The Panorama of Fear
Creating a Legacy
“We and all creation reflect the image and nature of God the Divine Artist. Creativity, the ability to make or think new things, is of God’s essence. Creativity reflects God.” These words of Br. Luke Ditewig sounded so wonderful to me the first time I heard them. It was during a sermon and I was an impressionable teen-ager. Suddenly from the pew behind me I heard a very gruff whisper. “Oh yeah? Then how do you explain heavy metal music?” The elderly gentleman’s wife saw my shoulders move as I tried to stifle my chuckle. After the service she turned to her husband and gave his shoulder a marvelously targeted punch: “Maybe heavy metal music is what God sounds like when he’s mad,” she replied and then winked at me.
Recently a young child was asked how God sounded when mad. I remember being told as a child that thunder was just the angels playing ball or perhaps yelling at each other. I expected this child to say something similar. Instead, with a great deal of confidence, this child loudly proclaimed that the sound of gunfire was the sound of an angry God.
Every day we all create our life and our legacy. It is up to us to have opinions and act upon them. We have brains and we, hopefully, think so we are going to have an opinion. IT is also up to us to make sure that those opinions and actions are creating a positive future, though, and that does not always happen. We have stopped the dialogue of creativity and have become critics instead.
We are all critics. Seriously. If we are to be honest, we really are all critics. Everyone knows what they like and what they do not like. We also all want to matter. All lives do matter; it is not a new concept. However, history seems to have forgotten how to record and address the critics. Instead we have tried to sweep them under the carpet. History tells us that people are not so easily silenced. The creative arts are also evidence of this. It may seem that the artist owes his/her audience something delightful but the truth is…What the artist owes the world is an honest reflection of the moment in time they are capturing.
Any creative work is a dialogue between the artist and the audience member and no two audience members are going to hear the exact same dialogue. Criticism is also dialogue and an important form of feedback that the artist should not ignore. First, if someone takes the time to critique you, they are honoring the time you spent creating. Negative critiques do not seem like a compliment but they are. They also offer a chance to evaluate your work. Not every critic is going to understand your intent or perhaps the meaning of your work. Not every critique needs to be followed but they should be given respect and heard.
The language one uses in response to criticism is vitally important. Never engage in an argument. Instead, turn the exchange into a discussion about how to resolve the differences or what was unclear. Most create because we have a burning need inside to let that creativity out. However, we do need the audience, the viewer, that person who listens to what we are trying to say in whatever form we are creating.
“The Critic as Artist” is an essay by Oscar Wilde, containing the most extensive statements of his aesthetic philosophy. A dialogue in two parts, it is by far the longest one included in his collection of essays titled Intentions published in May 1891. “The Critic as Artist” is a significantly revised version of articles that first appeared in the July and September issues of The Nineteenth Century, originally entitled “The True Function and Value of Criticism.” The essay is a conversation between its leading voice Gilbert and Ernest, who suggests ideas for Gilbert to reject.
Through the title, Wilde explores the fact that even a critic is an artist and the critique is in itself a creative art form. The essay champions contemplative life to the life of action. According to Gilbert, scientific principle of heredity shows we are never less free, never have more illusions than when we try to act with some conscious aim in mind. Critical contemplation is guided by conscious aesthetic sense as well as by the soul.
The soul is wiser than we are, writes Wilde, it is the concentrated racial experience revealed by the imagination. Criticism is above reason, sincerity and fairness; it is necessarily subjective. It is increasingly more to criticism than to creation that future belongs as its subject matter and the need to impose form on chaos constantly increases. It is criticism rather than emotional sympathies, abstract ethics or commercial advantages that would make us cosmopolitan and serve as the basis of peace.
“Critics don’t help you at all, they are not better than a randomly-picked person,” says Dr. Pascal Wallisch, a psychologist at New York University. A 2017 study by Wallisch and perception researcher Jake Alden Whritner found that our taste in movies is highly idiosyncratic — they’re peculiar to an individual. Their paper, entitled ‘Strikingly Low Agreement in the Appraisal of Motion Pictures’, also revealed that our preferences are often at odds with those of film critics. Wallisch and Whritner gave almost 3000 people a list of over 200 popular films — major motion pictures released from 1985 to 2004 (including some in the Star Wars series). The data was collected over 10 years (2005-2015) via an online survey where participants were asked to rate every film they had seen and give each movie a star rating on a scale of 0 to 4 stars.
The scientists compared everyone’s scores with everyone else’s in a pairwise manner, compared people to 29 professional film critics (like Roger Ebert) and compared individual scores from those groups with aggregated sources of reviews, including Rotten Tomatoes and the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). As reported earlier this year in Forbes, “Prior to our research, what was shown is that critics agree highly, but no-one’s ever looked at how critics correlate with regular people,” says Wallisch. “What was relatively unusual is that the average rating between critics and movie-goers was so different. This is the only research that actually shows scientifically that critics and people don’t agree.”
In a 2014 New York Times article James Parker answered that age-old question “Should we respond to our critics?” Parker’s answer was succinct and to the point. “No. … Getting a bad review is no longer an elite experience. We’ve all been trolled, oafed, flambéed in some thread somewhere.” He continues: “Sometimes you are the pigeon,” Claude Chabrol said, “and sometimes you are the statue.” Wonderful, Gitane-flavored words. But we are not statues — we are not made of stone. Anointed with guano, do we not feel it? And right now everybody feels it. Getting a bad review is no longer an elite experience. Writers and non-writers, mandarins and proles, we’ve all been trolled, oafed, flambéed in some thread somewhere, at the bottom of some page. Scroll down, scroll down, take that Orphic trip into the underworld of the comments section, and there they are — the people who really object to you. Their indignation, their vituperation, is astonishing. It seems to predate you somehow, as if they have known and despised you in several former existences. You read their words and your body twitches with malign electricity. You must get out of this place immediately, run toward the light. Let the dead bury their dead. And don’t look back — because if you do, like Orpheus, you’ll lose what you love the most.”
The critique is a reflection of the moment in which it was given, nothing more. In his memoir, “Prince Charming,” the great poet Christopher Logue, in mellow old age, speaks of diving into “a chocolate-liqueur box filled with dated clippings of every review that my books, plays or radio programs had received since 1953.” It is there that he made a discovery: “How differently they read now. At the time, oh, the complaining: That fellow failed to praise me for this, this fellow blamed me for that. . . .” Now, Logue has a different perspective: “How fair-minded their words appeared, how sensible their suggestions for my improvement.”
This blog is a creative work and, like all other creative works, merely a reflection of the moment in which it was written. Today, August 5, 2019, is a reflection of thirty-six hours of death, the death of innocent people, creative souls in their own right. It has been thirty-six hours of sorrow and disbelief, a panorama painted with blood and fear, based upon hatred. I do not know what lessons we will learn from these events of El Paso and Dayton. Later this week we celebrate the second anniversary of a similar event in Charlottesville. It would seem we have learned little and yet… Dialogues have been created and our legacy from these events is one of continued effort.
All the minutes we live and survive are creative efforts. To honor those who died and to give faith to all still living means we must carry on and have hope. Acceptance, faith, and hope are the steppingstones of the past that lead to a productive future. We and we alone will create the legacy of today. I pray it is one of joy and generosity and kindness to all.