Criticism III

Beth G left a comment:

It is sometimes difficult to give frank concrit because when a dress pic is posted, it would be after the fact and too late to fix (example: swirls over the bust). I also wouldn’t want to point out something that would keep the dress from selling, since lots of mothers read our board (example: that SR dress that resembled marijuana leaves). What do you think?

This does come up quite a bit.  Not really sure what I think…

One very interesting aspect of ID is that, as a general rule, we seem not to get very attached to our dresses as they are seen as commodities that we will/want/have to re-sell.  That fact alone seems to have created a rule about criticism – don’t give any negative feedback about the oingo-boingo dress from hell (not talking about a specific dress here) because it will affect the sale.  I really do not have anything pithy to say…except…so?  Truly not trying to be bitchy here, but…so?  Wouldn’t you want to know how reviled a dress is and why before you spent big bucks?

Now, on the one hand, there may be a child out there that sees the oingo-boingo dress from hell and falls in love with it.  Mama buys it for her and young dancer feels like a princess because SHE loves the dress.  Let’s say that criticism about the dress from the net reaches her ears and she is devastated…this would make me sad, and I would feel terrible.  I have taken the Divas to the bank and the grocery store not only in insubstantial princess costumes (complete with clickety-clackety plastic princess shoes and bobby socks), but in outfits startling in their garishness, and received many a confused and even accusatory stare from fellow mothers.  My response?  I smile because hey, the Diva kid is happy right now, so back off!

In Criticism I wrote: So what do I think about criticism and its place in any field? I think that if you don’t want any, keep your ideas & creations to yourself. Ultimately, if we “publish,” we invite comment. If we present our work to the public, we are fair game for positive and negative review.

I still think that.  As a general rule, there are not a whole lot of postings on the public boards asking for opinions about dresses.  There was one just a bit ago that pointed out a dress specifically because it was rather wild and different.  After quite a few strong and negative responses about how it looked on the dancer, it was pulled because the issue of the dancer’s feelings came up.  Fair enough…the whole post seemed to have begun with a troll looking for trouble anyway.  But when a dressmaker (or new dress owner) posts and asks, “What do you think?” are honest answers verboten?

In terms of privacy, I think honest criticism can be safely given in our private yahoo group, IDDressmaking.  Some of that is beginning to happen.

What do others think?  Any one have a perspective on when re-selling dresses started and why?

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Criticism II

I posted this back in May: Criticism.

My last post, Letter to Dressmakers…or…Cogitating on Popcorn Thoughts…whatever, sparked  wonderful discussions on IDD and some great comments here.  It is so wonderful to read not only the opinions and perspectives but about the unsung support networks that have bolstered others, as well.  I love hearing from all of you as you make me think.

Ali always makes me think.  Her comments helped me organize this post which was sparked by all of you who commented here and on IDD.

(Cindy, I enjoyed reading your perspective on all art being derivative…that is another post that I need to ponder.  Susan & Ali, maybe you can write about that as designers.) 

Gina got this thought process going with her thoughts on the silence:

The easiest way to create silence and Pablum is to post a picture of your new creation on a board and ask “tell me what you think”. Regardless of the true nature of the beast, inevitably it’s “Great” “lovely” etc etc etc.

…[Einstein] said that above all we should be honest. If we feel we can’t be honest so that we spare someone’s feelings, then we should be silent. Didn’t Thumper’s mother say “if you can’t say nuthin nice, don’t say nuthin at all”?

The other side of this coin is – are we REALLY helping the blossoming seamstress by sugar coating the truth? They go blithely away thinking everyone loves their work – yet we are wondering at “Didn’t she realise the design has a hidden mouse?” “That dress is way too large in the neckline”, “the colors just do not work for that dancer” etc etc etc.

Should we be honest? IMHO Yes, but dare I say a word? No, because I use my name on the boards and would never hear the end of it.

Ali’s response:

“Should we be honest? IMHO Yes. but dare I say a word? No because I use my name on the boards and would never hear the end of it.”

As is often the case, Gina and I are in agreement.

I think the largest white elephant in our collective room is the fact that we are all consciously aware of each other still. We know our places in the network of dressmakers and designers NOT in a collaborative sense, but in a competitive one: “I charge less than X and Y, but draw better than Y and Z, produce a more coherent product than Z and A, and I know X and A won’t take clients for reasons 1, 2, 3…” and so on. Whether we fit in as moms or dancers (oh, heavens, lowest of the low ;) ) who are trying out designing or dressmaking for the first time, or as dressmakers of limited/some/extremely great renown, or as designers only (relegated into a sort of “separate but equal” mental status, usually), once you’ve been around–yes, even on our beloved CF board–for a short while, you start to get the feel of the community. It is, as you said, Ann, one so entrenched in not just competition but secret competition. We know it, and it makes us uncomfortable, and so we act “nice”.

