The Wisdom in Pixar

While watching Ratatouille with my son the other day for what had to be the 16,456,729th time I became focused anew on a speech by Anton Ego at the end.  Now, if you haven’t seen the movie and you want to please don’t read further as this will be a spoiler of epic proportions.  Here is a portion of the monologue I wanted to discuss:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends.

In writing I often feel this is the case.  To work so hard, open one’s self open to the criticism of critique partners/groups, then again to judges in competitions and of course to the almost inevitable experience of rejections from agents or editors.  Is it any wonder so many feel reluctance at putting their work “out there”?  Admittedly I fall into that camp of enjoying, perhaps all too readily, the snarky goodness of eviscerating reviews and have even delivered one or two in my time but that quote has brought to light some excellent questions.

Why must we thrive on such negativity?  Why is it appropriate that now, as adults and through the safety barrier the internet provides us, we think it’s okay to laugh at someone else’s expense?  At their work?   I am not saying we should cease being critical but it seems as though this behavior, the very behavior we would seek to eradicate from our children’s emotional vernacular, is permissible for ourselves.   Human beings judge, we critique and sometimes we forget what we’re looking at was made by another human being.  A person who, perhaps just like us, had to struggle against rejections and misunderstandings while still pursuing the creation now laid out before us- whether that be a sculpture, painting or even a book.  I think it’s time we get back to thinking about the person, the creator, the conduit of the piece before us and perhaps not be so cruel or callous in our judgments. If there’s something good to remark upon, then there should be ample attempts made to mention those things as well.  Would that not mean balance?  Would that not also mean there was something objective about the analysis?

What are your thoughts?  What makes a good review?  What makes a bad review?

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12 responses to “The Wisdom in Pixar

  • DL Hammons

    I believe that negativity in general is out of control. Its the new drug of choice and what most news outlets thrive on. The origin may very well be in reviews…who knows…but it makes me sad.

    Excellent post…and observation.

    • kimberlyloomis

      DL- I completely agree with you. It’s distressing to think so many can have the separation of the human being writing the work and manage to laugh at that person’s expense. Overall it speaks of many unpleasant and disconcerting things.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and for checking out the post.

  • Jan

    Great post! What I learned while working as an artist is that the creator can allow no one to convince them of the “wrongness” of their aspirations. An artist (of any medium) is generally the worst critic of their own work–and they should be–just not to the point that it makes them stop offering the world their gift. Self awareness is what drives a creator to continue to work. A review, no matter how callous, is just someone’s opinion. As a teacher I learned it is always easy to criticize another’s work. What is hard, is to help them rise above where they are stuck so that they may excel. I believe that when we help another rise to the greatness of who they truly are, we are living up to our own potential. Marianne Williamson said it well: “It is our greatness that frightens us.” I would add: And who dares to make another feel small is showing the smallness of their own soul.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Jan- I appreciate your words. It’s so very true. Unfortunately I fall into that camp as well and so strive to find critique partners who are good at pointing out the failings of my work but also mention what they liked about it. As I continue to query, edit, and work on new manuscripts I find myself pushing toward finding something of value in works presented to me. Admittedly that can be more difficult than I would like but I no longer have the interest in looking at another human’s work and, should I not like it, trashing it.

      Thanks so much for your words!

  • Carol Kilgore

    Negativity can suck the life right out of anything. As humans, I think we’re prone to accept the one negative thing and dismiss thousands of positives. Each of us should strive to do just the opposite.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Carol, My goodness but you hit the nail on the head. When I was in massage school we were forced to take part in this exercise that demonstrated how easy it was for each person to readily take to heart the truth in a negative statement while eschewing the positive. I hope people shift more in a positive direction like the one you’re advocating. 🙂

  • Corra McFeydon

    I appreciate the passion in your post but wonder at your assumption that we are all negative? I attempt to see the good in a piece of art or writing, and I attempt to draw from its creator more of what makes it magic.

    In my own work, critical review helps, but more than anything, remarking upon what works inspires me to create. I can critique myself; I’m very good at it in fact. What I need is someone to show me where I succeed.

    That’s what I try to do for others.

    Corra

    from the desk of a writer

    • kimberlyloomis

      Corra- I don’t assume everyone is negative- rather that it is a disturbing trend in reviews and communications at large. Noting strengths is just as important as noting weaknesses- whether that be our own work or someone else’s. I mean this not in a manner which sugar coats the problems nor pours acid over the goodness.

      All opinions are just that, but when critiquing one should strive to do a couple things: be constructive in the criticism and be aware of our own biases doing our best to be objective when it comes to comments. Sometimes the latter isn’t possible but it is still a good thing to strive for. If I wanted to go further with this post I would say what seems to be lacking in the more prominent strictly review sites it would be objectivity. Its existence is, by and large, a myth but that it doesn’t even seem to be striven for is a bit disconcerting. Much beyond that I’d be getting into philosophy- which just might come in a later post. 😉

      Thanks for the thoughts!

  • Teresa

    I find it so hard to open my writing up for criticism and yet how can I grow as a writer if I don’t? But there are plenty of people who will crit your writing in negative ways because it makes them feel better about themselves.

    Wonderful post.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Thank you, Teresa. I have unfortunately had the same experience with criticism- from a contest judge no less. There are some out there who do this well and balanced but even the NYT seems to be given over toward snarky humor more than truly balanced reviews.

      I’m glad you liked the post. 🙂

  • Joy

    A good reviewer will find faults, but also gives sensible and pertinent advice that the writer can use. Reviews go over so much better if they are done tactfully.

    • kimberlyloomis

      I completely agree, Joy. 🙂 That epiphany, in combination with other experiences I’ve had either as a reader or writer, has caused me to re-evaluate how I do reviews. I don’t think they were particularly lacking before but I can easily look back and see where I might have missed the mark.

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