What's in My Art-on-the-Go Bag?
Two Composed Monotypes

From the Archives: Unique-ness...

I wrote this post in May of 2007 -- more than FIFTEEN years ago.

  1. Wow!  I have been blogging for a loooong time.
  2. I was a different person 15 years ago.  Childless.  Married to a different man.  Living in NYC.  Working in the theatre.  Art as a hobby.
  3. And yet, I was the same person I am now -- inquisitive, thoughtful, approaching art through an intellectual lens, and always striving to improve.

Despite the cringe-worthy reference to the New York Times article about a generation of sore losers, I feel like this blog post gets at so many things I still believe.  It's also a reminder that art is a journey.  Some people move quickly through various phases while you move slowly and that can be frustrating.  The thing to remember is, art as a career or a serious hobby is a marathon.  I trust my daily art practice to keep me on track!

So without any further ado or commentary, here is the original post from May 2007 (I did add some images since the original was text only.  The internet has changed a lot.  Pinterest was founded in 2010 -- three years after this post.  I tried to find images that were close in age with the original post.)


Last night, I went to my TAAB Quilt Critique Meeting. It was a good meeting (I always feel so motivated afterwards). Today, I find myself thinking a lot about one of the comments made last night. One of the ladies in the group, showed us some New York Beauty blocks she made in beautiful bright colors and wild prints. She then asked the following question, "Do you think this is **serious** work?"

Hmmm. What does that mean? Serious work?

She explained, "Serious work. Something that can be displayed in a serious gallery or exhibit. You know, serious work."

I pointed out that quilter Karen K. Stone is enormously famous for her variations on the New York beauty. I thought that was a good answer. But, then one of the women in the group posited the following:

"If you want it to be serious, you have to figure out what you bring to it. Do you know what I mean? What makes it different from a quilt copied out of a book. Beyond fabric choice. Where are you in it?"


It was such a simple way of looking at it. Simple, but frightening. "Serious" work seems to have only one requirement: unique-ness. So, now the frightening part: is my work unique? Do I bring myself to it?

I don't know.

A lot of my quilting is autobiographical, so I literally bring "me" to it. But, that can't be considered unique. So, what do I bring to it? And what about my scrapbooking? My jewelry? How about the theatrical work I do for a living?

This question keeps rolling around in my head and this morning I was checking out Two Peas (ETA: This is a now defunct Scrapbooking website) and reading through several of the threads and found a fascinating conversation on a similar topic:

So last night I went to my local bookstore, looking for a good graphic design book, and came across this one, which I really liked. As I was perusing it last night, I read this statement:

"Rules act as guides in helping to build a communical discussion about interpreting and evaluating creative work. If everything is "good", then nothing really can be. Relativism is great, to a point, and then is just gets in the way of honest judgment; the result is a celebration of ubiquitous mediocrity."

And I immediately thought that I'd love to know what the Peas have to say about that.

Truthfully (no flames, please), my opinion is that this is true, to some degree. How many times have we seen (or received) praise that says, "Great job!" on a lo that we know, for whatever reason, is really not that great. Do we create an atmosphere of "ubiquitous mediocrity" when we praise that way? Or is the encouragement it may give more important than honesty? 

I immediately connected this to something I read in The New York Times about the current generation of children and teens and a problem that is arising. There are all these sports and events where they give everyone a ribbon or a trophy so that there are "no losers." Everyone is a winner. A great theory! Why make little kids feel bad? But, now it's having repercussions. These kids can't stand losing. They're furious and shocked when they get bad grades. Etc.

Where am I going with all of this?

I'm not totally sure. I guess this hails back to my post about "Who Is An Artist." Is that a word we save to describe unique creators? Creators who are not mediocre? (Can you be a mediocre artist?) Can everyone be an artist ("no losers" -- all winners)? Perhaps I'm lost in the semantics of all of it.

I don't know. Have you got an opinion?


And so now, the coda.

At the time, it seems like I wasn't quite sure how to wrap all of those big thoughts together.  Here are my 15-years-later wrap-up thoughts on the topic(s):

  • Yes, if you want to create serious art, you have to have a point-of-view and bring something fresh and interesting to the table.
  • You develop that unique take through making art and thoughtfully assessing what you make and where it fits into the world.
  • You can absolutely be mediocre and be wildly successful (financially and critically).
  • Conversely, you can be a genius and be a total failure (financially and critically).  VanGogh anyone?
  • 100% true that you don't get any better by hearing false praise.  Nor do you get any better by being told how much you suck.  Thoughtful, helpful critique is the way.  (And the reason why Design Boot Camp and Group Coaching exist in my world.)

So I guess the advice I'd give to my younger self is: Don't worry about being unique.  Keep making artwork that interests and excites you.  Don't try to be like everyone else.  Keep learning.  Keep mastering new skills.  Go towards the colors and techniques and topics and ideas that interest YOU.  Over time, your unique-ness will emerge and shine!

I'd love to know your thoughts.