Eric Karjaluoto

The Kindest Act

Your mom will never give you an accurate appraisal of your work. You were, and will continue to be, her angel. Every awkward drawing, weak composition, or sickly idea you keep on life support will remain a gem in her eyes. This is what moms and dads do.

All of your mom’s kindness sets you up for a nasty reality once you start trying to earn from your craft. Prospective employers tell you your portfolio is nice, but don’t call back. Colleagues say you’re talented but fail to recommend you for projects. You experience a chorus of all the “right” comments, but you still fail to land a gig.

Truth is, unchecked compliments are one of the worst things anyone can ever give a creative person. When they say your design is nice, or call you talented—without explaining why—they are essentially brushing you off and escaping further discussion. Their light praise is just a polite way of saying there’s nothing noteworthy about your work.

Worse yet, these empty comments leave you with little to act upon or improve. If no one ever gives you constructive feedback, how do you know what part of your work is failing to perform as it should? Don’t expect this discomfort in providing real feedback to change. The art director who just skimmed your portfolio has better things to do than give you honest advice you aren’t prepared to hear.

But if she were, you might learn that your typographic treatments need work. You could realize that your portfolio needs more variety. Perhaps you’d even find out that the treatments you love so much are just tired gimmicks. But she knows you don’t want to hear this criticism, and you’ll consider her an asshole for saying your work should improve. She learned this lesson when she tried to help some others like you, who reacted angrily. She won’t be so easily lulled into making herself vulnerable like that again.

In the meanwhile you’re stuck floundering because of your sensitivity, and everyone else’s lack of interest in bursting your happy little bubble. If someone did tell you your work wasn’t “there” yet, they might bestow one of the kindest acts they could upon you. The temporary upset would soon subside and you’d have a clue for what to fix, instead of lingering in stasis.

The important lesson in all creative pursuits is that nothing you make is ever good enough. You always need more practice. I, for one, am painfully aware of the weaknesses in my own output. The knowledge of these shortcomings drives me to start again every day, and try to get even a little better.

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