Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"Pretty Good" isn't

I have worked in the 'creative industry' my entire adult life. I have reviewed or shown hundreds of portfolios of writers, designers, art directors, photographers, illustrators and stylists. The best ones speak for themselves. The greater majority are good-to-mediocre and some of it needs explanation. Not an earmark of anything bad but a noticeable degrade in quality. The there are my favorites.

Once while acting as a creative placement agent, I had a young man in his very early twenties show me his [graphic] design portfolio. He was clearly self-impressed and had no interest in my critique. He would say things like, "this was best in my class", this is awesome and, my personal favor tie "pretty good, huh?" Though that interview was in 1998, it bothers me to this day. Pretty good, huh? He wasn't kidding. He was serious. The statement precluded any opinion to the contrary, in fact, it implies, "hey this is pretty awesome, as any idiot, even you, can plainly see".

Let me offer a little background color. He had shown a series of his student design projects and one whose assignment was too find an ad the student found to be inferior and re-design it. For the sake of expediency, I will simply say he did the opposite; taking a pretty decent ad and made it worse. What was even more horrifying, wasn't that it was worse, but he clearly thought it was better.

When children show you something they have done; spelling, art, even math and science work; it is necessary to offer encouragement and be supportive. Even if, lets say in a child's drawing, you have no idea what the hell they have drawn, I still have to be excited, complimentary and supportive. And while I may have to struggle to decipher a pic of Batman battling demons with light sabers on a sunny hillside, I have never heard any child say "pretty good, huh?". When one of my kids shows me a drawing, I want an explanation, a discussion and a dialogue. I have found that it further informs and inspires their imagination. It also shows Dad is listening and that, more important than 'pretty good' feelings and emotional responses are important. Ultimately, they wait for my response.

I wonder if that young man I interviewed those many years ago, ever had a Mom or Dad who was supportive of their art and creative endeavors. Maybe no one who creates something should become so self-impressed that they assume it is a thing of greatness. I guess the shorthand is, no matter what your age might be, if you have to ask "pretty good, huh?"... it probably isn't.

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