Sunday, December 5, 2010

On the Necessity of Critique, and Oh Darn, It's Present Time

I'm finishing new pieces all over the place, and can't post them because they're presents and family members might see them here!

Expect a flood of "you haven't seen this, it was given to X" posts after the holiday, though. That will be fun. There is one piece I can put up. It'll be listed on Etsy shortly.

After I did my Too Small For Nearly Everything pouch, I started a modified Cellini spiral to hang it from, but the spiral just overpowered the delicacy of the netting on the pouch. It was like hanging a canary cage from a pit-bull chain. (I've been working on my metaphors. Or maybe that's a simile. I get those confused.)  Good image, though, huh?

So I just made the spiral into a quick bracelet, using a gold-over-ceramic bead as a button closure.  Question: is there some kind of formula to figure out how many beads on the loop closure? I always struggle with that. Many times I think I've measured properly, only to have the loop end up too tight once finished. One can always tighten a loop, but loosening involves unpicking and redoing the beading. Ugh.

I also wanted to talk a little about critique. To me, this means "tell me what you would have done differently, or how you see the balance of the elements, or what sticks out like a sore thumb, or whatever."  Critique is necessary to growth as an artist (perhaps in other areas as well but we're talking art here), as necessary as practice, and access to materials and time.

I have to say that all the comments I've gotten about my December Challenge piece have been wonderful and supportive and much appreciated. I particularly like when people share their own struggles with design and execution. Not only does it reassure me I'm not alone, it helps me see how others overcome the problems they encounter, and gives me hints as to how to solve those or similar problems when I encounter them.

I really really really don't want this to sound like complaint, nor do I mean it to discourage comments (because golly, all those supportive comments feel great!), but good critique seems to be near impossible to find.  I once joined a local art-quilter's group, seeking critiques of my work. Even when they had agreed to do so, people just couldn't seem to bring themselves to say anything negative about someone else's work, even when that comment might help that person improve their art. Or when that person has agreed in advance to take critique in the spirit offered. 

I know there's a lot of confusion of critique with criticism, which has many negative connotations and can indeed be done in a spirit of meanness. Some people are very sensitive to any hint of conflict or negativity...particularly women of a certain age, who've been trained in our society's Cult of Niceness.  In critique, one can pick apart the details of a work, while still thinking that work is wonderful, overall. Not Perfect doesn't in any way mean Not Good.

I work with my husband as an editor of his writing. Over the course of years, we've evolved a teamwork and critique method that results in writing far above what either of us could do alone. I started by never telling him his writing was good when it wasn't. Boy, talk about your inconvenient truths!!! That took some supremely diplomatic phrasing, as well as encouragement and admiration, even if it was only for effort.  That way, when I did praise his work, he could trust that I was evaluating honestly.  No BS, basically. Now, after much practice, his writing is of consistently high quality. I find myself editing more for typos and missed words than for issues of style or content.  It wasn't an easy process, and required both of us to act like adults (way too tough, some days), but it has resulted in something of lasting value.

I would sincerely like to have that kind of critique and development teamwork with other bead artists. I need to get better at the craft and art of what I do, and I feel like simply stumbling around working alone isn't going to get me there. Perhaps I feel pressed for time. Seems like I need to move this along, having come to beading so late in life.

My question is, do any of you seek or participate in critique groups? If you do, does it help you the way I think it might help me? Where would I look to find such critique groups? 


  1. Great post. It's so true. I think we all hesitate to offer real criticism. When I don't care for something, I keep my mouth shut. When I like something, I try to use words to describe it as it see it, like delicate, sweet, ethereal, charming, which I hope is helpful to the maker. It's like saying, "this is what your work evolkes for me." When I really am blown away, I gush. But to try to help someone improve with my comment feels like placing myself in a rather high and mighty position. But you have asked, and I do have an opinion. Let's see how this goes. I like your bracelet, but for me, the button is a jarring component. I don't understand why it's gold and not silver. Seems to cry out for something hematite - ish or grey. Those dark beads in the spiral are grey, right? At the very least, it seems the clasp should match or compliment the bracelet. Now, how did I do?

  2. You've made a very important point here. I think it's been ingrained in us to use our manners and we feel like anything less than telling someone something is absolutely wonderful is somehow being rude and disrespectful. But, as you said, critique can help us better our art, improve our skills and establish our own style when given and accepted correctly.

