Posted in Art, Blogging

A Hint of Humanity in the Darkness

Mood: Getting on and climbing out of my fog of funk
Listening to: Bee Gees tape

Folk are supposed to give honest (but tactful) appraisals of each other’s work on an art site I’m on, but that can be a hard thing to do, presumably for the following reasons:

1. “don’t want to hurt their feelings”
2. “not sure I know enough to be able to judge”
3. “don’t want to get involved; too busy”
4. “don’t want to lose my friends”
5. “I’m sure they can see their own mistakes, or will eventually”
6. “someone else will bring it up; I don’t have to”
7. “I don’t want to end up getting nasty messages”
8. “if I don’t like it, silence will tell them all they need to know”

I’ve had my weak moments – in fact, most of the time I’m weak, and either I point out all the best features then shuffle off cravenly, or say nothing at all. But occasionally (usually when I see enough in the picture that I like) I’ll stick my head over the parapet and say “wonder what it’d look like if you…”

And so far nobody’s put a bullet through my helmet.

Well, there was one glancing shot I wasn’t sure of, just a private message that seemed to suggest the photo was just how it was, and couldn’t be re-shot – take it or leave it. Ignored that one!

Actually, it’s amazing how thick my skin has become lately, but every so often an arrow will strike home, and I’ll curl up in front of the TV for a couple of days. Every day that you post or comment on the internet, you know you’re risking that.

A couple of weeks ago on the art site I spotted a thumbnail I quite liked, but when I called up the image full-size it struck me as strange and unsatisfying. When you run your eyes over a picture, you like it to be sharp here, soft there, and nothing interrupting the flow of it without reason. It’s almost as if you know already how that picture should look, and you’re comparing the real one with the ideal.

The one I was looking at fell short – nobody would ever have framed it and put it on their wall, or used it in a magazine advert.

There had been two or three comments already, saying “very nice.”
I screwed my courage to the sticking place and said, “well I liked the such and such, which caused me to open the thumbnail, but (blah tactful blah tactful blah) – keep working on it!”

I kept an eye on it to see if anybody else agreed with me, or in case I got a response from the photographer. He never did respond, but the list of comments grew as long as my arm and longer still. Every day there would be a few more, and every single one of them said:

“Oh, wonderful work, my dear! This needs nothing changed. I love this.”

I seriously began to wonder what was wrong with me, especially as I had been watching another photographer whose works are featureless and oversharpened. He has a fan club who comment enthusiastically and without criticism.

It makes me wonder if my sense of aesthetics is broken. I got so desperate I called in Mum for her opinion on the photographer – she scrolled through his gallery, said “boring!”, got out of her chair, and left. All in three seconds flat.

The last straw thudded onto my back when the image I’d criticized in the comments was put on the site’s front page. It’s not ‘image of the week’; they just get together a group of images to share the limelight for a while and reel in the casual surfers.

The moderators don’t put anything they don’t like on the front page, so when I saw that half-baked picture up there, I started to lose my grip. I said to myself, “I must be missing something! How can I ever expect to turn out good work myself when I don’t recognize it in others?”

It’s possible that certain images naturally look more beautiful on a PC. My Mac sits next to my PC, and I can see the differences clearly. The Mac brightens everything up, tones everything down and warms the colour – thus things stand out that aren’t even visible on the PC. It’s caught me out in the past when I thought I’d made a nice graphic on the PC, but it looked horrible on the Mac – you could see the areas I thought were carefully blended into the background. Therefore, perhaps, I could see flaws in the picture that some PC users couldn’t.

I was on the point of posting a thread in the discussion forums to ask if people viewed wallpapers full size (largest size size possible) before commenting – they will miss grain, blemishes and other peculiarities if they don’t. I never got that far – it appears that other people had been simmering silently as well.

Someone exploded into life and posted a thread asking why people will butter up others rather than be honest – we are supposed to be helping each other, not over-inflating egos. There followed a long and interesting discussion… buoyed up by it, I found a wallpaper by a 15 year-old. He’s only received a few comments, mostly by others around the same age who saw his works as ‘cool’. They were, but could be cooler still. I said I liked it a lot, but what I looked for in a picture was… (blah tactful blah tactful blah).

For a couple of days, all was silent (nothing unusual in that, so it didn’t trouble me).

Earlier last night I was watching Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome, all the time thinking about StumbleUpon, people (both online and offline), my blogs and every other online presence I have. I felt singularly useless, as though I’m just whispering into a void. Who cares what I think? What difference does any of it make? I’m not really helping myself or anyone else, and StumbleUpon is lots of fun but (I thought) a huge waste of time. All it is, is a jumble of odd photos, cartoons, videos and pages of links and tips being shuttled around… some of it useful but most not.

My jaw set hard as I watched Mad Max… I’m quite sure he’d have stared me into the ground if I started waffling to him about blogs, StumbleUpon and online communities in general.

I still had to check my email, so (having left the computer off all day) I went upstairs about 23:00 and fired up the Mac. Even while I was waiting for it to power up, I was grumbling to myself “why am I doing this, even though I just told myself it was as piffle before the wind, and unimportant in anyone’s life…? I should leave it till tomorrow.”

Waiting for me was a response from the 15 year-old artist: “Thanks for your advice, I’m actually working on redoing that particular piece right now and that seems to be exactly what I couldn’t figure out about the first draft.”

See, I can make a difference!

That’s one of the nicest things anybody’s said to me for a while – that I offered something useful at the right moment. Even if it was via the anonymous, overloaded, shadowy internet!

