I am a retired librarian with 37 years in public education. My father was a well respected college professor, and my mother was considered the best piano teacher in the town where I grew up. Both my parents were also writers and always encouraged any creative bents I displayed while growing up. So, creativity and education are in my blood, and, I suppose, it has molded my views on constructive feedback and mediocrity. My standards have always been high, often to the dismay of my colleagues and my students. I basically abhor status quo; to me, it’s boring and uninspiring and an anathema to my creativity.
There has been much dialog recently among the members of the creative group about feedback, triggered by recent events and blog posts. This has caused me to pause and reflect upon my own philosophy about creativity and participating in a group of others with creative interests.
Obviously any group is made up of a very diversified membership. Because of that, the reasons for being in the creative group are most likely just as diversified. We need to consider what our personal goals are for group participation. Ask yourself, am I a member because. . .
I want to learn more about my art and improve?
I want a place to gain inspiration or to embrace as a muse?
I want constructive feedback on my art?
I want an audience with whom to share what I’ve done?
I want a place to be social with like-minded people?
I want to share my creative journey with others and help them on their own creative journeys?
Most will embrace several or all of these goals. Some may embrace none and choose not to challenge themselves and advance. Everyone’s goals are different, and those goals should be in a constant state of flux as your creative medium grows and changes.
I’ve learned that giving constructive feedback is an art, and for many people it can be just as frightening as sharing their own creative medium. But, like anything else, the more you do it and the more you read good feedback from others, the easier it becomes. Learning to give quality and thoughtful feedback is an important part of growing as a creative person and supporting others in their own journey. When I really take the time to look at a photograph and weigh in on what MAKES it a good photograph or image, it forces me to become more astute in evaluating my own images. Deliberation (thinking) is just one important step in advancing our own creativity.
It is not uncommon to be uncomfortable with giving feedback because it involves “feelings.” People are afraid of hurting someone’s feelings and potentially discouraging their efforts. Unfortunately, this leads to generalizations and comments like, “Gorgeous!” “Awesome!” “You are a brilliant writer!” “I LOVE your work!” People think they are giving feedback, but it is a path to encouraging complacency.
I, as a photographer, do not want mediocrity to dictate the standard of my work. I am constantly looking to improve and step outside my comfort zone. It can be frightening, but it’s the only way I will learn to be better. Yes, we all progress through levels of performance as we advance in our art. At some point we travel through the stages of beginner, intermediate, advanced, expert. Mediocrity is a natural phase as one progresses, but it should just be a phase and not an accepted end in our creative journey.