Monday, October 11, 2010

LEAVE THE DUNAWAYS ALONE: True Artists and Their "Critics"


True Artists and Their "Critics"

©2010 Robert J. Kuntz

Creators Create...

In my 40+ years of being involved in the RPG industry, winning or being nominated for various awards, published in 10 languages, and having helped start an industry which persists to this very day, I have yet to see critics, naysayers or others of that ilk win an award, publish anything of merit or do much of anything which promotes or furthers understanding of the creative process which creators involve themselves in and that, in turn, the fans of such enterprise appreciate.  That's not to say that such RPG critics cannot accomplish other than what they seem predestined to do.  Look at film critic Roger Ebert, for instance.  His insights have always been edgy and he actually writes books upon the subject.  His bearing can be at once incisive and scholarly because he has invested his total being in a multi-layered process for many, many years, just as professional creators, like myself, have done.

So what does it mean that "Creators Create?"  That's a very broad question encompassing life in its many extremes.  It's similar to asking how you as an individual reader of this blog maintain your own life and its events.  I am in no way capable of answering that for the 200+ subscribers here, nor would I wish to be so enabled to say for certain how all of you manage that.  I could not even begin to imagine, in fact, how that might be accomplished in any singular case.  Life throws us curves and we handle these as these arrive and on those levels as prescribed and thereafter administered to, all perfectly normal and sequential depending on the individual.

The exposed fact here is that creators are just humans with the same obstacles, pains and pleasures that anyone of you have.  They can be eccentric, their moods as artists can change just as yours can, and their paths seem destined, if they are seriously inclined to their craft, to take many variable courses and at differing speeds depending on their creative inclinations and inspirations.  There is no one formula for understanding what creators do or how they do it; and if there was, the near majority would probably not be very good creators as they would adhere to repetitive and uninspired processes that limit their forms, styles and expressions, reducing the whole to a mocked standardization.  They would in fact be less individualistic individuals.

I read many reviews of films and books and have actually become interested in the way critics approach subject matter, especially on the interview level. I would estimate that less than 1 out of 20 reviews or interviews offer critical insight into the intimate processes that any given artist adheres to while creating the subject matter so inspected.  Poor critics are seen to invariably devalue the corpus of an artist’s worth, often interjecting some aged, or passé, angle that they seek to play off of. Many critics and interviewers, unfortunately and because of this, fall under the umbrella description of "yellow journalists."

Most well intentioned multimedia critics can be excused for not peeling back the onion skin of a subject as they are truly ignorant to begin with of the very personal processes used in bringing art to life.  While studying art-via-artist they oftentimes get immersed in template-like approaches to the extent of not recognizing that art forms are mutable things, nuanced particles that can and will change as much as a true artist’s view can.  These pocket critics and interviewers fail to understand that the basis of their quest is to explore with the artist what that means.  I have found the best interviewers, for instance, accomplish this positive course when they become a person who prods the artist to talk rather than themselves leading with uninformed guesswork. Charlie Rose comes to mind as a master of this latter ability.

However, yellow journalism, which is more prevalent on the internet, is an alienating and mostly egoistic form that expresses itself through a biased lens, wholly separated from the truth. It is seen in both interviews and more often in outright critiques and its shadowy forms even find root in the smallest sections of the net among “informed” commentators at blogs, for instance. So disposed, these critics paint a commentary, a misleading picture, for their own selfish reasons.  The true facts are left out, minimized or distorted. They do not check their sources; they often do not cite anything. Their tools are gross exaggeration, innuendo, suggestive and leading fragmentary information, understatement and the use of select and sampled “evidence,” all used to pervert or obscure whole realms of otherwise unassailable truth.

Faye Dunaway--An Artist with a Mission

I am a fervent fan of the actress and director, Faye Dunaway.  I have seen the majority of her films, have read the best of her interviews and have followed her career for some time.  In doing so I formed what I call a professional opinion about her as an individual artist.  Her autobiography, "Looking for Gatsby," is a seminal work exposing the inner workings and thoughts of an artist totally driven to excellence and committed to her craft.  The more I studied her, the less I saw an icon of cinema and the more was exposed about Dunaway the true artist.

But her being an icon is not what interested me; it was in understanding how she became one.  She did not take ICON 101, for instance, so there must have been underlying reasons why she is what she became, and vice versa.

