Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Value of "Meh."

This is an updated version of a post I wrote back in 2013 about Julie wrestling with her quilt, See Rock City. It was my Mother's comment that spurred Julie to make major changes in the quilt, which she had thought was finished. The "Meh" story is hinted at in the book, and since the book is generating some terrific buzz, I thought it was worth retelling.

Back in November of 2013, when I was making letters for Too Much Chicken, my Mother and I had lunch together.
"That quilt of yours with the box... " she said, "the one where the words pop out of it... (The Black Box)  That's a piece of art, and deserves to hang in a museum."

Then she continued, "The one you're making now, with all the letters," she paused. "Meh."

 This is an in-progress shot of the Chicken quilt. Yes, it was kinda boring.

I laughed. "Ma, the one I'm making now with the chickens is just a silly quilt. It isn't anything close to the Box. I'm not done. I've got a lot to do still."

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."

It was true, but that wasn'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 a 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. She knows to consider only what she's looking AT, and not criticize or offer her opinion on what I am trying to DO, whether my concept is a good idea or not.

We know that juries or judges don't care how much work you put into it, or how hard you tried to come close to the idea you had in mind. If the artwork doesn't say it on its own, there's not much else that can help it. A good critique can help you know if the artwork (or quilt) says what you WANT it to say, or if it doesn't. A good crit tells you what is working, and what isn't. What isn't? Maybe something is taking attention away from the main idea. Maybe some elements are competing with each other. Remember, a good piece of art is one where all the elements convey the main idea TOGETHER.

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.)

This is what my Mother looked at and said, "Meh."
The subjective is what the "Meh" came from that day. 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 second photo in 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."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

By the way, a few days later I told Julie what my Mother said about the Chicken quilt in progress ("Meh"). I told her my job was to change my Mother's opinion from "Meh" to "Magnificent."

"You're not worried about doing that are you?" Julie asked.

"Too Much Chicken" finished.

"Hell no," I replied.

When I showed my Mother the finished quilt, "Too Much Chicken," she loved it. "I love the way you used the colors," she said. 

I laughed, "Ma, four months ago you hated the colors."

"Yeah I know."

Don't let a "Meh" stop you in your tracks. Use it to push from "Meh" to "Magnificent."


Megan said...

Very interesting to see Julie's original layout in the same post as the final version: wow! What a difference.

Sydney, Australia

Quiltdivajulie said...

This update makes your "Value of Meh" even better than it was before!

Though I watched Too Much Chicken evolve from the very beginning, it is great to see that W-I-P photo from when it was only a few words and a lot of c-h-i-c-k-e-n letters in context with "Meh" and the final finish.

nestki said...

Thank you for this inspiring message!

Ann said...

A thought-provoking post, especially because you included before and after shots of two quilts. Thanks.

lindaroo said...

Wow, what a transformation, in both quilts. Wow!

Quilter Kathy said...

So many interesting things to think about in your post.
Thanks for the insight and inspiration!

Browndirtcottage said...

Good post….so true.

I "Meh" myself to death most of the time…..LOL!

Nann said...

Julie posted a link to this today (July 12, 2021). What's "Meh" one day can be "Wow" the next.