Jean Reynolds Page had a somewhat unusual career before becoming a fulltime novelist: she was a dance critic. It did not matter that she was critiquing dance and not fiction, her role remained the same -she had to publicly express an opinion about someone else’s work. Although she felt an obligation to her readers to be as honest as possible, she admitted to being a gentler critic than she might otherwise have been had she not been pursuing her own art as well at this time. Who can blame her? Every artist spends much of his or her career contending with The Critic.
The Critic, in psychological terms, is an archetype, which means we’ve all got one. The Critic can only ever say one of two things: I like this, or I don’t like this. It has been my observation that many critics are looser and even more gleeful when critiquing what they don’t like. That is because it is impossible to be wrong when you say you don’t like something.
Every word, every note, every brush stroke is a choice. And every time an artist makes one choice, he has chosen not to make a thousand other ones. When a critic finds an artist’s work unsatisfying, the criticism often boils down to: wouldn’t it have been better if the artist had done this? Possibly, but we will never know, because the artist didn’t. Much riskier for the critic is to praise a work, for now they are like artists themselves, having fixed their desire upon an actual choice as opposed to a theoretical one.
When listening to your own inner critic, heed what he or she dislikes – The Critic is helping you winnow down the myriad of choices you might make at any artistic turn. But understand that it takes infinitely more courage to say yes than it does to say no. Your job as an artist, as a writer, is to yes over and over and over again. Seek what you love without judgment. A critic may wish you had chosen differently, but in the end the world is made of Yeses, while Nos are consigned to the dust of what might have been.