Crit Happens

by Randy Murray on February 16, 2012

My youngest daughter, a freshman at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), gave me a t-shirt for Christmas. It’s emblazoned with one of the more popular sayings around campus: “Crit Happens.”

It does indeed. RISD embraces criticism from the top to bottom. It’s a regular part of daily life there. It can be brutal and it is completely unavoidable. Criticism is part of the RISD’s culture. They revel in it. And it makes me giddy to think about it. I can’t express how jealous I am. I’m not a visual artist, but the intense creative environment is so exciting, so palpable, that every time I visit the campus I’m ready to dive back into school again.

It also reminds me of my time in college and grad school and time spent in writers’ groups. It reminds me of seeing my plays in performance and the rare and wonderful opportunity to hear people talk about my work. It’s not the praise and adoration I’m looking for. Applause is gratifying, but not all that useful. I’m continually hungry to hear what did and didn’t work, and why. Real artists are starving for good criticism.

Really good criticism isn’t just “I love it” or “I hate it.” It’s thoughtful and exploratory. Great crit helps the artist understand what they’re trying to do better than they did during the act of creation. It engages the mind and intellect in a way that writing or painting or playing an instrument does not. The act of creation is partly intellectual, but it is also visceral. The artist may start out with intentions, but then, if they’re prepared and lucky, something deeper takes hold. Sometimes it works, and criticism helps the artist to understand why, what it might mean, and how they could explore more deeply. When it doesn’t work, when the act of creation fails or doesn’t connect, criticism can help the artist to understand why.

If you are avoiding criticism, if you do not actively seek it out, then you will likely never reach your potential as a creator. It’s your job as a writer, an artist, to seek out the forums and opportunities where you can participate in full on, knives out criticism. Frankly, just publishing your work online isn’t enough. Reviews aren’t the same thing. What I need, what you need, is live, interactive, intentional criticism.

Go make some crit happen.

The Crit Happens by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Schechter February 17, 2012 at 12:01 pm

I don’t know that it’s always avoiding criticism as much as it is not having a great mechanism for receiving it.

One of the things I’ve been talking to Yuvi Zalkow about is trying to bridge the gap between a writing group and a blogger. It’s can be challenging to get solid feedback in this medium, so we’ve been toying with the idea of adapting the way traditional writers often get feedback for those who focus on the web. It may not always be “live” per se, but the goal is to get more interactive and intentional criticism. Hopefully we can come up with something a bit better than just hitting publish and praying for feedback.


Randy Murray February 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm

I’ll be interested to see what you come up with. I think there may be a way to use Google+ Hangouts to have a regular online writer’s group.


Michael Schechter February 17, 2012 at 4:14 pm

That’s what we were thinking. That or Skype. Although with Google Docs integration likely coming somewhere in the near future, that could be better. I’ll keep you posted.


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