Gina’s example is good: it doesn’t matter if the dress is crap or the best thing ever. If a dressmaker asks for feedback on her new creation, we will not give it. We will be kind to a fault and probably even lie–at the very least, lie by omission by choosing not to respond.

When we are not nice, we are especially vicious. We can rip others to shreds. So we usually avoid it–it makes so many of us uncomfortable to see any sort of “mean” comment that all criticisms are often avoided. Of course, knowing our internal social structure, we feel free (largely) to snipe at the biggest names. They are impersonal corporations, far away and faceless; they are the President to our local political action committee. We pose no threat to them, but they do to us, so we feel comfortable making real criticisms there and only there.

What the community needs is three things, to my eye: a) to learn that criticism is NOT meant to be mean, it is meant to help you grow, b) to learn that criticism of one’s work is not criticism of oneself, and c) to learn how to give criticism in a way that gets these points across. Musicians, dancers, other artists all manage this. It baffles me how stifling the ID community, and the dressmaking community within it, can be on this point. I think that innovation can only flourish when people both expect to receive and feel comfortable giving constructive criticism.

I responded:

As usual, your insight is right on, Ali. You know I have ranted about exactly the same things. Thank you, once again, for saying it so well…

And then she wrote:

It’s because we both come from a heavily academic space, I think. This is not to imply elitism, but I suppose it could be read that way. You taught for years, and I’m pretty over-educated for my age. DWe have stubbornly refused to let go of the idea of constructive crit being required for a healthy community; what baffles me is that, after seeing the poll on CF of what other dressmakers and designers do or previously did as their main job, we are the exceptions! The DM community as a whole seems to be pretty awesome based on that poll: we have biologists, engineers, teachers, social scientists. We have so many well-educated people, whether by formal or self education, who MUST have learned how to give and receive concrit at some point. Why do we allow ourselves, as a community, to follow the secretive, deadening path that Irish dance as a whole follows when we KNOW better? We are smart and creative. Let us set the example for how to criticize, critique, and share in an open, honest way. If we’re lucky, it will catch on to the whole of ID.

And then, before I could notate my profound thoughts on the subject,  Suz got in on the action:

Ali,
You got me thinking on why we can take criticism in our “real” professions but not ID. Just my first ‘gut-reaction’ here but my two worlds were built different!

My ID world formed WITHIN my family’s cultural life while my professional life is OUTSIDE my family. The university not only allowed me to evolve independently but encouraged me to be independent! In my science based career I was taught to question the methods and practices of other scientists to get ‘proof’ for my opinions!

My ID life has evolved AND involves numerous family members both immediate and extended. I already had my ‘place’ given to me because I was hopelessly unable to dance. Unlike the DANCERS(said in revered awe…) I could make my way around the left side of my brain as well as the right side so I chose to join the ’support staff’ as a dressmaker….really as an avenue to remain ‘in the family’. (Whole ‘nother psych. paper in that statement!!) So I do have enormous problems separating criticism of my work as not being criticism of me personally. By the end of a dress it is MY CHILD and the more difficult the ‘labor’ the more I tend to want it to thrive. So if it is “bashed” (as stagemoms are so apt to do these days) I am hurt. I’m sane enough to know the defect in my thinking, and do know how to consider the source, but that would be my brain’s left side which does not always control my world!

I had begun to focus in on that in a different way, Suz.  I wonder if the fact that most (nearly all?) independent ID dressmakers learn and function in relative isolation has something to do with the resistance to constructive criticism.  In terms of ID, even though I began on my own, when I started working with Susan I put myself into apprentice mode.  The first time I brought a dress that I had finished on my own at home to her for inspection was so stressful (in fact, I think I brought my mother!)!  I just KNEW she was going to rip it apart…when she smiled after she inspected it, I almost swooned (ok, a bit of hyperbole for effect!)! 

I also feel that my dresses are my “children.”  I felt that way about everything I ever created.  But, I think I am pretty open to true constructive, intelligent criticism (“The practice of analyzing, classifying, interpreting, or evaluating literary or other artistic works.” ).  As not only a young artist studying dance and choreography but also a university professor and professional choreographer, criticism was part & parcel a given, proven part of the process and the culture.  I learned early on that since art really is a subjective form (there is no objective right & wrong), that criticism is irrevocably tied to the critic’s subjective eye and taste no matter what anyone says!  However, what I learned from the best of my professors was that a good critic helps you evaluate your own methods, thought processes and techniques so that your vision is as clear as it can be, regardless of whether or not they like it!

