Why Do Critics Have A Reputation For Being Cynical ? – A Ramble

Well, for today, I thought that I’d do something a bit different and talk about critics. This is mostly because I’ve had something of a slight insight into being a critic due to the occasional reviews that I write on here. When I first started writing reviews on here about 4-5 years ago, I was determined not to be like those critics. You know the ones I mean, the snooty ones who never seem to like anything.

In other words, I often only reviewed things that I really, really liked and could give positive reviews to. Of course, this has changed over the years.

In fact, this article was prompted by the fact that this review of mine ended up containing a lot more criticism than I originally expected. Yet, I don’t consider it to be a “bad” review (seriously, it’s a good show!). But, in a sudden moment of clarity, I realised that I’d turned into the type of critic I once wanted to avoid becoming.

So, why do critics have a reputation for being cynical?

There are several reasons for this. The first is simply that they’ve had more experience with reviewing things, not to mention that if someone is even vaguely interested in criticism then they’ve probably seen/watched/read/played quite a lot of stuff (or they will in the course of finding things to review). What this all means is that critics often have a larger frame of reference when making comparisons and judgements.

For example, one of my regular review features on here is reviewing fan-made levels for “Doom II“. When I started doing this, I hadn’t really played that many of these levels – so, I was amazed by what people could do with this classic game. But, once I’d played a lot more levels, I started spotting things like commonly re-used graphics, common changes to the game, common level design techniques etc.. So, I was less amazed by these things than I used to be. This has probably led to mildly less awe-struck reviews, even though I still consider “Doom II” to be one of my favourite games.

Another reason is because I’m not a professional critic (nor would I really want to be). Whilst professional critics getting free advance review copies from film studios, game developers etc… is a good thing for a whole host of reasons, there’s also a place for critics (like me) who don’t get these – and don’t want them. But, both professional and amateur criticsm can result in more cynical-sounding reviews for different reasons.

Since I’m not a professional critic, I mostly review things that are older, second-hand, discounted, free (for everyone) etc.. Although this means that I get to review more interesting/random stuff and can look at things that are overlooked by professional critics who have to review the latest things, this has also forced me to pay more attention to whether something is worth the time and/or money that the audience needs to invest in it. And, as such, this can sometimes result in more cynical-sounding reviews.

Professional critics, on the other hand, don’t have to worry about the cost of the things they review. In theory, this ideally means that all products are on a level playing field and can be considered purely on their artistic merits. Likewise, advance copies given to professional critics mean that they can inform consumers on the day that something is released.

All of this stuff is a necessary counterbalance to things like manufactured hype and advertising (and it’s why you should be very, very wary if a film studio or a game developer refuses to give professional critics advance access). But, seeing the contrast between a more formal professional evaluation of something new and the idealised, rose-tinted portrayal of it in advertising can make a more “realistic” review look cynical by comparison.

Finally, one reason that critics can sound cynical is because reviews often serve a dual function these days. As well as being a guide for consumers, they’re also often a type of entertainment too. This often means that reviews include humour more regularly than they used to a few decades ago. Of course, one of the best sources of humour is joking about the thing that you’re reviewing, which can include everything from occasional affectionate humour to constant merciless ridicule.

But, when this isn’t done in the right way, it can often make it look like the reviewer is some kind of bitter cynic who can do nothing more than point and laugh at things other people make (and some reviewers can actually make this genuinely entertaining, but some can’t). Likewise, if you’re a fan of something, then you might not appreciate critics ridiculing it. So, humour can sometimes explain why critics appear to be more cynical than they actually are.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Today’s Art (31st December 2017)

Happy New Year everyone 🙂 As regular readers know, I make these comics ridiculously far in advance and this one was made in early March. After all of the political upheavals of 2016, I found the idea of being optimistic about new years had lost some of it’s charm. So, this cartoon ended up being a bit on the cynical side.

Many more comics featuring these characters can be found in the ‘2016’ and ‘2017’ segments of this page. Likewise, here’s the ‘Work In Progress’ line art for today’s comic.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Happy New Year 2018" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Happy New Year 2018” By C. A. Brown

A Cynical Ramble About The Popularity Of Blue Ink

2017 Artwork Blue Ink Moan article sketch

A few days before I wrote this article, I had to write a quick note and the only pen that was lying around nearby was an old ballpoint pen… with blue ink!

