A while back, I wrote an article on giving and receiving constructive criticism and, in light of some recent social media activity, I thought it was a subject worth revisiting, but this time from the perspective of creative flow.
What I read online recently was a statement declaring there was absolutely no benefit to giving praise for artistic work unless praise is deserved. Seems straight-forward, right? I mean, are we enabling improper technique, poor design elements or incomplete production with our placating reactions of "Great work!" in response to art posted online?
This question, however, remains: deserved by whose standards? While one person might deem a piece of art sloppy or ugly or unacceptable, someone else might view it as a beautiful representation of creative expression. And, while I might not necessarily purchase for myself a particular piece of art, I tend to believe supportive reaction to that art is far more conducive to creative growth than a critical review.
Now, let's assume critical commentary is unwelcome or unsolicited. Let's assume we don't particularly like the work posted, either because we consider it sloppy or unattractive, per our standards or aesthetics. Should we then refrain from offering supportive commentary at all? More importantly, should we discourage others from offering support, per our particular set of standards?
Imagine this comment (real enough, as it turns out): "I'm so tired of reading 'Great work!' on jewelry that should never be posted online, much less for sale." This is a real comment. I've read some variation of it more times than I care to count during my years in this industry.
How many times have you been frustrated with a creative project so profoundly you've reached out to the public in a desperate pitch for encouragement?
So many, right? We've all been there. We've all been pushed to abandon our passions. And I even hazard a guess that many of us know when our work is inadequate on some level, to some set of standards. Yet, we need some consolation to continue, to push past our own perceived deficiencies and strive for perfection as defined by our own set of standards.
Six years ago, I gave up. I gave away my jewelry, my tools, my beads. I was discouraged, disappointed in my progress as defined by my own standards. And, after it was all gone and I was resigned to live a life without wire wrapping, a stranger contacted me. She found a photo of a piece I'd completed years prior. The photo embarrassed me. The quality was horrible. My wrapping was unimaginative, I thought, perhaps even sloppy. But she loved it. She praised it. She commissioned a copy of it and then purchased again. And again.
And it was then I realized that praise, or positive affirmation, is critical to maintaining creative momentum. Technique can always improve. By creating, it improves, whether we set out to do so or not. The act of creation is the conduit through which improvement happens. Praise, however, is a conduit through which creation happens.
So, then next time you refuse to offer "empty praise", I hope you recognize how that strips the spirit from creativity. Instead of denying someone your support, lift them up. If you can't comment on the positives of a piece in its entirety, pick out a single element you enjoy. You don't have to sacrifice your own aesthetic or standards to support the art of others. You just have to suspend judgment long enough to see what you might otherwise allow your perceptions to easily dismiss.
7/6/2017 02:58:27 am
Thank you for these words, Nicole.
7/7/2017 11:54:25 am
7/9/2017 08:20:02 pm
Mostly I am just too darn busy to even make anything let alone offer supportive praise. On the other hand I am certainly too busy to criticize someone else's work. I do get tired of the "beautiful," "great work," "wonderful" comments without anything more. When you look at someone's work it is almost as easy to say- wow, you have grown; or what an inspiring choice of colors; or fabulous structure; or I like the way you finished that; The choices really are plentiful if the entire work is not to your taste.
7/10/2017 08:08:27 pm
Feeling defeated is human. Giving up is human. Starting over is human. Creating art is human. Forgive yourself. Start over doing easy stuff so that your hands will strengthen, toughen, and give in to the creative spark....try it, fail...thrive... Appreciate the growth given because of each of those failures, uninspired products, and successes. It's a process. We are lucky to experience it all.
8/1/2017 12:38:53 am
Just so very glad you did pick up those tools again! Your work is awesome!
8/29/2017 05:49:49 pm
Hi Nicole. A few months ago, i created a labradorite and silver pendant/w/ necklace. it sat for a month in the shop... people said it was too expensive/not the "Right" stone/too big/too small... then one day it sold... a few weeks later i saw a woman wearing the pendant.. i debated approaching her.... i finally gave in and talked too her.. i told her i was the one that made the pendant and necklace.. she teared up and started to cry... telling me how much she loved the piece and that it was one of the first things she put on each morning, and one of the last things she took off at night.
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