The one thing I noted as I studied her history is that she has been at the butt of criticism on many levels.  At first I thought, "wow," how could this be?  Her works, her acting ranges, her creativity, and her individualism are all enormous.  She’s won many awards; she's been in the film and theater industries for over 50 years.  Then I started reading what her critics were saying.  They were on the main good interviews and criticisms; however, it seems that the bad or indifferent ones were the most talked about. In due course I found that these very things were being forwarded as truths about her and thereafter believed and regurgitated over and over by uninformed people.  Yellow journalism was hard at work with its dirty deed. That her legendary corpus of work had no bearing whatsoever upon these sensation seekers’ participation in this travesty quickly exposed the truth of the matter to me.

I can only assume that many of her critics dislike her for what is her truly admirable "do it my way" stance that she nurtures by way of an inflexible adherence to her art.  At one point, after she had acquired the rights for the play "Master Class," critics assailed her for not bringing the film adaptation of it to market fast enough as she had at first proposed doing.  As an ending point to this latter development the film has been in production (shooting in Michigan) since 2009.  Now that it is in production, only faint notes are posted on it and no interviews are forthcoming for her. The yellow journalists have no sensational matter to work with anymore, you see, but are instead sharpening their dull wits while awaiting its release whereupon they can again parade forth to assail us with their "insights".

The whole point being, we see all too clearly the dehumanization of the artist here.  We are instead fed the artist as an image, the artist as a product, the artist as a predefined and limited source, but rarely do the majority of critics see an artist as an artist or an artist as a human.

By comparison I am very happy to say as a person with a strongly defined individuality reminiscent of Ms. Dunaway's that I have also had my share of critics over the years.  Some of the stuff, to my amusement, never ends, such as things that happened ten years ago, or twenty.  I hear such diatribes as, "He didn’t do this when he said he would," "He backed out of that deal," "He said this and is wrong, I say, wrong!" and similar "profound" insights.  When I answer such criticisms, lo and behold, there is no response forthcoming from these critics, like, "Oh that was the reason?" or "Ah, I understand."  They retreat from the truth, you see, nursing a time when they can once again come forth with their valued insights to reintroduce their informed positions and so enlighten the truly ignorant who will not then fail to "understand" them.

Critics and the "Art" of YACK

Take for instance the following.  A well known blogger recently assailed my creative work habits, and in so doing categorized me as "whimsical" in the way that I publish matter, in due course indicating that he was dissatisfied with the manner in which I publish, though not with the material itself, this being held at many times in this parson’s estimation as highly regarded.

I could only assume by such a strident notion that this person has no idea what it takes just to publish one thing, let alone understand what it takes to do so when one such as myself holds writing and design to be the highest form of my expression, a reflection that I aim to constantly honor as an artist.  This is how I responded:

"First I'd like to address the point of my whimsical nature, or as it appears to be on the surface, that is. This may or may not be the truest assessment--but I do know this: I have upwards of 6 projects going at any given moment; my designs further themselves through a process of sustained creative output equal to each as a whole. For instance, if I reach a dead-end at any point with one, I suspend the design to let the next avenue percolate, and during such times turn to the next, where I go as far with that in the same manner, etc. During that creative immersion I may or may not get the hook back into the first one; and if I do I will then pick that up and go with it. For an example of this gift and curse, I will elucidate upon the design work I did for my adventure, Dark Druids.

When TLG contacted me I said I had the bones of a 1975 Greyhawk outdoor/dungeon addie judged BitD. It was two color maps and apprx. 10 pages of notes and text. Of course TLG pressed me for an approximate page count (something rather absurd in my opinion, but I have thought that since day one while creating, so it is not a personal slight, just an artist's POV; kind of like asking a fine artist when his or her next masterpiece will be finished, and of course the answer is: when it's finished. But publishers will be publishers and true artists remain artists, and somehow in the chaos of pulling and pushing they work together for a shared goal, but not in the same manner over and over as one would assume). In any case, to satisfy the publisher request I stated 32 pages printed (or an "average" sized addie in print).

It ended up, btw, much larger. Why? Because my creative juices would not stop flowing. And so here is a distinction in reverse; if you respect the source, you run with it. By comparison, if the source flees for a moment, I will not force the design to its end and I instead switch out until it returns; and it always returns because of this adopted mode. Therein lies an example for all so inspired, for truly inspired works withstand the test of time, or at least have a better chance of doing so. In any case, I respect the source and in return it respects me. As such inspiration is the only thing relevant in good or better design work, IMO, I will not publish something just to say, "DONE". This will disappoint some who feel that there is some "need" based on other comparisons, but I will say that TLG in Dark Druid's case was overwhelmed and very pleased that I took longer to produce what they considered a true gem."

