Dear Jim Carrey: Your Art Is Beautiful, and the Cheap Critics Can Shove It

Dear Jim Carrey,

I recently came across your short documentary on your new career as an artist, and I was very deeply moved, not only by your colorful and poignant pieces, but by the pure courage and vulnerability that resonated from you as you spoke about your childhood and your struggle with heartbreak.

Then, I stumbled across this article in The GuardianJim Carrey’s art is yet more proof that Hollywood stars should avoid the canvas by Jonathan Jones.

I’m sure this is not the first time your work has been criticized and ridiculed by some critic or other. Your acting career has included a dazzling variety of roles, from the signature comical roles in silly films like Ace Ventura and The Mask to the very serious and emotional performances in films such as The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I was not very surprised to learn that you are an introvert with a rich inner world. As we have learned from tragedies like the suicide of Robin Williams, the funniest people are often also full of pain.

Still, I was angry for you when I read Mr. Jones’s article. It reminded me of the arena metaphor that Theodore Roosevelt invoked and Brené Brown elaborated upon in her groundbreaking book Daring Greatly:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I was curious about the critic who saw fit to write about your art in such a dismissive and mean-spirited way. It looks like he is a regular of the cheap seats at the arena. He has written in The Guardian that photography is not art: “This hollow and overblown creation exposes the illusion that lures us all, when we’re having a good day with a good camera–the fantasy that taking a picture is the same thing as making a work of art.” He has also described Wikipedia as “a corrupting force” that is “eroding the world’s intellect” through a relativist approach to knowledge. The cheapest shot I found (which, by the way, I found on Wikipedia, and I’m not ashamed to say so) was his snide critique of Terry Pratchett’s work right after that author had just died. His article drew criticism, particularly since by his own admission, he hadn’t actually read Terry Pratchett’s work. He later went back on his words and admitted that the writer’s work was witty, but still claimed that it fell short of his standards for literary fiction.

Yes, indeed. Mr. Jones appears to be quite a veteran of the tomato-hurling section.

The blog on which I publish these words is called The Rejection Survival Guide, and in it, I discuss strategies and attitudes for artists and writers that build resilience against criticism and rejection. In one post, I listed three criteria that comprise “good criticism”: it should be constructive (that is, it should build and not belittle), it should resonate with you, and it should be specific and point out specific issues that don’t work or can use improvement rather than make sweeping statements about how bad it is. Mr. Jones’s criticism of your work fails all three of my criteria.

In another recent post, I posited that there’s actually no such thing as an objective measure for what makes good or bad art. The only factor that makes a piece worth reading, viewing, or listening to is how much it resonates with people. Apparently, your work didn’t resonate with Mr. Jones, and he has every right to hate it. It did, however, resonate with me–very much. I may not be an “art critic” for The Guardian; I’m not even a visual artist, and I never went to art school; but I’m a fellow human, a fellow human who has actually spent a little time in the arena–risking criticism, risking failure, risking being seen in the most vulnerable of ways, and therefore, according to Brené Brown, my opinion matters a lot more than his does.

Your art is beautiful. I would love to have that “heart entering the atmosphere” piece on my wall. The colors, the motion, the imagery all speak to me on a deep level.

Screenshot (19)
Screenshot from “I Needed Color”, featuring Carrey with my favorite of the featured paintings

Mr. Jones and his ilk can enjoy their cheap seats and continue making themselves feel important by belittling others, but their opinions will never really matter.

With admiration and respect,

Daniella Levy

Author of By Light of Hidden Candles and Letters to Josep: An Introduction to Judaism, and blogger at The Rejection Survival Guide and Letters to Josep

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