Do I always graciously give my thanks for negative criticism that helps me refine something?  Of COURSE I do as I am a perfectly formed female specimen of fully-evolved higher intelligence……………………………….NOT!!!!!  If I am unsure to begin with, the process is quicker, but for the most part I whine, I bitch, I argue, argue, argue (ask Susan).  I do, though, take criticism that is clear, well-articulated, and right and assimilate it.  Sometimes the criticism, while valid, serves to point out a flaw in my thinking that creates a different view than I meant and arguing the point helps me make it clear.

Do I want to hear when someone does not like what I have created?  If you are going to be mean for mean’s sake, no.  Go suck a lemon.  If you are going to explain why, and are open to a discussion (unlike a recent naysayer on the boards who hid behind “It’s my opinion which is enough and nobody’s business”…ppphhhththth!), then go for it!  As I said in the last post, I totally appreciated the person who said the red tunic dress looked like Renaissance armor and then provided pics! 

Why can’t we not only take the real, helpful criticism, but try to also be truly CONSTRUCTIVE (“Serving to improve or advance; helpful.”)?  Maybe we should each ask ourselves what we truly want when we post pics of our creations on the boards (I am asking myself this very question as I write this).  If true constructive criticism is not what we want, then we should not post.  If it is what you want, but folks are only being nice, be clear that you are open to it all and hopefully someone will take you at your word.

Will all of the competition that Ali pointed out disappear?  Probably not.  We all want to be liked “best.”  But, we all can learn so much from the rest who want to share, not tear down.  And, it has been my experience that sometimes there is an epiphany waiting to slap our foreheads because of a statement from the “new” one in the back who restates a known fact in a different way because she just figured it out for herself.

Ignorant Dance Teachers

(Someone has been irked by this post, so she ANONYMOUSLY accused me of making MANY assumptions in this post and insinuated that I did not understand the difference between ID and ballet training… obviously not a regular reader of this blog. As I state at the beginning of the post below, I was sent off on this rant by a post on dance.net, but day after day I receive emails from parents and dancers asking for help, recounting their stories and their injuries. Up until now my dance kinesiology posts have been about the body as a way to encourage dancers and parents to take responsibility for their own body knowledge. I have been thinking that I should also say clearly that it should be the professional responsibility of every dance teacher, no matter the discipline, to understand the human body and how it moves. So, I say it now.)

Ok, can’t take it anymore…got up this morning, perused the web a bit to wake up, and unhappily came upon this:

“im 19 and have been dancing since i was 4. I have beautifully turned out feet but recently i have been getting serious pains in my knees and ankles. i went to an orthopedic who was shocked at how bad my leg alignment had become, presumably from ID. I was always told to ‘push my ankles forward’ in order to turn out my feet. Nothing was ever mentioned about my hips. I have never heard anything about using my hips. This might be the underlying cause to my problems. can anyone please shed some light on what i’m supposed to be doing with my hips when turning out my feet and trebling etc??? Any advice is welcome.”

PUSH FORWARD IN THE ANKLES TO TURN OUT!!??!! NEVER HEARD ABOUT USING HER HIPS!!??!! This teaching stupidity is stunning. Poor thing!

Why is any ignorant moron allowed to mess with young developing bodies just because they call themselves a “dance teacher”???!!!

I have always had a problem with bad teaching, regardless of the subject matter. I have walked out of many lectures, workshops, studio classes and university courses…I make no bones about ill-prepared lecturers, lazy presenters, and ignorant “teachers” of all kinds, no matter the guru they profess themselves to be. As a university professor, I probably shocked many a student when I would take their former teachers’ ignorant and dangerous ideas and teaching methods to task. What inflamed me more than anything were the “chronic injuries” that dancers owned as if they were badges of honor…these injuries were a sign of bad teaching, of damage done to them by ignorant teachers… they were not good things!!

Dance teachers work with the human body, therefore they should know how it is put together, how it works. They should know the bones and their articulations. They should know how each and every joint is constructed and how it is meant to move. They should understand the role of bony formations and ligaments in supporting and restricting movement in the joints. They should know the difference between ligaments and tendons and muscles, and they should know what bursae are for. They should know how muscles work by acting as the forces that move the levers that we call bones. They should know how muscles create movement by working with or against gravity. They should know the physics of jumping, turning, kicking, leaping, etc, etc, etc. They should understand correct skeletal alignment and effective and safe dance posture inside and out!

