What’s a Critic’s Opinion Worth?

Toby: “No, sir. In his defense, he caught the bad note. He came to me. He made it important.”
Leo: “Yeah.”
Toby: “He wasn’t distracted by the fact that his office was filled with bicycles.”
Will: “Excuse me?”
Toby: “Yeah.”
Will: “You said that I caught the bad note?”
Toby: “Yeah, that was planted there to see how well you’d do telling truth to power.”
Bartlet: “Not very well so far.”
Will: “I have no difficulty telling, sir, telling truth to power.”
“The West Wing”

It’s very important to find a good critic when you work creatively, i.e., someone who has the improvement of your work as his or her main goal. However, how can you be sure that you have a good critic? The quote from “The West Wing” above led me to think that perhaps this strategy can be adapted to creative works as well. Give someone you think of as a good critical a few of your works to criticize — and deliberately include one or two ‘bad apples’. Not shoddy workmanship that can easily be recognized as flawed work, but works that have a serious inbuilt flaw that requires one to look closely to recognize it and that could be there by accident (i.e., you made a mistake you didn’t realize, were not inspired, had a blackout, or whatever). Then see how they react. If they find the flaw and strongly suggest you to discard it, good. If they can give you hints how to improve the work or salvage parts of the idea, even better.

But if they praise your work indifferently from the rest and have no good explanation why the work is good despite the flaw — then, I guess, it’s time to transfer the critic from the “improvement of my work” category to the “improvement of my mood” category — if their praise influences your mood any longer. After all, how can you accept praise from a person who cannot discriminate between good and bad works?