Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Value of "Meh."

I really enjoyed telling the story of lunch with my Mom, both on this blog and to my colleagues at work. What was really interesting though, was the reactions. Most of them were of the "You are so lucky to have a relationship with your Mom where you can tell each other what you really think," variety.

My Mom thought Julie's quilt, "See Rock City," was a knockout, and deserved "Best in Show."

This is true, and thank you all for reminding me how special our relationship really is.

But that isn't what struck me. What really struck me was the concept that many artists simply don't have anybody to give them a good critique. What's a good critique?  A good critique recognizes craftsmanship (or good drawing), design (or structure), execution (or technique.) The rules apply to these no matter what the medium. A good critique will tell you if what you've created is what you think you're looking at. Let me explain. Sometimes you work so hard on something you can't see it. You can't see what's wrong, you're too close. You need to step back, or take a walk and look again with a fresh eye. A good crit comes from somebody else, who brings the fresh eye. Somebody who isn't tainted by being in love with the idea.

The most important thing is the crit is about the WORK, and not the PERSON. My Mom can paint, and draw. She's been making a living as a working artist for over 40 years. She knows what she's doing, and she can tell right away.

We also know the difference between what we like (subjective) and what we're looking at (objective.)  I am not interested in making traditional quilts (subjective), but I can tell a really good one from a mediocre one (objective.)

The subjective is what the "Meh" came from on Saturday. My Mom simply loves color, and a mostly grey chicken quilt just doesn't float her boat. (Meh!)

But "Meh" can also mean, "It's not as good as it could be." or, "It's just so-so."  It could be a good idea and poor execution, or some variation of "good start, lost energy, direction..." whatever.

My Mom thinks this could be an award-winning quilt and deserves to hang in a museum.

 Regular readers know I'm always after the emotional response. I want you to look at my quilts and say "WOW."  The Black Box does that. If you followed along my journey of making that quilt, you know there were times when it just didn't have that punch, and I set it aside for a while to regroup.

"Meh" isn't necessarily a BAD thing. "Meh" can simply mean, "I've seen it a million times before, it's pretty, but it's boring." If you like making pretty and same-old-same-old, that's OK. It's not for me. Which is not to say making lovely quilts is a bad thing. There are a lot of truly beautiful quilts out there. Hell, I make pretty quilts too, in between the "Arty" ones. They are different, and they have different audiences.

When my Mom looks at one of my "pretty" quilts (Sunshine, Exquisite, Rainbow Baby) and says "It's nice," in a rather bored tone, I know what she means, and I'm not offended. (For the record, my Mom loves the Red Sticks quilt, and the Sunburst Rainbow.)

The "Meh" can also be a swift kick in the ass. It's a "Look, it's okay, but you can do better than that." It's a call to action. It's a "What happened, did you lose your nerve?" or a "Is that it? You're stopping there?"

Want proof? When my Mom saw the Barns quilt when Julie first put the blocks together, do you know what she said?


Yup. I had had my own reservations, so I called Julie and told her. Julie had been having second thoughts on her own, so she took the quilt apart, removing the dark blue border around each barn, and then went into her studio and made it better. The result is the photo at the top of this post.

We learn best not by the things we do RIGHT, but from the things we do WRONG and if we're paying attention... by the things that elicit the "Meh."

I love my Mom.


Quiltdivajulie said...

Great post!! Excellent points and your mom was ever so right about the barns v. 1 ...

Here's to being able to recognize and utilize the MEH moments in our lives!

Susan R said...

Wisdom posts...that's what I love. I'm saving this one to read again. Thank you so much Lynne for sharing your insights on your creative adventure. Oh, thank your Mom too. :-))

June said...

I second those comments - thanks for sharing.

Sharon said...

I totally agree with the above comments. I love your posts like this - I learn so much from you!

I have a couple of people that I can ask for critique and advice and they're usually right. And they do the same thing - crit the work, not the person. Invaluable!

Mr. Karate said...

love it **hugs**

Purple Boots and Pigtails said...

See Rock City underwent quite the transformation! It is so much better than it was!! Finding a person to give you the good, the bad and the ugly is hard...people are too quick to say I love it or That's Nice...which is fine if you not interested in taking something apart. But sometimes you need some one to say Hubba Wah? That fish is getting away!!
I am so glad you were able to share your thoughts with me....