As to the person's response--well, there was none.  Zero.  I had presumed that there might be at least an open and honest attempt to commiserate, to attempt to understand and to use actual facts as a basis for lucid communication.  But there wasn’t any.

Why do people do this to artists?  For that matter, why do people do that to anyone, to actually take tiny bits of their observations about people and attempt to whole-heartedly sell them to their readers, or to those who will listen to them, as exploded truths?  I for one have no firm answer for this anomaly.  It defies rational discourse as otherwise sane and functioning individuals are used to participating in.  But I'll take a stab at its interpretation through surmise:  Perhaps It paints what that accusing person wants to believe, in fact, and along the way they "exaggerate" their positioned view of things as well as "sensationalize" the particles as a factual story for their readers, this because there supposedly exists some "dirt" and these self-appointed prophets want to prophesy that they have exposed the dirt with their trusty shovel for all to see, for all to gain the same opinion that they have worked so long and hard to uncover.

This form of disinformation is otherwise well known as:

Yellow journalism: journalism that is based upon sensationalism and crude exaggeration.

For it is certainly crude exaggeration to take my over 1,000,000 + words I have written, the over 5,000 typed pages I have produced, the 10 foreign languages I have been published in, the 12 companies world wide I have worked with, the two awards I have won, the over 300+ hand drawn maps I have created, and the hundreds of unpublished projects, manuscripts, short stories and screenplays that I have produced amounting to 2-3 times my published output and reduce them, while summarizing my entire being and history, to the mere abstraction of a "whimsical nature" and this as generated over my 42 years of participation in this industry.

But yet, that is what happened.  Sad isn’t it?  And I don’t mean that it is sad for me in this situation, or for true legends like Faye Dunaway, who I sense is far and away from such tasteless matter.  Instead it is sad from a humanistic point of view.  The injustice of it all is apparent at many levels in our society today, not just in the arts.  Artists are just bigger targets for it.

In Summary

Let creators create and let the fans appreciate what they do when they do it.  Leave them be.  They already have it hard enough just meeting the impossibilities of their creative values and natures day in and day out, wanting to do their best and at the same time trying to raise the stakes to outdo their past performances. True fans of creators know this.  They also know that you leave the Dunaways alone.

Proud Member of ARTISTS UNITE


John B said...

I agree that letting creators just create is really important. I don't think any artist is ever truly satisfied with their end product. If they were, what's the point in moving forward. Seeking perfection in the imperfect world, it's the artists curse and a fans good fortune.

I hope what I'm saying makes some sense, it's pretty late here.

You might like this video (if you haven't seen it already).

Keep on creating.

bombasticus said...

The only thing comparable in the "industry" to this that I can remember is Sam Chupp's "The Mill" from back in '97. ( It was more strongly focused on the commercial aspects of the modern "industry," but I think the conclusions are very similar. If this isn't a creative endeavor, what is it?

pookie said...

To draw parallels between Roger Ebert and the RPG critic of your choice is disingenuous. Mr. Ebert has had decades working in the newspaper and television industries, both mass media popular across a wide swath of the American population. He has had the time and the audience to build up a readership that has also developed an appetite for his writings about film. In the RPG industry, there has been neither the time, the audience, or the space to build up such a reputation or a reach. No surprise given how small and insular that industry is.

Further, the fact that in forty years of your publishing you have never seen a critic is no surprise. Name a single body in the RPG industry that gives awards to critics? I have been in hobby for thirty years and been a critic or reviewer for ten of those, and have yet to come across any such award.

I have to wonder if what you are asking for is professionalism from your critics and reviewers?

Well, if so, I wish you the best of luck. Bar a single person in the form of Ken Hite, I doubt that anyone is getting paid to write reviews or critism in this day and age. I count myself fortunate to have been paid in the past -- and for a long while -- but nobody is paying me these days. Nevertheless I keep plugging away with the reviews, now writing semi-professionally in that what I am really doing is reviewing for a hobby. There is not the audience to pay for reviews when so many can be found on-line, and be found for free.

Nevertheless, reviewers and critics want you to continue creating. When you have a new creation, a new book, it is our job to read and analyse it, telling our audience how good and how useful that book is. Or not. If you do not like what we write, then move on. You have your fans and you have your audience, but you know what would be nice? For a publisher to point out a review that he appreciated, that he thought his audience might find useful...

