Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Critiquing Art: It’s All Subjective

The English novelist Ian McEwan is the subject of the New Yorker Life and Letters’ Feb 23rd article The Background Hum: Ian McEwan’s art of unease by Daniel Zalewski.

While part of the article deals with McEwan discovering at an advanced age that he has an older full brother about whom he never knew, part of the article deals with the opinions of other writers about McEwan’s novels.

In light of full disclosure, I’ve read three of his novels: AMSTERDAM, ATONEMENT (before I saw the film) and SATURDAY.

The novel SATURDAY, which takes place in the course of one day, reminds me of Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell) novels. And also there’re the obvious hints of Virginia Woolf’s MRS. DALLOWAY (with one of the most memorable first lines in English literature: “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”).

Yet for any writers or aspiring writers, the most important idea to take away from this New Yorker article is that opinions about novels, just as opinions about paintings or fashion or automobiles, are subjective. And those of us who create stories have to remember that something we write might hit a troubled chord in a reader – a troubled chord that has nothing to do with our writing – and yet turns the reader against our work.

And when that happens, we need to say to ourselves “It’s their loss,” and keep on writing.


Karen Magill said...

And in the words of the late, great Ricky Nelson 'you can't please everyone so you might as well please yourself!'

Morgan Mandel said...

True, but if something is written sloppily someone who has any knowledge of writing can tell.

Morgan Mandel

Phyllis Zimbler Miller said...

Karen, I like your thinking.

Morgan, I probably should have said "assume well-written," whatever that means.

Bethanne said...

This is great advice Phyllis. It took me a year of critique hounding[looking for that one great critique--even though I got several good ones] to realize this. I think part of subjecting ourselves to critiques and reviews is wanting affirmation. Affirmation comes from within, too, though. :) great blog. thanks.

Mayra Calvani said...

That is so true, Phyllis. I never care about reviews anymore. They're a person's opinion, that's all.

Some people will give bad reviews to many classic novels... just check on amazon or fictionwise.

Phyllis Zimbler Miller said...

Bethanne and Mayra -- Both your comments hit home. What did Marie Antoinette say? "Let them eat cake."