Sunday, April 10, 2005

Hotspot #8: Creation and Evaluation, and Why One Does NOT Necessarily Imply the Other

Now, the original title for this hotspot was:

Hotspot #8: Creation and Evaluation: What they are, and Why One Does NOT Necessarily Imply the Other, and Why We Should All Learn to Tell them Goddamn Apart!

Which should pretty much give you a good idea of what I'm going to cover in today's topic: Creation and Evaluation.

When put in this context, few people ever seem to have trouble telling Creation from Evaluation. Distilled to its simplest essence, one pertains to the making of a product, and the other pertains to the evaluation (or if you like, criticism) of that same product.

Pronunciation: krE-'A-sh&n
Function: noun
1 : the act of creating; especially : the act of bringing the world into ordered existence
2 : the act of making, inventing, or producing: as a : the act of investing with a new rank or office b : the first representation of a dramatic role
3 : something that is created : as a : WORLD b : creatures singly or in aggregate c : an original work of art d : a new usually striking article of clothing

Pronunciation: i-'val-y&-"wAt
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): -at·ed; -at·ing
Etymology: back-formation from evaluation
1 : to determine or fix the value of
2 : to determine the significance, worth, or condition of usually by careful appraisal and study

Main Entry: crit·i·cism
Pronunciation: 'kri-t&-"si-z&m
Function: noun
1 a : the act of criticizing usually unfavorably b : a critical observation or remark c : CRITIQUE
2 : the art of evaluating or analyzing works of art or literature
3 : the scientific investigation of literary documents (as the Bible) in regard to such matters as origin, text, composition, or history

From Merriam-Webster Online

Now that we have our definitions down pat, what I want to know is:

When it comes to reviews and criticism, Why do so many people seem to believe someone must have the qualification of a creator to have the qualification of an evaluator?

What's that you say? "Because someone who has done that something before likely knows what they're talking about?"

True sometimes, but not always. You see, if a creator is good, s/he IS more likely to know how to evaluate work, but I'm of the opinion that the reason s/he is a good creator is because s/he knows how to evaluate work in the first place.

Think about it. Most wine-makers and chefs have good palates and senses of smell to give them feedback on how well their creations are doing. Pilots need very good eyesight. Musicians need a sense of tone, rythmn and pitch (ok, that very last one is debatable with the current state of the music scene, maybe).

But my point is, without the necessary senses to detect how good/bad something is, how can a creator tell when something goes wrong and s/he has too go about correcting it? Bereft of the ability to evaluate and work from feedback, most creators would be reduced to following a set of proven formulae for success and hoping ferverently it pays off. Sometimes it pays off. And sometimes it doesn't and s/he ends up with something like those crappy summer blockbuster turkeys everyone shakes their heads about.

In my eyes, a (good) creator is a critic who learned how to do (Or if you prefer, a creator who learnt how to critque). Does that mean that a critic has to know how to create to learn how to evaluate?

I think not. I wouldn't expect the most of you to know how to run a farm and raise cattle. I wouldn't expect most of you to know how to slaughter a cow and butcher it. I would expect some of you (but not all) to know how to tell a joint of good fresh meat from one that's been soaked in water, frozen for two months, and then thawed and left for a few days. I would think that a few of you would probably know how to cook a steak too.

But I'm pretty damn sure most of you will know a good steak when you eat one.

(Unless you're vegetarian, then substitute meat in the analogy with something else, please.)

So taking it out of the analogy, I think most people, regardless of whether they're chef or rancher or webcomic creator, will know something they like (and thus perceive it to be good) when they see it.

Now explaining why that thing they like is good is another thing altogether. Back to the steak analogy, a bad critic would be the guy who goes: "Gee... that tasted sorta good, I guess.". The good critic on the other hand, is someone who can tell you about the firmness and texture of the meat, the sweetness of the flavours, whether the meat is dry or moist, whether the seasoning overpowers the taste of the steak or complements it.

Supposing we have such a person who can do this, does s/he REALLY need to know about the difference between cattle breeds, or slaughtering techniques or whether the technique of searing meat before grilling it makes for a better steak to be 'qualified' to give an opinion on how the steak tastes!?

I think not. All s/he needs is a set of good senses (tastebuds in this case) and a working brain.

So Creation is NOT Evaluation.

Oh, Creation involves Evaluation.