They should know how turn-out is accomplished if they want their students to use it. They should know how to strengthen a dancer’s legs and feet, and that it takes a few years of concentrated, specific training before a dancer should be put en pointe. They should understand how much stronger an Irish dancer’s feet really should be to perform toe stands in shoes that are not supportive or designed for such a maneuver. Irish dance teachers should understand the particular demands that the very specific Irish dance technique places on the body…the fact that dancers’ heels are not to contact the floor and that their knees are always to appear straight is very stressful on the legs. The fact that they are required to jump with out the benefit of the full use of the foot lever OR the arms requires unbelievable strength. They should understand the stretching that should be a MATTER OF COURSE for any dancer. If Irish dance teachers are going to continue to borrow movements from other dance techniques (ballet, in particular), then they themselves should be taking classes so THEY are trained to perform these steps. What has ID taken from ballet? Changement, entrechat quatre & six, cabriole, pique, pas de bourree, gargouillade…don’t know what these are? Then why are you trying to teach them to your students!!!!??

It should be a GIVEN that dance teachers understand the human body completely! Period.

There are bad teachers in every dance form. The mind set that the art of dance and the science of dance are mutually exclusive was quaint 75 years ago when the dance star of the day was no better than the average intermediate-advanced student of today. But as the athleticism of dance advances, so should our understanding of movement, of motion. The dance training needs to be more specific, more careful, more focused as we try to defy gravity in more and more complex and innovative ways because the HUMAN BODY DOES NOT CHANGE AS THE DANCE FORMS EVOLVE!!! Our bodies are put together the same way they were 50, 100, 1000, 10,000 years ago. This is not new news…so why is knowledge of the human body not a given?

If your dance teacher will not take responsibility for your body, then you take it. And find a new teacher. Good ones do exist.

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology
To start educating yourself, try here.

Uh-oh…

I think I may have been dissed. The following was written in response to someone ranting a bit about the “sage” advice that is given on dance,net: “The anti dance.net poster has read taoknitter@blogspot.com. That makes her an expert. About the same as the rest of us who read stuff somewhere and take it as gospel.”

Not sure how I should read that…tried reading it from a couple of different head angles…did I get dissed? Having a good chuckle…

Do I look askance at most of what passes for “advice” on dance.net? Yes, I do. Lately, though, there are more posters who feel secure enough to offer carefully considered responses as opposed to the fairy tales involving clenched butt muscles and snake oil. These responders usually tell the dancer needing help to find a professional to TALK to. Karma to them.

I feel the need to re-iterate a statement from my last post:

“So where to go for help when it is needed? There is so much information on anatomy on the web. I will continue to write about the dancing body. There are books galore. But here’s the rub…this information needs to be READ and STUDIED to be understood. That means a reader must take responsibility for the information. A single reading of any source is not enough to understand it. But most importantly, finding someone to talk to IN PERSON is the only safe way to have a problem evaluated. Period. No amount of online advice is going to fully address any issue.”

In case I was not clear the first time, one reading of anything, my blog posts included, does not mean you understand it. I have been told that my kinesiology posts are dense and even overwhelming…I contemplated dumbing them down to make for easier reading, but for what purpose? As it is, there are things that I do not include, but I figure if someone is truly inspired to know more, she/he will start doing research, ask more questions, take a class, seek out a professional for a one-on-one consultation…study, study, study.

Does reading my blog make anyone an expert? No. But I am hoping you might feel inspired to become one.

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology

Irked, Irritated, Steamed…

Yes I am…irked, irritated, steamed…mad…frustrated…

I felt the need to illustrate this rant, so googled the above words. This pic got me laughing.
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Laughter always puts things in a better perspective.

So what’s got my knickers in a twist?
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Nothing new…just another instance of one of the BNs (big name dressmakers) shipping off sub-standard dresses. Dresses that cost a lot of money. Dresses that did not fit. Dresses that were VERY poorly made. Dresses that were NOT sent back by the client to be fixed by said dressmaker. INSTEAD, the client brought these brand new dresses to another dressmaker and PAID more to have them fixed. I know the dresses ended up better after the 2nd dressmaker got finished with them…but my point here is that the client had already spent a small fortune on these BRAND NEW dresses, and she has to spend MORE to get them to fit right.

