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.
With that said, I applaud anyone who encourages critical commentary on their work. Being open to constructive feedback is an incredibly important tool. There is an art, in and of itself, to giving and receiving a critique that is both helpful and encouraging.
But accepting and believing praise, especially regarding artistic endeavors often plagued with doubt and self-judgment, is equally, stunningly important.
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.
And hey... there might even be some honesty to it, per the standards of the person making that statement. Of course, we have our own opinions, and those judgments define how we, as artists, create. The problem, unfortunately, is when we project those judgments on others.
These are things to consider:
So, now let's look at the purpose of praise and how that impacts our creative flow.
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.