Last week, Sady Doyle wrote an amusing satirical counterfactual article, which illustrates how J.K. Rowling might have written a more feminist-friendly wizardry series. What I find interesting is not so much the article itself as it is the comments. There are several comments on the article along the lines of: “you are in no position to criticize, for you have not written a book.” [I’m paraphrasing here–read the actual comments.]
It is true that it is harder to create something than it is to criticize; I have no doubts about this. However, since I am primarily one who criticizes and not one who creates, I feel compelled to defend the practice. Criticism is vital in order to improve upon things the next time.
I concede that a critic, like me, will probably never create anything good on his own. Like filmmaker David Lean remarked: “I wouldn’t take the advice of a lot of so-called critics on how to shoot a close-up of a teapot.” And so he shouldn’t. As someone once said, critics rarely actually offer a better alternative; rather, they merely point out the flaws.
This is not as simple as it sounds. It can be very hard to figure what the actual problem with something is–as opposed to the simple reaction “I don’t like it”–and I suspect it is often necessary that the critic pointing it out not be a creator. The outsider’s perspective, as we all know, is often useful for seeing flaws.
In short, the best a critic can hope to do is correctly diagnose the problem; it will fall to some genius in the field to actually solve it. But both professions are needed for advancement in the field.