I have recently read some interesting articles about the correlation between success and kindness.
According to one of them – the two don’t match up. I think this can be true in a number of areas of life, but I’m particularly interested in looking at this as an artist and educator. As the article says, "we are consumed with protecting [our children] instead of preparing them for the future. We haven't let them fall, fail and fear." In arts instruction, we want to see students learn and achieve, but we also want them to feel comfortable taking risks. If they are afraid of criticism and failure, that won’t happen – right?
I still recall the dread I felt every other Thursday when I was in university, as we approached ‘crit day’ – the day we presented our work to our professors and peers (to the wolves, it felt like sometimes) for discussion. It is no small feat to stand in front of a group of people and say “This is what I have created, and this is what it’s all about.” A discussion would follow, debating the merits of the concept, the success or failure of its execution, and pondering what should happen next. There were some in my studio class who relished the opportunity to debate – their own work especially, but that of others as well. Some were diplomatic and helpful; others a bit less so.
Well, I survived and actually learned a lot during those critiques. My work developed in new ways, and I tried things that I wouldn’t have considered on my own. The professors did not have the worry of parents fearing to hurt our feelings; they were there to push, to challenge any comfort we felt our in successes and to point out work that was too safe. I knew it was useful at the time, but I didn’t love it. I never knew that years later I would actually it.
Since then, I have been fortunate to have had a few exhibitions. It still feels like I am exposing some private part of myself to the world, but people are very kind. They tell me they love my work. They show me the piece that they like best. They often have really interesting things to share with me as well, which is the part that I like most. But somehow I actually miss the critical voice – the one that asks if this was the best way to communicate my idea, or the most original way of crafting an object…
Nice is lovely, but thoughtful criticism is far more productive.