Artistic endeavors are often solitary projects. We sit alone with our… (choose your own instrument of expression)… and we seek to purge our souls of whatever has been fighting to be set free. We work feverishly (or leisurely) to create and at some point declare our creation “finished.”
However, sometimes it just doesn’t feel finished. We can look at it sideways, upside-down, and backward and not be able to explain why it isn’t exactly finished. We just know it isn’t. It is at this point that it is time to put our work before others. The tricky thing about doing that is in the choosing of whom to show our “precious.” We can show our family. Mom and Dad are always going to love it… mildly ego-boosting, but ultimately unsatisfying. Significant other will tell you that they like it and are proud of you… even if they have no idea what they are looking at. No… It is not until we put our work in front of others who speak our creative language that we can feel that the feedback we receive is trustworthy and/or helpful.
Critique = Creative Crack
The word “critique” struck terror into the hearts of many of my fellow graphic design students when I was in college. They hated the idea of having to get up in front of the class and explain why they made the decisions that they made in their projects. Even more, they hated knowing that after they were finished, our professor would have questions and feedback to give about their work.
Call me crazy, but I LOVED critiques (or “crits”, as we called them). I’m kind of an over-analyzer by nature, so it makes sense, I suppose. But it was fascinating to hear where people’s ideas came from! I listened to them speak, and while they broke down the problems that they ran into and had to solve, I had a million ideas pop into my head of how I would have solved it. Hearing my professor point out problem areas in someone else’s work and offer suggestions of how to approach a solution brought even more ideas!
In other words, critiques were like creative crack, and I wanted more and more!
The Real World
After college, it became harder and harder to find those types of conversations about art and the work that I was doing. The inspiration from bouncing ideas off of other artists wasn’t as easy to come by. When you are in school, it’s built into your coursework. Out in the “real world” you have to seek out (or create anew) those communities of artists.
It is essential though. It requires us to be transparent and vulnerable with one another. This sounds dangerous. It feels scary. And we should by no means allow others to tear our work (or us personally) down. (If you somehow find yourself in a situation where someone is tearing you/your work apart in unkind ways, take your creative baby and RUN! That person isn’t interested in the conversation. They are only interested in hearing themselves talk.) The best artists understand that it is a journey, and that everyone is in a different place in the journey. The best artists are generally glad to bring their fellow creators along with them.
Building a relationship with others whose work you respect is one of the best things you can do as an artist. We are only limited to that which our minds can imagine. If we have others bouncing their thoughts off of our work (and vice versa), it allows us to expand our imaginations and open doors of possibility. What I didn’t realize when I was in college was that in listening to others explain their choices and in hearing my professor point out problems and offer solutions, I became better and better at looking critically at my own work and solving my own creative problems.
Of course one must be open to receiving feedback, but you don’t have to show your own work at first. Find a group and just be a fly on the wall for a while. Once you’re ready, bring something in. Creative Crack is good for you!
My name is Tanya Barber, and I am a Crack dealer.