Rob Kuntz said...

@ John, Thanks for the positive comments and the link. I watched the video and ordered the book.

Rob Kuntz said...

@ Bombaticus: I read the link and tend to agree with his burn out theory. Saw it a lot at TSR. Thanks for that reference, btw, as I had never seen it before.

Rob Kuntz said...

Morning Pookie. I was actually referring to Yellow Journalism and the manipulation of factual matter, one-sided reporting and bias. That's not reviewing when aimed at a person and not his works and borders more on slander, RepeaL wasn't talking about my works, but there are two interwoven threads contained in the article.

As an aside, why would you wish for me leave an industry I helped create? I was around before poor, uninformed critics showed up and shall certainly be in place when they are reviewing the back of milk cartons. Their worth to anyone creatively decisive in absolutely meaningless. And that's why there;s hate, by some, not of my products, but of me. Cheers. :)

Rob Kuntz said...

Well, there's a point as you expose it in bright and shiny colors. Why do people want to do that to anyone, as I asked? Because I do not join movements? Because I feel that creativity is better sought on the plain of solitude and not amongst my "peers"? Because I do not adopt group think and am my own individual? Because I was around so long ago and there's instant jealousy? I dunno. Really I don't. I'm just a guy trying to continuing his creative exercises; and I do have opinions, but if you search the topics here you will see that they are aimed at inspiring creativity and reaching for higher goals.

I know you to be a fair reviewer by the way and I know you have commented here in the past. This industry needs unbiased, fair reviewers, for sure. Keep up the good work, as the shoe of this article was not aimed at your "foot."

The Hopeless Gamer said...

Very informative and though-provoking post. I love reading articles about the "art" of reviewing and as a reviewer myself of game products, I always strive to increase my craft. I really appreciate seeing the perspective of a creator when it comes to reviews of their own products.

Rob Kuntz said...

Thanks Paul. I tend to have no commentary on reviewers who review my products. In fact I let go of them and they are on their own after X-# of drafts. However, I have received biased reviews in the past, not many, I think it was one actually. I tend to take a while to publish RPG material because I want to reach higher than the last product I published. Plus I am not a hot dog factory. Because of this, some people want to assail me for this perceived "weakness". What reviewers should really understand, IMO, is that there is no one creative approach for a designer. Each designer, each instance will differ. And when they are not different, you may most assuredly pass me the ketchup, relish and mustard. ;)

bombasticus said...

Thanks for reading it, Rob -- and thanks as always for writing. Looking back, I could've made the link tighter by tracing how I see the hobby evolving since Sam wrote that and I was a "pro." I could linger over the way the blogs and fan press do great things, but at the price of cannibalizing the pro press the industry once supported. The fact is, there's an endless supply of people who love these games and love talking about them, but the old trajectory of fan to critic to "pro" (at what, three cents a word?) no longer applies. If we're not doing this for love, why else do it? God bless Faye Dunaway!

Timeshadows said...

This was a much appreciated read.

Here are two quotes I think may be useful:

Help in disguise-

When people are unsympathetic to you, and the world does not go as you wish, this should be a help to detachment of feelings from the repetitious cycle of becoming and decay, gaining and losing.

- Muso Kokushi (1275-1351)


Sages since time immemorial have only explained the problems of pollution. If one does not have all that false consciousness, emotional and intellectual opinionatedness, and conceptual habituation, one is clear as autumn water, pure and un-contrived, placid and uninhibited. Such people are called Wayfarers, or free people.

- Kuei-Shan (771-854)

Still, it isn't the peaks or valleys on life's path that wear us down, it is those dips in the road. ;D

Continue to inspire us, Rob. :D

pookie said...

Thanks for the kind comments, Rob. Much appreciated.

scottsz said...

Reviews are important, as they do affect purchasing and perception.

* but *

They are, after all, just reviews... and...

In my earliest years I realised life consisted of two contradictory elements. One was words, which could change the world; the other was the world itself, which had nothing to do with words.
- Yukio Mishima

chrisrobert said...

Faye Dunaway was really good in 'Supergirl.'

Rob Kuntz said...

@Bombasticus:Fate Dunaway is pure class. Though 12 years dated U recommend that anyone interested in the arts, acting, and the inner workings of crisp mind, read her autobiography.

Rob Kuntz said...

@ Pookie: You are welcome. :)

Rob Kuntz said...

@Scottz--great quote, and very true. I have also found that in some cases that those "who cannot do" s try to "undo."

