The line I don’t judge is one of the most facile and preposterous and fundamentally dishonest lines in contemporary life. You are a judging machine. You are, at all times, in all situations, a highly-refined and time-tested expert in judgement. You are alive today because of your prowess at judging. You are rooted by millions of years of evolutionary-optimized cellular judgements. You are an amalgamation of molecules that are endlessly delivering judgements—tingles along your spine, tension in your gut, goosebumps on your arms, doubts in your neocortex. You are judging tastes and smells and textures and sounds and sights, instinctively, immediately, immaculately. You are snap judgements, deliberate judgements, personal judgements, moral judgements, value judgements, mistaken judgements, and, in my personal favorite, final judgements. Even your moments of indecision are a form, in a way, of judgement. To say that you don’t judge is simply to change the categories of what you judge.
Nevertheless, some artists decide to adopt a peculiar state of nonjudgemental indifference—with no sense of trajectory or discernment or ambition about what they create. That’s fine for a time, that’s fine for a hobby, but if you’re attempting to refine your skills, if you’re dedicated to craft, if you want to challenge yourself, you’re going to need a method of conceptualizing your progress, and you’re going to need to accurately measure your own work—you’re going to need, in other words, to be a ruthless judge of your own creations.
This is especially true because artistic feedback, unfortunately, is filtered through the opinions and experiences and biases of the critic—and there’s almost always a time delay between when the work is finished and when the verdict arrives. Even if you are interested in hearing a critical judgement about your art, if you do want feedback, it will typically be too diffuse, inexact, confused, and arrive too late. To discern what’s beneficial, what’s relevant, what’s incidental, what’s worth incorporating, what’s best ignored, is, at best, troublesome: there’s no coherent way to gauge the value of any single judgement about your art. Is this comment accurate? Can that opinion be dismissed? Should I learn from or ignore those words? The answers are contingent on both your art and the specific judgements, which means that there’s no rulebook that you can, in advance, decide to follow. Yet it still remains true that having an accurate sense of your current work and a vision of what’s possible is a prerequisite for improvement—thankfully, there are practices that do help.
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