On a Tarot forum where I’ve reviewed a number of decks (the links are to the right), a discussion started about criticising decks – how much criticism and in what tone is acceptable, and where that turns into personal abuse.
This is an interesting point, and one that deserves being turned over carefully in my hands after I’ve had a cup of tea. However, in the absence of anyone else in the house to make me tea, and being unwilling to leave my desk …
Vitally involved in that discussion was Ciro Marchetti, a Tarot artist who once gave me a freely given gift of his Tarot of Dreams. This was a gift, no a review-copy so I had no obligation to do so, but I wanted to review it anyway. The vast majority of reviews I’ve written have been on decks I purchased myself rather than review-copies – it’s a valid way of getting my opinions out there into the public arena so that people can keep them in mind when choosing new decks. I’ve even reviewed decks which have been out of print for some time and are unlikely to be reprinted at any stage – decks move around on the second-hand market, and I find reviews of products interesting anyway, even when I don’t wish to buy immediately.
I don’t interpret “criticism” at all as picking a deck to pieces – I interpret it as pretty-much literary and artistic criticism, what happens when – say – a *reviewer* gets a hold of a product. I don’t believe it is a reviewer’s job to unconditionally praise a deck (or book, or performance, or CD or whatever) to the skies, no matter how much the reviewer likes it. The publisher employs people to praise their products, generally. No, a reviewer’s job is to give the potentially-buying-public a fair and balanced view of the product, its style, whether or not it does its job, whether or not it is pleasing, where its strengths are (even if you don’t like it, it’s going to have strengths), and where its weaknesses are (again, even if you love it passionately, it will have weaknesses here and there). As a reviewer, you are not on the author’s team, and you are not the author’s enemy, either. You are on the potential buyer’s team – you are their scout, their advance-party to find out if they should progress to purchase or not, given their tastes and interests.
As a user rather than a reviewer, I don’t mind having a few lame-ducks in my collection. I have many decks that have been around for considerable time – in some cases centuries, and are still (or again) in-print, indicating a vital staying-power. I have one or two decks that are awful, which I honestly don’t mind having – aside from anything else, they make my other decks look better, and they are also a documentary of my Tarotical development, where I was in my mental and aesthetic journey when I bought them. I don’t hate them for being awful – I just don’t use them all that often, and hardly ever show them off <grin>.
I also have a larger number of decks which are artistically competent, but don’t seem to hold together very strongly as noble Tarot decks, some of which were obviously designed to cash in or by people whose own Tarot-knowledge was even further from complete than mine is, or just by people with poor artistic imagination. I don’t resent them, either.
And I don’t get angry at people for creating a “substandard” deck. They create what they need to create, what they’re driven to create, what they are capable of creating. They honestly do their best, and they may well do something else in a few years which is better. You can’t crush someone’s spirit for doing their best.
You know, I have time and fondness for one-hit wonders, for fickle decks, for decks that won’t end up stacking up through time. They are someone else’s view on the world. Everyone is entitled to their time and their view.
When I criticise a deck, I would hope that I’d mostly be fair enough to choose to do it in the nature of literary criticism, not of personal attacks.
It’s interesting reading your *own* review, or critical assessment, of a deck that you were only just getting to know when you wrote it, with some time and hindsight behind it. I just re-read one of my reviews, and there may be comments that I’d add to it now, but in general I don’t think my opinions have changed. What I said I liked about the deck is still pretty-well true. What I said I disliked about the deck also still tends to jar a little even now.
I’m interested in how deck criticism works. In my last paragraph or two, I usually make some statements about the kinds of people I think might be drawn to the deck, and the kinds of people I think might dislike it, and in the nature of being even-handed in the review, I make no mention of which one of those groups I feel that I fall into. My whole critique of the deck is constructed so that people would get a fair idea of what I saw as its plusses and its minuses, so that they could make informed decisions about whether it would be worthwhile from their own personal perspectives and considering their own tastes, to buy the deck or not.
And I’ve tried to do this with every deck I’ve reviewed. I’ve even reviewed two decks that I personally find quite irritating and don’t choose to use unless I’m teasing myself or unless someone looks at my collection list and requests them, but hopefully I’ve identified the strengths of both these decks as well as what I didn’t like about them, and again have pointed to how other people might see them as useful or appealing because of x-y-z.
Deck designers *do* put a lot of themselves into a deck, but that doesn’t mean we should accept it uncritically as an automatic work of genius. And on the other hand, even the worst of decks have *something* about them that works, or that someone out there will like.