Rob Kuntz said...

@Chris. A role she claims to have had fun doing. Roles which she was really proud of: those in the movies Chinatown, Network, Bonnie & Clyde, and even Mommie Dearest, including those she did with Brando and Depp.

Rob Kuntz said...

@Timeshadows: Thanks for the quotes. Most of the dips in the road are actually bumps, and in afterthought, usually those bumps I leave on "cephalic appendages" just prior to moving along. ;)

The day I stop inspiring myself and others while still alive is the day you read my obituary. After that, who knows?

Matt Finch said...

Testing to see if I can post.

Matt Finch said...

Cool, I can post. Great post, Rob!

Real reviews, even when the reviewer misses or dislikes something important, are a good thing for buyers. We are still (due to the small and collegial nature of our corner of the hobby) in a situation where reviewers either tend to be just short of personal attacks, or are too gentle with the work of people they don't want to insult or offend.

Writing real reviews, good reviews, is not easy. I'm not very good at it.

Adam Thornton said...

I don't buy the distinction between artists and critics. At least: much of the best criticism comes from other artists.

Consider Lovecraft's "Supernatural Horror in Literature", or William S. Burroughs on Hemingway, or Twain on James Fenimore Cooper's "Leatherstocking" tales.

But I also don't buy the "if you can't do it, then STFU" approach. John Clute never wrote great SF, but his reviews (say, for instance, Clute on Gene Wolfe) are magnificent. More generally, great practitioners are not usually great analysts or critics, but concomitantly we should not necessarily expect great analysts/critics to be practitioners of the first water either.

And I wonder where Raggi fits into your scheme of things. I remember everyone here getting all hackly because he dared to suggest that the best old-school products were as good as Good Old TSR. (I did like Tim Kask's response (at least I think it was his) that it damn well should be since we had had northwards of thirty years to practice.)

But...well, Hammers of the God and Death Frost Doom are the best presentation of horror in D&D (or its close cousins) that I've ever seen. Hammers in particular is a terrific creeping slow-realization-of-horrible-truth in the classic Lovecraftian mode, only mostly devoid (yeah, yeah, there's that one encounter) of cheap theatrics like tentacles, spurting ichor, and squamous, rugose, cthonic, indescribable (why, then, I'd better stop) things. I don't think you can look at his RPG product output honestly and conclude it's meritless.

Rob Kuntz said...

Evening Adam.

Thanks for your two cents. I am more inclined to listen carefully to peers who have indeed paid the same exacting price for their ability to be published. Further I would not find relevant those reviewers opinion's who bread over and over again products that are essentially the same. There is no ledge with the latter source for designers who wish to experiment as artists. I have seen it a hundred times, not so much in RPG (which is for the most part devoid of experimentation), but in other entertainment fields. The latter way adheres to looking at preceding design types which informs the amateur reviewer of his or her calculated risk; and more often than not they will ere on the side of familiarity. Reviewers should demand for themselves a wide range of reading exposure, not just in one genre, but especially within the realm of Fantastic Fiction, which is a very wide and inclusive category that RPG represents. As this is a field which is a byproduct of two others--Games & Fantastic Fiction--then I would hope, just as the originators of the game were so informed before they put pencil to paper, that the reviewers would at least take the measures needed to understand the wealth of expression apparent in those fields and not seek relationships just based upon apparent and rigid forms. Unfortunately, there is no standard of review in this industry, so what Matt Finch says in his statements above are actually closer to my own.
As for Mr. Raggi, I have no idea what you are speaking about; must have been another topic somewhere else.

metamorphosissigma said...

You speak of "yellow journalists" who don't cite sources, then fail to reveal the identity of the well-known blogger who has recently criticized your work habits... Mind sharing with the rest of the class?

Rob Kuntz said...

@ Mr. dHowarth333:

"You speak of "yellow journalists" who don't cite sources, then fail to reveal the identity of the well-known blogger who has recently criticized your work habits"

I did not "fail "to list the person or his entire paragraph of quote which went far and beyond, in fact, the two words I did quote. I intentionally left the identity anonymous as that was only ancillary to the main point. Indeed, listing that person's name would have started a perceived flame war which was not my intent, though at times it seems the intent of others.

That answers my last question, of course.

Rob Kuntz said...

Trolling not allowed.

Rob Kuntz said...

@ John: Just to let you know that I received Steve Johnson's book the other day and have skimmed a few pages already. It's in my "To Read" pile of about 20+
titles. Thanks again!