This naturally made me wonder why blue (of all colours) is such a popular ink colour. I mean, it really doesn’t make sense! Of course, it wasn’t until a few days later that I actually bothered to do even a small amount of research into this subject.

From a quick Google search, I found this forum page which, amongst other things, suggests that blue ink was originally popular because it helped to distinguish hand-written signatures from photocopied/ carbon copied ones, because it could be more easily used in early copying processes, because of the composition of the ink, because it differentiated formal and informal correspondence etc…

But, despite now having all of this knowledge, I still find it to be utterly bewildering why anyone would want to use blue ink. And, why black ink isn’t the “default” ink colour for ballpoint pens. I mean, if you pick up a random ballpoint pen (with no colour markings on the outside), it’s probably going to be blue. Where is the logic in this?

My views about blue ink seem to be deeply entrenched and surprisingly strong. Ever since sometime when I was a teenager, I just felt that black ink was more “serious” and more “permanent”. Blue ink always seemed slightly lighter and I always thought that this meant that it was more prone to fading than black ink was.

Not only that, virtually all books, magazines etc… are printed in bold, solid black ink. So, whenever I wrote with black ink (and whenever I still do every day), it just felt like whatever I was writing was just a little bit more ‘serious’. It feels like everything I write has just a little bit more gravitas than it would if I wrote it in frivolous, annoying blue ink.

Then, of course, there’s the artistic side of things. Although most of my art includes paint, I come from a drawing background. In particular, I come from an ink drawing background. Yes, I’ll often make sketches in pencil, but pencil seems even more impermanent than blue ink does.

It’s a fact that art usually looks better when it’s drawn in black ink. Your drawings stand out immediately in a way that they just don’t do if you decide to create a visually-confusing mess using blue ink (like the drawing at the top of this page, my first blue ink drawing in… hopefully, a very long time!). In other words, there’s a much higher level of visual contrast between black ink and white paper than there is with blue ink and white paper.

Even when you add a lot of other colours to your artwork, black ink lines are both clearly bold and pleasantly unobtrusive. They’re something that the audience doesn’t consciously notice, in the same way that you probably haven’t consciously noticed that this article is written using black text.

Likewise, if you make art using blue ink, then it looks a lot more… informal. If you want to go for the ‘look at my wonderfully spontaneous sketches‘ kind of look, then I can see how it might work. But, if you want to give your art more of a “professional” kind of look, then black ink is usually the only real option.

I don’t know why this obscure topic ended up provoking an entire blog article but I still find it confusing and illogical that blue is the default ink colour for many ballpoint pens. Still, if online articles about the decline of handwriting are to be believed, then this is probably more of a moot point than anything else. And I’m still surprised that I have such strong opinions about blue ink, of all things.

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Anyway, I hope that this grumpy rant was interesting 🙂

Today’s Art (2nd January 2017)

Well, it’s a new year and it’s time for a new webcomic mini series! As such, I’m very proud to present the second comic in “Damania Resolute” 🙂 If you want to see some equally cynical comics about Christmas, they can be found here.

Yes, this comic is basically just an extension of yesterday’s comic. But, yeah, January can be annoying.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Resolute - January" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Resolute – January” By C. A. Brown

Today’s Art (1st January 2017)

Well, it’s a new year and it’s time for a new webcomic mini series! As such, I’m very proud to present the first comic in “Damania Resolute” 🙂 If you want to see some equally cynical comics about Christmas, they can be found here.

But, yeah, when I “resolved” to make art and/or comics every day, it happened in April (nearly five years ago!). If I’d been foolish enough to make this decision on the 1st January, my comics would probably still look like this.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Resolute - Discouraging" By C.A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Resolute – Discouraging” By C.A. Brown

Four Reasons Why Self-Portraits Are Better Than “Selfies”

2016 Artwork Why Are self-portraits better than selfies

Although the full-size version of the self-portrait in this article’s illustration won’t be posted here until early-mid December, I thought that I’d talk about self-portraits today since it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything about this subject.

