious.  Since YouTube revamped itself and made it possible to post longer comments I've had trouble showing restraint.  Still, someone else got his dander up, called me an egghead and said "you think you got the money/talent to do it better? shut the f!#k up and go do it. Otherwise, shut the f@%k up, sit down, and read something."

Incidentally, it's also possible that on some level I only started this journal entry because I wanted everyone to see how mean this guy was so they can rush to comfort me while I clutch plush animals to my chest as I curl into a fetal position and silently weep into my pillow, stuffing my face with potato chips mingled with the snot pouring out of my nostrils, listening to heartbreaking melodies warbling from the radio buried underneath a gigantic pile of soaking wet handkerchiefs.  But that's an outside chance.

Still, it really did get me thinking, and this is something I've thought before whenever I hear that argument...  I certainly can't do better.  I mean, I wasn't directly criticizing the film's acting or direction... it might be a lot of fun if it doesn't take itself too seriously.  But I surely don't have the money or experience to make such a movie.  That is true.  But why on Earth would that negate the validity of my criticism?

Think about it.  You go to a fancy restaurant and order a fancy lasagna.  The waiter smacks his fancy lips with pinched fancy fingers and saunters off with promises of a magnificent fancy meal.  When he comes back, however, he brings you lasagna that's not fancy at all!  In fact, it makes you a little sick.  Do you not have the right to complain because you yourself can't make any kind of lasagna, fancy or otherwise?  Are you stuck forcing this meal down your throat because it's still technically better than what you could come up with in your own filthy kitchen?

The basic function of most any business is to provide people with products or services that they can't readily produce on their own.  This gives us a perfect right, even a responsibility, to point out flaws in the product we're offered.  We're not qualified to make it, but we're still qualified to judge.  Sure, sometimes folks don't know what they're talking about.  We misjudge, we talk out of our asses.  That still doesn't mean we should be blamed for our initial impression.  It falls to the makers of the product to contemplate whatever complaints they may receive.  Even if those complaints lack merit it's still worth hearing because all input grants perspective on the work that the creator may not have.

But on the other hand, surely there are situations where it's fair to say "can you do better?"  I don't think that movie criticism is one of them, but I'd be interested in hearing your ideas.  I ask you, when is it truly justified to ask that of someone?  When should you stand up and throw negativity back to the audience, asking them to operate as an equal to the performer?  It's a technique that's often misused, but I think there's probably a time and a place for it.  So where is the line drawn?

Juggling comes to mind.
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Scezumin Featured By Owner May 10, 2014
I think "can you do it better" is a question best reserved for people to ask of themselves when they have an opportunity to do good in the world around them.  For example, when a teacher was failing to get a concept across to some students in my class, I internally asked "can I do this better?" and got a "yes" so I raised my hand and gave an alternative explanation.

When people ask it of each other, it most often resembles what you described in your journal.  Also, I intend to use the lasagna example next time I encounter such a situation, so thank you for writing it.
JoeEngland Featured By Owner May 10, 2014  Professional General Artist
You're welcome!
HoneyThistle Featured By Owner Apr 21, 2014 get to criticize movies.  Doesn't matter what the fuck or who the fuck you are.  Criticizing movies is a 'Murican fucking passtime and as a 'murican you get to do that.  Period.
Artikano Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014
Okay, so I read this article that examined, I don't remember, brain states during arguments or something. The points are 1) it was science and 2) it was about arguments.

The conclusion was that arguments are tools for establishing dominance. If I can beat you in an argument, you better listen to me. Cause if you challenge my authority again, I'll just make you look like a dumbass again.

I want to mention that establishing who's in charge can be necessary, done with intention and the best interests of all. Or it can be a sad little troll who didn't get enough love for his mommy.

The point is arguing isn't about being correct. It's about winning.

Our culture maybe be long remembered for our contribution of techniques for "winning an argument when you're wrong." I want to say the bulk of our contributions to human knowledge fall in this area. What you mentioned, the can you do better? definitely falls into this category. I don't care if the lasagna was crap or not. I'm attacking your credibility. Ad Hominen. Since you can't make lasagna you aren't qualified to comment on this ones quality, therefore you are wrong and I win.