PS: You don’t have to believe my remarks about StumbleUpon, which came out of a fit of depression. While there, I have found many pages of more than passing interest to me, and amongst them was this article on the rival attractions of Facebook and StumbleUpon. Ultimately it’s what people choose to make of the tools they have. In StumbleUpon’s case, it’s all about quality content – we have to fix on that and not on traffic. Forget the traffic – choose quality over quantity, and give good solid reviews so that people know where you’re coming from.

I’ll pick out specific blog posts for StumbleUpon attention – we should see more of those, and not just from the techy or news blogs.

PPS: I won’t be doing that right now – got to get on with some work. To help me in that, I should turn off the computer… with its siren call and its myriad of shadowy souls…

Comments for this entry (during its previous life on Blogigo):

1. Geosomin wrote at Dec 10, 2007 at 15:36: I think it is good that you and others are able to give constructive criticism. I know I’ve never been hurt by honest criticism myself. As long as people aren’t jerks about it, I think that you can only do better with advice. After all, it is why we practice things.

I find that more and more people are lacking the ability to take criticism. I train students on proper technique in the lab, and I often frustrate them at the small things I will correct them for, but once they are more skilled in what they do, they are able to know the techniques and skills required, and realise why I’ve done so. I honestly think art and creative jaunts have to be somewhat similar…I do it, because as much as I’d like everything I do to be grand and perfect every time, I want to know how to do things better.

Don’t give up. There will always be the candy perfume girls and boys who gush over things…but in the end it is the honest criticism given in good faith that makes us grow.

2. Richard Madeley wrote at Dec 10, 2007 at 16:04: If you asking how to criticise, you’ve come to the right man. Criticism is difficult. I agree. If you say nothing, that’s a criticism in itself. Yet it’s not good enough to just say ‘wonderful’ unless, of course, it is wonderful. You need to have a method of being critical.

I find it’s best to say at least three good things for every bad thing. For example:

You have lovely eyes, and I think your mouth is adorable; almost as adorable as that lovely little dimple in your chin. But for the sake of humanity, please get rid of that horrible wart on your nose.

You see how it works? The person goes away ‘on message’ regarding the wart but feeling generally good about themselves. Hope this helps.

Fondest regards,


––––––––––––––––––––––––––– –––––––
The Richard Madeley Appreciation Society

3. Karin wrote at Dec 10, 2007 at 18:24: I must commend you. Today everyone is so worried about hurting someone else’s feelings that teachers are not supposed to use red pens anymore because it might make a child feel devalued.

As for me, I take photos to remember something, a place, a person, a moment in time, etc. Sometimes they are decent, sometimes not so much. I don’t take offense if someone says that’s not good or it’s good but not great. I can take your criticism and either do something with it or ignore it for whatever reason.

As for the red pen, I survived it and even went on to get published in college (a history journal) and frankly, a lot of kids need to be corrected based on what I see in college kids these days. They can’t even handle what I consider to be basic knowledge. Oh well, like you say, darned if you do, darned if you don’t.

4. Diddums wrote at Dec 11, 2007 at 13:39: Ah – some great comments. :-). Just back from finishing four things on my to-do list… on my way to the next thing.

Geosomin: I discovered at work I was a bit nervy about taking criticism, but then I didn’t really feel at home in a busy office. In my case it was possibly down to communication problems plus shyness – I didn’t want folk raising their voices to tell me all my mistakes, as everybody would turn and look. :-). A written note was always more discreet; I was fond of my last senior editor because he generally took that option.

When it comes to criticizing images – I think I do prefer something along the lines of Richard’s suggestion, which is mix the good with the bad. I prefer that to being given only the bad (it makes me wonder “do you not like it at all?”) or having it ignored. And if people are saying “oh, that’s marvellous!” you do feel a little as though you were being handed sops when you realize yourself it wasn’t that good.

Sometimes I ask for advice on something – “I couldn’t get X to work, anybody have any ideas?”… that’s supposed to make it easier for someone to say “hum… well, how about…?” – sometimes it works, sometimes not.

Richard: that does work. :-). The humour is always a good touch, and the people on the site who are honest but at the same time helpful, kind and funny are the popular ones. You’re happy when they drop by to critique your image. Some people say ‘start with a good thing, add your criticism, and then finish with something encouraging’.

Self-deprecation can help too… sort of “you’re like me, I always have problems with warts popping up…” (etc).

Karin: I didn’t know about teachers being discouraged from using red pen… wow. I did hear vague whisperings along the lines of ‘every child wins’.

Quite right about the photos – sometimes I’ve posted a picture and somebody’s said something, and I thought “but that wasn’t what I was trying to do” – in that sense their advice isn’t relevant. Other advice can be very relevant, but it depends on the image and what it was intended for.

Oh well… got to potter along and finish the things on my to-do list now. Or I might have lunch first…

5. Diddums wrote at Dec 11, 2007 at 13:39: Oops – my response was a blog post all on its own.

6. Karin wrote at Dec 11, 2007 at 14:30: Like we didn’t ramble on ourselves… 🙂

7. Diddums wrote at Dec 11, 2007 at 16:31: Rambling always appreciated. :-).

8. Pete wrote at Dec 11, 2007 at 21:10: now this is odd. bloglines isn’t showing me bloggio updates. I only came because you updated blogger and I wondered if this was working.

9. Diddums wrote at Dec 11, 2007 at 21:18: I think something went wrong with the feeds around the time that I was panicking because of my ‘redirect’ problems. I don’t think it’s Bloglines’ fault; Newsgator is having the same experience – it’s only updating Blogger.

None of the Blogigo blog feeds are updating – I was meaning to go and look on the German forum to see if anybody there was saying anything! If it’s Blogigo’s error, I should move – a blog with broken feeds is really like whispering into a void.



I live in the UK with two cats -- Samson and Delilah.

One thought on “A Hint of Humanity in the Darkness

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