Thick Skin
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  • Posted:
  • July 18, 2011

Oh you know, it’s that thing I do when I am excited about an event. I’m unable to settle on anything beforehand that is not completely frivolous today. Alas.

In a few hours I am heading out to Novi for a signing. Maggie Stiefvater will be there with Tessa Gratton in support. I’m über ridiculously fangirl-gasm hella geeked, as you can see. I haven’t been able to sit still for the day, so I’ve been doing things to keep myself busy, like washing the kitchen floor, baking a pineapple upside down cake, and spending way too much time online. I tried reading. It didn’t work. My brain is too set on going to relax into the book and, frankly, Ally Carter deserves better than that.

So, let’s talk about something that has been on my mind lately – reviewing.

I notice a trend in the reviewer community lately. There seems to be a predilection to only put up glowing, positive reviews from a lot of the fans… or, likewise, not putting one online if it means possibly offending the author. This is something I feel, both as an artist and as a reviewer, that I have to address. As an artist in any kind of creative field, you need critiques in order to be able to develop and grow. Without them you are otherwise never compelled to change your styles, to shake things up.

Before becoming a professional bookgeek I went to school for fine art. I spent years honing my abilities in Printmaking and Painting, specializing in Watercolour and Figure studies. I worked my ass off. I wanted to be better than I was. I spent hours studying the craft, days perfecting a piece before I was ready to display it and only when it is done do I put it out there for the world to view. When I ask people now to tell me what they think of a piece what I am saying, in a nutshell, is this – I want you to tell me what you think of this piece. Balls out. Give it with both barrels, it’s the only way I can make the next piece better.

In any kind of Fine Arts school they concentrate heavily on peer critiques. Most classes have several critiques a day, or at the very least one. It became very obvious very quickly when your peer group didn’t know what to say to you for fear of offending you.

“It’s nice. I like your usage of colour.”

“I think your composition is good.”

“How do you feel about your work?”

For the record, asking someone to explain their work is diversionary. What they are saying is that they do not know what to say that’s nice without saying anything at all. They are being passive because the idea of confrontation makes them uncomfortable or they do not understand it and do not have the language to convey that. As an artist I can honestly say that this sort of critique is the worst sort possible. You achieve nothing from this exchange so you cannot better your technique on the next piece of work. It’s unsatisfying. It’s interrupted masturbation, premature ejaculation. All the build up and none of the fun. It’s lying, plain and simple.

I blame the Internet for this. I blame all of the social media sites that allow us access to our pantheon of authors and artists. We’re able to be in direct contact with creators and, as such, it fosters a weird Celebrity-like relationship and, of course, we can’t say BOO to our favourite idols. We risk the chance of OFFENDING them. Frankly, my  position on this idea has always been this – All creators have output. They put their creations out into the world to be judged by the peers and other folk. They expect negative reviews. That is part of the job. I interpret and manipulate paint to tell a story. Authors manipulate words to tell a story, and do a damn fine job of it… most of the time.

I’ve displayed my art in the world to be judged and evaluated by others. I’ve had many many negative reviews and rejections. Negative reviews perhaps stick with us the most because we stand to grow the most from them. The hurtful parts stick in our craw because, on some level, we know that they are true. We know we have to improve those bits of our work. We know those parts are shite. So, in that aspect lying to an artist, or an author, is totally useless. The creator learns nothing. We improve nothing, hence we do not grow. You do no service to the author unless you tell them the truth.

It’s so much easier to not say hurtful things, I know. You fly under the radar, you don’t risk anything, but it does nothing for the person who created something. We, as artists, are risk takers. We understand that and we thrive on it. To repeat myself – It’s part of the job. If you don’t say what you really think because you spoke with an author a half-dozen times on Twitter you are not cut out for this. There are productive ways to write a critical review. They may hurt, but they help. Truly.

I have written my share of negative reviews but my intent has always been pure – to tell the reasons why a book did not work for me, why it rubbed me the wrong way. In some cases of reading a book timing plays into the level of enjoyment the reader gets out of it. I know certain books that have hit me because of the mood I was in when I picked them up. It’s kind of like how you know you are going to love a book from the first page, or, conversely, how you know that you are not ready for something the moment you pick it up. I am willing to admit that mood factors in largely to loving or hating a particular book. I’m willing to admit that I can be wrong about a book either way.

However, my reviews are, and always have been, for me. They are a record to remind me of the things I loved, or hated, about the book. The fact that I can link an author to my review when I put it online is just icing on the cake. I always try to write something I feel will be constructive. I wish everyone else would.

My disgust with this comes, in a large part, from talking to reviewer friends offline. I have seen reviews where people gush and glow only to hear someone in person say they hated a book… Why? Why go on written record to say how much you loved something when you’ll just say the opposite in person? It’s cowardly. I’ll tell you straight up why I loved or hated something, but then again I’m coming at it from a different angle. I sell books for a living and display art for a living. I’m directly in both ends of the spectrum all the time. I have to sell, and I have to be able to take critiques.

I’ve always told everyone who is going into any kind of creative career where you have to submit work for evaluation to grow your skin. No matter if it’s artistic or writerly endeavors. Grow your fucking skin. Bad reviews happen. Good reviews happen. Grow your fucking skin. For the record, my skin’s about an inch and a half thick. That is the thickness of my rejection file at home from galleries and submissions. I always mentally picture that whenever I am going into a gallery setting – I can do this. My skin is an inch and a half thick.

So yeah, don’t hide your reviews. Don’t hide behind them either. If you don’t like a book it’s easy enough to say that – I didn’t like a book. I didn’t like this or that about it. There, it’s done. Isn’t that easy? My long-winded post boiled down to that. Brilliant.

So, off I go to Novi. But I will leave you with this one piece of work I did.. and, before anyone asks, yes, it is MY WORK. I still have the piece in my living room. It’s ten feet away. It’s mine. Copyrighted and all.

It is up for sale, should anyone want it. It can be yours! 😉

– Maybe She’s Born With It by Krys Tourtois (c) –
Painted in 2004. Watercolour on Yupo
Original size measures 8 by 8 inches

Cheers all! Off to my event.

– BP

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