    I'll admit, I have taken things to heart in the past, but it was more about criticism than critique. Just this weekend I did a holiday boutique and was put off by the attitude of a fellow vendor who openly told everyone that she "has the best jewelry here" and it was because "It's the most expensive.....we only use fine materials." However, in my experience in my 5 years doing that show, I knew the customers, I knew they were looking for good deals and, as I told Miss Snarkypants, I had learned to cater to that and design my items accordingly. Needless to say, she made virtually nothing and I was over $500 which, for a small boutique, was pretty good!

    Anyway, the critique of my merchandise was out of spite on her part, but when something is coming from someone out of their genuine interest to share, inform and help me be better, I am open to it. When I know the words are being shared to help me improve my efficiency, shed light on my materials, the quality of my work, etc... I am not so sensitive that I would crumble and feel like I'd somehow failed. I would welcome it.

    Not sure if any groups like this exist, but I'd be interested to know if they do!

  3. I took a college level drawing class and learned about critiques that are positive and not like my father's not good enough lectures that I still hear in my head. People looked at what you had done as a way to understand you because in art there is no wrong way.

    If self improvement is your goal, Margie Deeb is one to check out if you want to learn about color. She gives groups of colors with their miyuki delica bead number as well as crystals and stones that go with it.

    About your item being too small for a cell phone: I read that Japanese people love the tiny phones, so keep your item on international etsy and it will eventually find its owner.

  4. I, too, am of the opinion that if i don't like something, I keep my mouth shut. (ok, maybe I don't... I've definitely been known to look at the computer screen and say "EW, that's horrible! what was she THINKING?!")... but I'd never take the time to go into comments and type that out. I feel that offering critiques (or any comment that could be construed as negative) when they are not specifically asked for generally come off mean spirited, even when they arent meant that way, or, like someone mentioned above, like you're rather high and mighty in your opinion of yourself... (I'm really not, not even a little) and so I just generally avoid them.

    The other problem with critiques is that many people ask for them, and then get defensive and uppity when you give your honest opinion. So unless its someone I know well, I generally avoid those as well, because while people may SAY they want critiques, often what they really want is for you to tell them how wonderful they are, and they don't want to hear the bad stuff.

    If you ask me, outright, what I think... I'm to honest to not tell you the bad stuff, if I see it. So feel free to ask! If you promise you are looking for an honest critique, and are willing to take the good with the bad, then I'm willing to tell you what I think.

  5. I've never really participated in critique groups because I'm still learning so much and I'm a little afraid of what other people will say about my work! Haven't said that... If I know you want my honest opinion I'll give it to you. Take your last piece, (the challenge piece), I like the over all look of it, but like you mentioned, that center rope is a little unwieldy. It would look a lot better if it was smaller in my opinion.

  6. First, to all who responded, THANK YOU. I too never post negative comments where people have not asked for them. That would be cruel, and not in the spirit of critique. And I also know what you mean, S, about people who say they want critique and then get bent out of shape when you offer it.

    To Marsha: Excellent comments. The smaller beads aren't gray, but they are showing that way. It just points up my continuing struggle with photography. Those beads are a mix of blue/plum/green with a shimmery finish, 15 and 11. The red beads are a transparent cherry-pop red, in 11 and a 1.5mm cube. It's interesting that you say a silver button would blend better, I could have gone either way on that, and could change out the gold because in less than full light, the smaller beads will read as gray anyway. If I change out the gold, I'll post new pictures, hopefully better ones that will give a truer sense of color.

    I've found there are so many issues with jewelry I didn't understand when I started bead weaving seriously. Wearability issues, appearance in low light vs. ideal conditions, transparency and the effects of stringing materials, or different effects on the drape or stiffness of the piece. Things about display and photography of teeny, shiny objects, particularly in massed groups. So much to learn!

    I'm fairly confident in my color choices, since I've been an art quilter for more than 20 years, but often it's really valuable to get another person's perception of things. After you stare at a piece for hours on end, you can lose objectivity.

    Rose, I agree with you about the disproportion and clumsiness of the center netted rope piece. After the challenge is over, I may take down the listing and rework the entire thing. I didn't start with a plan, and while most of the elements are successful by themselves, together they're like a girl with pretty eyes and mouth and a big honking nose.

    I have to run off to a client meeting now, so I may post more later, or do another blog post. Wow, I'm so appreciative for the feedback!