Funny, I advance-posted this blurry pic and titled it to suggest it makes me think about how our nastiness can be contagious, and it happened to go up at iLOVESNEWYORK yesterday.
I'm no stranger to criticism. I dish it out (fairly, I hope), and I've received a lot of it. I remember some pretty nasty reviews for my first novel which to this day will occasionally attract a random hater who despises it enough to draw him or her to Amazon for a good spew...and the book's over 10 years old!
I remember a nice-seeming telephone interviewer quizzing me about Encyclopedia Madonnica, and upon finding out that I worked for the same company that published the book (St. Martin's Press), writing a scathing piece about how I was given a book deal because of that connection, never figuring out that I got a book deal in spite of that connection—nobody wants to publish their editorial assistants!
It's all fair, but I do wonder where I fall on a scale of tolerance for criticism. Does it roll off of most people's backs? Do most people take it personally? Are most people likely to think about the content of the criticism, or just go into defense mode? I guess I tend to take it personally depending on the situation and the tone and if I think the person has a point. But I actually like criticism that I grudgingly agree with more than criticism that's a wall of, "I hate it. You're wrong, I'm right."
Recently, a reader commented anonymously on my iLOVESNEWYORK blog, "Your pictures suck." This I find really unnecessary. I don't expect everyone to like everything I post, obviously, but "suck" is even more one-dimensional than an iPhone photo. It's mean-spirited, as is anonymity.
Anyway, long story long, I replied, and he replied back. The gist is he thinks the photos are blurry (because, y'know, anything blurry can not be good or interesting...) and pretentious ("too artistic"). I really think if I just published them in a photo stream and dispensed with the copyright notice and the titles, he might not have been moved to go on the attack. Some people are rigid about what should be called art. I don't think my photos are fucking amazing, I think they're cool and at times evocative, but part of what I like about them is the fact that any use you or I get out of them is accidental. That said, I also don't think he must be blind not to like them. But I responded because I think there are some other points to be made regarding self-expression, the context of criticism and those meddlin' kids!
My reply is there, too, but it's also here:
"You won't get hate mail—my blog's not that popular. (It's never won or been nominated for any Internet awards.)
"Sorry you don't like my images, and that you dislike them enough to post on my blog that they 'suck,' and to request that I not put them on my main personal blog, which you seem to like. Request respectfully denied. I have a personal blog as an outlet of self-expression. Some of what I post I'm really proud of, especially the lengthier, written parts. Some is more about my 'eye,' like whatever scans from magazines I find.
"And my iPhone images genuinely excite me, so they belong on my blog, although I keep them separate and only cross-link from time to time.
"I don't see them as great art; that's not why I take them or post them. 'Blurry' is not really a critique of photography since a lot of amazing and imaginative images are not sharply focused or even blurry. I guess it's the same with painting purists who appreciate technical ability but disparage the modern, formless approach. Not that I'm 'iJackson Pollack' or anything.
"I think the titles on my snaps are sometimes evocative because the images are not literal. They don't even need titles...maybe my Kruger-esque attempts at titling and also the copyright (?) lead you to think I'm being pretentious. That makes me cringe because I consider myself pretty straightforward in most ways, and practical.
"The sexy shots I post because they're hot and voyeuristic. You're saying:
'Just because the guy must have been goodlooking/built and you wanted an excuse to take a picture of him with your stupid little iPhone doesn’t mean you can slap a gay title like 'hand sandwich' on it.'
"I don't see 'gay' as a negative. But more to the point, I don't deny that I take and appreciate images of goodlooking/built guys, so no excuse for that is needed. If you're saying I consider myself to be an artiste, and use that as a reason to take the pictures, that's not how I see myself, I assure you. But I CAN 'slap a gay title like "hand sandwich" on it' because no excuse or permission is needed to do that. Sorry you don't like it, but I think it's a good example of my humor. I don't want that picture framed on my wall signed by me with a little '1/100' pencilled onto it, I just like it. I think it's hot, and I think it's kinda funny.
"Maybe all of that is 'lame' and 'stupid' to you, but we all have different tastes. When it comes to 'keeping it real,' I think this is an epidemic among younger people who steal the concept from street music to which they're only connected by consumerism. People have always either put on airs or 'kept it real.' And people have always either been polite or been rude. And all of us have had our moments with all of the above.
"But younger people have a strong tendency to feel that being abruptly nasty ('your pictures suck,' I'm 'lame,' my iPhone is 'stupid') and excusing it with, 'I'm just being real,' means nothing can be held against them. It's a little like saying, 'You're really ugly. No offense.'
"There are plenty of ways to intelligently criticize what people do in a way that is respectful—a lot of negative criticism is respectful just by the very fact that you're bothering to criticize the item in question at all. I think any form of self-expression is useful to the person doing it, and even if you don't like it, that doesn't mean others won't. It also doesn't mean that I won't stumble onto something you'll eventually like.
"Thank you for taking the time to react to the photos, though. I'm sorry they are an example of something you hate."