So, for today, I thought that I’d look at some of the reasons why self-portraits are a lot better than the ‘selfie’ photos that seem to be in fashion at the moment.

Hopefully, this won’t turn into a cynical article about the vapid and pointless this exciting and self-affirming modern trend. But, I’m not holding out much hope….

1) It requires more thought and means more: Taking a ‘selfie’ photo just involves holding a smartphone above your head (or using one of those idiotic innovative “selfie sticks”) and pressing a button. You can take a selfie in less than five seconds.

However, even if you’re basing your self-portrait on a photo (as I did) then you’ve still got to put a lot more creative thought into it. You have to learn how to copy from sight alone and you have to have had some art practice before you begin. Not only that, since you’re responsible for every aspect of your painting or drawing, you have to make a lot of additional creative choices too.

For example, do you use a particular colour scheme in your self-portrait? Do you try to represent the lighting accurately, or do you take a more “ligne claire” approach? Do you make the self-portrait look realistic or do you go for something more cartoonish?

This might sound a lot more involved and time-consuming than simply taking a quick “selfie” photo of yourself, but it is a hundred times more rewarding. Because you’ve put a lot more effort into the self-portrait and have had more choice in how it was made, you’ll end up with something that will mean a lot more to you than just a quick photo.

2) You’ll look better: Not everyone is photogenic. For some reason that I’ll never understand, it’s possible look perfectly ok in real life but, as soon as one of those bloody photographic machines a camera gets involved, the resulting photo can only have something like a 5% chance of even looking vaguely ok.

However, with self-portraits, none of this is an issue. Even if you’re basing your self-portrait on a photo, then you still have absolute creative control. In other words, you can make your self-portrait look slightly better than the photo (or, rather, correct some of the mistakes that photographs can have). After all, since it’s a painting, no-one expects it to be 100% realistic.

When an artist makes a portrait or a self-portrait, a certain amount of artistic licence is expected. After all, if you want a “100% realistic” picture, then you’d take a photo instead. So, no-one will really mind if you make your self-portrait more flattering than a photograph might be.

3) The reasons are different: From what I’ve read about “selfie” photos, the main point of them often isn’t to take a picture of yourself, but to declare to the world “I’m on holiday!”, “I’m in a restaurant!” orI’m a total and utter…. They come from a strange need to provide the internet with constant photographic proof of your existence.

Because self-portraits are a lot less immediate and significantly less “realistic”, the reasons behind them are significantly different. When you make a self-portrait, you might be expressing yourself in a more creative way. You might be trying to test your art skills. You might dislike your previous self-portrait and want to paint a better one. There are hundreds of possible reasons for wanting to make a self-portrait.

But, above all, the reason behind it is probably something more interesting than “I can’t be bothered to write a diary“.

4) People will be more interested: Let’s face it, there are a lot of “selfies” on the internet. “Social media” sites are absolutely teeming with them. If you enjoy looking at those kinds of sites, then you’ll probably encounter several “selfies” every day. There’s nothing particularly special or interesting about seeing hundreds of photos, all taken from the same angle and all displaying the same range of mundane backgrounds.

However, a self-portrait is something different! Even if you painted it out of nothing more than sheer vanity, then you’re going to end up with something that looks unique and different. You’re going to end up with something that stands out from the generic crowd of similar “selfie” photos.

In other words, even if you make a self-portrait out of sheer vanity, it’ll still be something that other people will probably find interesting.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (13th April 2016)

Yes, I’m still in a cynical kind of mood and I’m also very proud to present the next “Damania Resurgence” cartoon. It’s yet another short re-boot of an old webcomic series of mine – if you’re interested, be sure to check out the previous re-boot of this comic series (called “Damania Redux”).

But, yeah, don’t even get me started on interesting-looking modern “TV shows” that are only shown on expensive streaming services rather than actually on TV….

As usual, this picture is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Damania Resurgence - Like A TV Show" By C. A. Brown

“Damania Resurgence – Like A TV Show” By C. A. Brown