A Critique of Critique’s Critique

I’ve noticed recently that when someone speaks critically of another’s work, an expectation is then cast over their response which suggests that criticism or critique is invalid when it, too, isn’t utilized as a platform for education. Two ways by which we progress a field, be it graphic, web, type, etc., is through critical discourse and education. These two platforms serve to develop a foundation of thought and practice (education) and then challenge us to think differently about what we build upon that very foundation (critical discourse). With this being said, I’d argue there’s a lack of open/accessible education and mentorship outside of the walls of formal education systems and that criticism/critique is the perfect place to bridge this gap. However, that’s not what this is about.

I’m not here to write about how I think we can improve criticism, but rather to speak on behalf of what it is at its core—to dismantle the expectation that it needs to be something else. While I do believe being educational elevates criticism, we should—at times—allow it to simply be what it is: critical.

Bluntly speaking, it is not the inherent job of the critic to educate you. They are not your teacher, professor nor mentor. They are not being paid to teach you how to be better at what you do. Of course, we can argue that maybe it isn’t entirely their job but perhaps it should be, but even so, I’d suggest otherwise.

We can take a look at politics to better understand the role of criticism. The open criticism, critique, and questioning of any given candidate serves the purpose of challenging the viewpoints and stance of the individual in question. It is through criticism that we voice our concerns to politicians and by which they’re pressured to think and act differently (hopefully, accordingly rather than simply differently). In this case, as a citizen/resident, you reserve the right to criticize and critique your politicians, however, it is not your inherent responsibility to educate them how to specifically do their job.

While the creative field may differ from that of politics, my stance doesn’t change. It doesn’t take a professional type designer to recognize bad kerning or spacing, and thus any person that may notice such irregularities then reserves the right to speak on it. Just because you’re open to critique the work doesn’t mean you must then take to the stage to show the original designer how to properly space text. Not everyone is in the authoritative position to be both educational and critical, however, if you are in such a position, I urge you to take it (although it’s not a requirement).

Criticism and critique allow us to challenge our peers, question standards of quality, and (believe it or not) voice our opinions. If we are to suggest it must always be simultaneously educational, we may end up repeatedly yelling “You ain’t got the answers, Sway!” In short, education elevates criticism, however, it isn’t the inherent responsibility of the critic to answer their own questions or solve the problems they choose to highlight.