Hey, are you ever around about the Detroit, Michigan area? The northern suburbs these days. We should hang if you ever are.
JoeEngland Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014  Professional General Artist
I can't say I'll be near Michigan any time soon, but thanks for offering.  And thanks for your contribution to the discussion!
peirrin Featured By Owner Apr 9, 2014
I kind of have the feeling that when it comes to movies, that maybe, just maybe, YES, I could do better.   I just don't have the money.  I'll go and hang out with my dad occasionally, and he turns to a movie, and asks me if I've seen it before.  And often times the answer is no.  Then I start narrating the characters lines about 1-3 seconds before they say them.
"I thought you said you hadn't seen this before?!"

"I haven't.  I've just seen every movie that this one is based on already."

Drives him nuts. :)
Rianq Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Eat this rock.
- No?
Why not?
- Because it's inedible.
Weeeell, maybe you should make a better, more edible rock, if you think you can do it better.
- What? I can't make rocks.
Then you should probably shut up and eat up.
- That doesn't even
Roscoe3000 Featured By Owner Apr 9, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
rofl, I want to draw a cartoon about this.
Rianq Featured By Owner Apr 9, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Be my guest.
butterfly-dragon Featured By Owner Apr 7, 2014  Hobbyist Writer

I think one should know theory and then criticize in a way to show the flaws and tell what went wrong and how they could get better.

If you do not know theory you should not criticize, or offer your critic only as an "amateur opinion".

Everybody is entitled to opinions. Not everybody is entitled to criticism.

Your opinion might be good or bad about what you experienced, but unless you can criticize properly, telling what went wrong or right. Then you are not helping the person which is the object of your criticism to get any better.

If you can precisely point out what went good and wrong based on the established end which the criticized person was trying to reach via whatever means one used. Then you offered a valid criticism. Something that the person can use to get better.

Opinions. Everybody can have them, and is, in fact, entitled to them. Everybody can voice them. Nobody should theoretically shut you up unless you are showing blatant ignorance of the rules of the means of expression that was used, in which case one should tell you why your opinion is absolutely useless or misguided. If you still insist on not learning anything and you still insist on voicing your misguided or useless opinion, then you should not be surprised that you get ignored.

Criticism is a different matter. If you offer criticism, then you are telling the guy: "I know what i am talking about." And while everybody is human and even criticism can get misguided or misrepresented or misunderstood, at least if you know what you are talking about you can reason with the criticized person and work together with that person to make one better artist. You still might get ignored, but at least you know it's not your fault, but it's that other person's fault.

Of course, as far as i know very few people like criticism, lots of "artists" have barely studied what they try to use as a medium, and behave like moody teenagers. "you don't understand my art" or even worse "i'm not telling you what you should see, you should understand the feelings you get by seeing my art and then treasure them" that is what i normally hear as: "I made abstract art because it's easy and i don't have to study anything, now pay me for you doing my work for me by deciphering random noise as if it were a message that i am broadcasting, while there is, in fact, nothing."

So yeah, you can be a scholar of a given field and get told that what you re criticizing is part of a different field because "reasons" something like "no, you misunderstood, Twilight is not a "bad horror romance" as you described it, it is a "teenage wish fulfilment fantasy", and it does its job graciously, thus your critics are a moot point." in some cases an answer like that could be right and you should go back on your steps and look at the art in a different way, the way that the person just told you it should be looked at. Naturally such shift of perception could still fail to produce a "better" critic and you should tell the artist that even by changing the point of view he is not doing a good job. If the artist tries to fiddle again the way you should perceive that person's art, and/or tells you that you do not understand his art, then you are probably talking to a moody teenager (in whichever age and/or setting that person is currently in, he could be a booming artist or she could be an elder amateur lady, they still have the mind of a moody teenager), and not a serious artist that is striving to get a good result.

If you are an ignorant you can still say what you think is wrong, but don't expect to be taken seriously regardless of the actual "seriousness" of the artist. Moody teenagers (of any age) will tell you that you don't understand. Serious artists, will usually not answer you and if they do tell you that you do not understand the field (though they might still take in consideration your opinion, because you are part of the target audience). Since both answers are basically the same and you are ignorant, then you cannot tell who is going to take in consideration your opinion and who is instead a serious artist which values a target audience for his/her work, which you might be part of.
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