How could I write an essay on the difference between critique and criticism?

The difference between critique and criticism (as the latter is commonly defined) lies primarily in the balanced approach taken by critique, which identifies both positive and negative aspects of something, and the primarily fault-finding stance of criticism, which focuses on the negative and is often sarcastic.

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To get you started on this essay, let's reflect on the definitions of “critique” and “criticism” and then on the commonly identified differences between them. To critique something is to provide a well-thought-out judgment, to offer a balanced, reasoned review, and to analyze the merits and faults.

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To get you started on this essay, let's reflect on the definitions of “critique” and “criticism” and then on the commonly identified differences between them. To critique something is to provide a well-thought-out judgment, to offer a balanced, reasoned review, and to analyze the merits and faults.

Some people actually use the word “criticism” in exactly the same way, and this is valid, especially in academic situations. Yet when most people think about the word “criticism,” they immediately associate it with a negative response to something, a disapproval of it. Sometimes this kind of criticism involves well-reasoned propositions; sometimes it is based primarily on emotion. If we use this definition of criticism, we can see that it is actually quite different from a critique.

Let's look at a concrete example that illustrates the difference between critique and criticism (as commonly defined by most people). A musician performs a solo before an audience and a panel of judges. The judges critique the performance. They remark, for instance, that the musician has an excellent tone over all, that he is technically proficient in terms of hitting right notes and playing in rhythm, and that he blends well with his accompanist. They commend the musician for these good qualities as part of their critique. On the other hand, though, they notice that the musician sometimes lacks expression and plays too mechanically. He also struggles occasionally with tonal balance in the upper register and once in a while drifts out of tune. These constructive comments are meant to help the musician improve his playing so that he can score even higher in his next contest.

Now let's think about the reaction of a member of the audience to the musician's performance. This audience member rants about how horribly the musician plays. He criticizes the couple wrong notes the musician hits, expresses great annoyance about the musician's upper register tone, and says scornfully that the musician's playing is so mechanical that its like listening to elevator music. This is criticism in the common definition of the term. The audience member is focusing completely on negative remarks without identifying any of the musician's positive qualities. The audience member has identified some of the same faults as the judges, but he fails to balance them with merits. Notice, too, the audience member's sarcastic tone. He is not trying to build up the musician to help him play better. Rather, he is tearing down both the performance and the musician.

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