Opinion: We need more criticism in furry fandom
Not criticism of the fandom (though that's fine too) but of the material which people post — and not criticism of its topics, but of its quality. We need people to point out deficits in artwork or stories so that they can be fixed, even if it can be tough for the creator.
I've been critiquing art and stories for a number of years now – perhaps sometimes a bit too harshly – and I find it quite depressing how some people react. I don't expect them to be happy when I point out flaws, but some go so far as to delete and re-upload their work to remove criticism. Some furry sites also allow users to hide comments that they don't approve of, or prevent them entirely. That's fine when people are trolling, but you lose something important when those features are used to stifle criticism because the user finds it upsetting.
On the plus side, some users do actually pay attention and listen.
For example I was quite harsh on Kriever's first story, but he later sent me a private message asking for more tips on how to improve next time. That's exactly what we need in the fandom, and I think he deserves a little recognition for it. It's too seldom that anything like that happens.
I'm not the only one to see this as a problem and it's not just furry fandom that suffers from it. As Dwight Garner writes for New York Times:
The sad truth about the book world is that it doesn’t need more yes-saying novelists and certainly no more yes-saying critics. We are drowning in them. What we need more of, now that newspaper book sections are shrinking and vanishing like glaciers, are excellent and authoritative and punishing critics — perceptive enough to single out the voices that matter for legitimate praise, abusive enough to remind us that not everyone gets, or deserves, a gold star.
The problem, you see, is that the internet is “flat”. Everyone has equal access, in the absence of gatekeepers and the like, and therefore everyone’s work has equal prominence. Yet… The fact of the matter is that everyone’s work doesn’t _deserve_ equal prominence.
If you don't give an honest criticism, then the artist or writer has no idea of how to improve or where their weak spots are. If they don't know, they can't fix them. Similarly, it is necessary to point out the good parts, but right now there are plenty of people who do that (or provide non-specific encouragement). It doesn't help that no mainstream furry sites moderate content before submission, although SoFurry used to.
There have been discussions on SoFurry (both in public and private forums) about whether there is a better way to rate submissions than a scale of five stars. Surely the idea of a rating system is to allow people to sort through works based on their quality? The problem is that most of the time this system just doesn't work; either people only rate five or one stars, they rate according to friendship or the topic rather than the quality of the material, or they are too scared of upsetting someone to give an honest opinion. Many sites have actually done away with ratings entirely, but we're still left without a way of judging submissions — perhaps more of a problem for stories than art.
Critics don't just criticise to be mean or negative, but because they value what artists and writers create. When I told Kriever his sentences were poorly constructed, it wasn't because I disliked him. I love writing and I want his – and everyone else's – to be as good as it can possibly be. I will keep criticising because I love the fandom and I want to see the best possible artwork and stories. Quality is worth striving for in itself; it's also more enjoyable for consumers, and saves their time.
I call on everyone to not overlook flaws, but instead to call them out; not to be mean-spirited, but to help people improve. On the same note, I ask creators to accept criticism and to work to improve — both for themselves, and those who love what they do and want to support them.