My forward thinking buddy Simon Levin will kick off a great idea this coming Monday (4/18/16 at 9pm EST) on Periscope (@woodfire). Potter Andrew Linderman has sent him a mug to critique, and Simon will conduct the examination live, with comments and questions from the viewers (since that is how Periscope works). Tune in live, or catch it in the window the video stays up on the site.
I’ve missed all but a few potters’ shares on Periscope but this one sounds like a great experiment. As Simon puts it in the video, self critique has been an invaluable part of his own evolution, and its something that the clay community isn’t always set up to do well.
Self critique is somewhat different from the critique of another person’s work, but the idea is that understanding what we are doing and why we do it is not always obvious, even to the maker. It gives us the ability to ask “Should I be doing it this way?” and expect a considered response. Questions we ask ourselves and questions others ask us can tease these things into the light and make those parts of our process less taken for granted if not occasionally more intentional.
Knowing more about what we do and why we do it frames these things as options. We don’t necessarily have to do it this way, unless that is the important thing. If its not, knowing it gives us the option to do it differently, options we may not have known we had. We should not just do what we do because we are too lazy to question it or too ignorant of possibility to see beyond the safety of our comfort zones. Laziness and ignorance are not the virtues of an artist any more than they are of any other thing a human can do with their lives…..
Its not that there is a right way of making your pots, necessarily, but that there are options. Unless you know what your options are the decisions you make can be very poorly informed. Its like you are sitting at a table in a restaurant and the waiter hands you the kids menu by mistake. If you don’t know any better you may end up ordering only from those options.
The truth is that with our art the options far exceed our wildest imagination. Keeping ourselves in the dark, simply because this is the way we do it, this is what we’ve always done, it just seems right to do it this way, its like we content ourselves to order from the least expansive menu available. Its settling for less than we can do. Its a choice based on a tiny sample size. Its a lesser version of ourselves than it could be. Its not us putting our best foot forward.
The evolving artist always (periodically, at least) questions whether there are better ways of doing it. Its a perpetual critique of means and ends. Its the dissatisfaction of a grain of sand that makes us work harder, until wisdom grows, and a pearl of unprecedented quality forms. Critique is necessary if we want to move beyond the limits of our self satisfaction.
It doesn’t have to be painful. You are not ever doing things wrong, but you may be selling yourself short. You could be doing things better, not in some objective sense, but in terms of your evolving understandings and taste (See my previous post). The purpose of critique is that you ARE evolving. We start out as primordial ooze, and after mutation after mutation dinosaurs now walk the earth, and fish swim the ocean. As time passes and things continue to change mammals inhabit the trees and plains and birds soar the skies.
Evolving doesn’t mean there is one right way to be. There are millions of possible directions things could end up, each one fascinating in its own right. The possibility is truly amazing! The point is that creativity allows things to be different. If we truly don’t want to change, then we have no business thinking about our work or caring what other people have to say. But if we are open to different possibilities we have given ourselves permission to evolve. And if that is your desire, this process of critique is what you need.
So tune in to Simon’s event, and see what questions he finds interesting!
Make beauty real!
Wow what a great idea – you not only learn when someone critiques your own pot but when they do someone else’s. In our Guild situation all you hear is “that’s wonderful” even if you know that it isn’t. Learning to “see’ things through other people’s eyes is the best way to go forward. I found that with the Steven Hill Journey Workshop that I took – the critiques were what it was all about. Never could have gone this far with out them. Hope that I can get Periscope to work on my computer.
I agree how important this is 🙂
The “That’s wonderful” comments are damaging at times because they are both non-information posing as facts, and they are tacit approval without necessarily having understood the questions. I think its alright (even important at times) to see the good in someone’s work, even if its remedial, but always qualified as good in specific terms. What was the person aiming at? Is there a basic level of skill and technical competence? What are the issues driving them to make this work, and how well does it succeed? Even ‘bad’ pots can represent progress. Understanding WHY its progress is not conveyed even remotely by “That’s wonderful”…..
A good critique often has more to do with what questions can be asked of the artists that immediate reflections from outsiders. Unless we understand the challenges being resolved, the values portrayed, anything we say will mostly be beside the point. Perhaps still interesting, if the artist cares how her work is seen by others, but unless the work is appreciated in its own terms it would often be like judging a soccer match by the rules of basketball.
Next time you are in your guild situation ask the artists what they are doing and why 🙂 That’s the best advice for a first step I can give!
Seth Godin just published a post that takes on the marketer’s perspective.
The question to keep in mind is how important it is to be self aware. If the point of what we are doing is to reach people, not necessarily to be understood, then it makes sense to pay attention only to what folks are doing in response to our work. “Do they like it?” becomes more important than “Do they understand it?”, perhaps.
Otherwise, if we DO care primarily about our own craft over and above how it gets received, self scrutiny is, in fact, what we should be paying attention to. 🙂