But Evaluation does not necessarily require Creation.

And so everyone has the right to an opinion.

Now without a good solid explanation to back it up, how much that opinion is worth is up to interpretation. If you're Scott McCloud or Derek Kirk Kim with a proven track record, most people would be willing to take your word for it based on the virtue of reputation alone, since they're confident that on request you can produce good explanations to the wherefore and why.

But if Joe Schmoe too can produce good explanations to the wherefore and why, why should his opinion be any less valid than Scott McCloud's?

Logically, it shouldn't be. It's the logic behind the argument that counts.

The accuracy of a statement doesn't change no matter who says it.

So next time if you disagree, try focusing on the message instead. It'll probably work a lot better than shooting the messenger.


  1. Weirdly, I have any number of people who've implied that somehow I've lost legitimacy as a critic now that I write a webcomic.

    So the converse also seems to be true. Even as there are some who think that you have to be a creator in order to evaluate... so there are some who think that if you are a creator, you can't possibly be objective enough to evaluate.

    I think this constitutes not winning for losing.

  2. Ping, I just want to mention that I love Webcomic Finds; it never ceases to be interesting. I like how you mix up reviews with other things of interest, especially to webcomic artists such as myself. I never bother to read any other webcomic rag, so it says a lot that it happily holds my interest. Keep up the great work!

  3. Damned well said, Ping. I'm gonna keep an eye on you, bud.

  4. Mr. Burns has a point: it's this weird double-edged sword. On the one hand, if you're not a creator, folks will sometimes jump on you and say you lack legtimacy because you "don't know what it's like doing a [fill in the blank artsy thing]." But if you ARE a creator, then they jump on you for being biased in favor of your own work over others (which I think is only a natural thing--I mean, if you didn't like your own stuff, why are you putting it out there? Of course, I don't think this discounts your opinion on the work of others, especially if you're not trying to raise your own work by putting down the work of others...which is where folks' criticism of you, Eric, really runs aground. You're not trying to belittle anyone else's work in order to pull your own up).

    I know that as a comic creator myself, I oftentimes gauge other comics using my own work as a standard--are they better than me or worse? Do I feel upset that they're more popular than I, or do I feel they deserve more recognition? Of course, I'm not an evaluator of comics (at least, not a public evaluator), but the idea still holds.

    (Note to self: become less long-winded in these comments. Eesh)

  5. Colby: Thanks. I think I'm still the one getting most out of this blog though. Not only do I keep finding great comics I wouldn't otherwise, it also makes me think a lot about what i consider makes a good comic and the philosophy behind a lot of things. In the end it helps me evaluate my own work a lot better.

    One might say that it's the selfish reason I do this comic ;) I say that's awesome.

    Regards to a creator not being qualified to be a critic... that is an interesting point raise, Eric. Damned if you do, damned if your don't.

    The other problem I have with it is that it does make the creator more supceptible to flattery. Yes, people who want good reviews always try and flatter the critic. If the critic's a creator as well, then there's a secondary line of indirect flattery available!

    I've seen I few critics I respect succumb to this approach before. :( Sadly, I don't think anyone can be immune to it, really.

    God knows I'm not, though nowadays when someone praises my comic it does taint it because in the back of my mind I do wonder...

    Unworthy thoughts. :( I'm sure in most cases people are sincere.

    But if anyone ever sees me clearly succumbing to flattery, I fully expect to be told off by you guys.

  6. The artist of Hypercomics ( has said the same thing in his livejournal ( about there needing to be a wall between people who make comics and people who evaluate them.

  7. Personally, I'm more than open to being flattered / bought off, and if anyone is looking for a great review from me, let me know and I'll set up a Pay Pal button.

  8. On the other hand, it takes a hundred years to build a cathedral and two seconds to say, "Psh. That's ugly. It sucks." Unqualified, ignorant opinions are useless and destructive.

    Having a webcomic, especially a successful one, is one way to demonstrate that your opinion is not unqualified. But sure, it's not the only way.

  9. Then again, if you had the only cathedral in town for the longest time, then many, many, much better cathedrals come along, then the viewer can feel qualified to mention the comparative lack of quality of the original cathedral.

    As for the "legitimacy" question, until they offer an advanced degree in webcomic critiqueing, all thoughts on legitimacy is nonsense and does nothing but give the people who disagree with the critic an easy way to dismiss them.