If you have to cry, go outside

I quoted a past professor the other day: “I asked what you think, not what you like.”  We were looking at color.  Color.  Big deal, right?  Well, it wasn’t until I saw them placating one another.  “That’s cool.”  “It’s pretty.”  “I like it.”

Placating is infectious.  And critiquing is a skill.  Tom Ford (successful, smart, savvy, experienced, good-looking, white, male) said, “I think the women’s fashion business is probably the hardest, toughest business in the world.”

“It’s pretty” just won’t cut it.


I admit I found myself placating, getting lazy with my observations after 10 or so critiques. I tried to find something new to say, something outside of what I usually say to young designers who make the same journeys and therefore, the same “mistakes.” I want to say something that I can learn from too, create a discussion for god’s sake.

Because I still need to learn how to accept a critique as well.

So, two quotes to think about.  Let’s start with a whopper from Aristotle (I’m SO smart): “There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” Yeeeeeoooouucchhh!

"I'd buy that skirt."
“Cute skirt.”

And then I heard this doozy from Alrik Koudenburg (cool, Dutch, designer whose website takes a long time to load): “To be outstanding, get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”  All of a sudden those sweaty, awkward, and painful moments hanging out in Eka Pada Rajakapotasana make sense.

Hearing those things makes me want to either hide or “be tough” but we know that neither choice is effective in designing, fittings, sewing a french seam, or even emptying the litterbox or standing in line at the DMV.  I’ve been trying to cultivate a sense of equanimity, choice-less awareness.  Finding that balance between toughness and mushiness is essential, but even though I entered the endless world of critiques and feedback long ago, I still think the experience will play out as follows:

1. I show my work.

2. They like my work.

3. I leave.

But you get an "F" for clip art.
But you get an “F” for clip art.

It’s crazy that I still have an instinct to think like this because my critique experiences really run the gamut and depend on so many factors:

  • Once I had a critique and I cried (sleep deprivation and relief it was over).
  • Once it went “really well” (I worked really hard).
  • Once I could CARE LESS about what they said (I hated the project but the work was decent).
  • Once I realized later they said nothing of value (the critic was esoteric and my work wasn’t up to par).
  • Once I could tell that he didn’t want to be there and he couldn’t critique (I liked the project, was proud of my work, and felt cheated).

But what if I loved the project, I wasn’t tired, I made strong choices and I genuinely liked and respected the critic and their feedback and I wasn’t being tough OR mushy, BUT I still felt wounded?  It wasn’t like I was hearing it from Kelly Cutrone.  What happens then?  You take the amazing and intelligent insight, apply it, and then take the credit when everyone loves it.

So here goes, my respected friends whose opinions I deeply value.  I finished a mini-collection for a collaboration for Design Philadelphia.  This is what it looks like.  What do you think?

Stay gold, Ponyboy.
Stay gold, Ponyboy.