WHY?!
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WHY?!
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Why are the BNs allowed to get away with it? Folks say that it will cost too much to send it back and forth overseas. Ok, then here are 2 suggestions: #1 – put it in the contract that if the dress does not fit, was not made to measurements, or is poorly made, then said dressmaker is responsible for all shipping fees; or #2 – use a local dressmaker.

Ok, I can hear it…the BNs would NEVER agree to a stipulation like that in their contracts! Well, of course not! Why should they when folks lick the ground they walk on just to get a used one!!!? But what if…oh my god, I feel a revelation coming on…what IF all future clients refused to fork out thousands of dollars for a dress they will not have any input into and will not see until the moment it arrives and will simply have to deal with because the BNs do not give refunds, tough titties if it does not fit?!!!!! What if the mamas with the moolah said, “NO!”? What if folks demanded the same level of professionalism from the BNs that they expect & DEMAND from us lone, local dressmakers?!? What if, what if, what if……….what if everyone used their local dressmaker?

I considered listing the names of the BNs and challenging them and the folks with the checkbooks to try and change things. But I remembered a tiny glimmer of hope that presented itself to me recently. There is a particular, very high priced designer/dressmaker whose work has had me reeling in the past because it was so poor. But, a friend recently examined a newer dress, and she said that although the zipper was still exposed in an amateur fashion, the fabric edges were neat & finished with a serger, the underskirt seam edges were neatly wrapped, and seams in general were more even. Perhaps they are paying attention when enough people bitch.

P.S. – Katherine gave me a nice compliment (in the comments) and urged me not to let this get to me. I know I should not let it get to me, but sometimes the absurdity of it all…the amount of money, the shoddy workmanship, the cult of personality…just finally makes me snap. It is like that pic of the crazy kitty at the top of this post…that’s me! Truly, it is! I am such a lady…until I am not! (Yeah, right…)

Criticism

This began as an “off-the-hook!” rant that I wrote after seeing pics of some of the newest dresses out there. I was, shall we say, a wee bit perturbed. I re-read it the next day…several times…could not make it through reading it again today. Why? Because I was not very nice at all. I do not think my objections are wrong, but my delivery left much to be desired. Brings me back to something I have been thinking a lot about.

I am a moderator for a message board group of Irish dance dressmakers. Recently I was in a position to begin thinking about policy for criticizing the work of other designers/dressmakers. Someone posted a negative comment about a dress that most of us had probably looked at. It was there a couple of days before someone objected to it, so I removed the post and began a discussion on what is appropriate for our board specifically while thinking about criticism and its value in general.

I wrote this as part of the post about criticism for the dressmaking group: “I have asked myself this: I am putting out a product that someone pays a lot of money for…am I so personally invested in my product that any criticism hurts my feelings? Is that professional? I consider myself to be a professional; before dressmaking, I was a professional artist and it was expected that when I presented my work, it would be “critically reviewed,” criticised on its merits, good and bad. My work was both praised and even occasionally vilified. At one concert, I heard the work I had set on the ballet company described by one person as brilliant while his companion found it disturbing and awful. Lift me up and slap me down!!! Worse yet, my work was routinely reviewed in the newspaper…talk about public!! My point here is that my feelings were irrelevant. I put my work out there and criticism was a given. What about us?”

Don’t get me wrong…being critically reviewed is extremely stressful. You freak out if you know the critic is there, you second guess EVERY decision you ever made because he/she might not like what you have done…and you DO feel that the review is directed at you personally. I was so mad at the author of my first review in college…amongst all the glorious stuff she wrote about my work, she had the NERVE to write ONE negative thing…”The dancers moved at such a pace that I got tired.” Big deal right? The rest of the review was grand and I had to focus on a simple, stupid negative. I was depressed for days…diva!

Took many years to deal with that artistic anxiety…and years to find a framework for processing other people’s opinions. I had to learn to sift the real “technical” perspective offered from the “personal.” I could learn from someone else’s point of view of my work – did my point come through? Could I have done something differently so my audience got the message I intended? Did they “see” what I wanted them to see, and if not, how can I do it so that they do? I learned to ignore the purely “personal” – “I didn’t like it because it was too fast/ too loud/ too long/ too short/ too ugly/too weird/ etc,etc,etc!” As I learned to disregard the “personal” negatives, I found I became much less invested in when they did like it! I began to rely on whether I liked it, whether a select few people in my life liked it, whether or not it “worked” for me.

One of the last dances I did before I got sick was one of my favorites, a duet between a man and a woman. It was very simple, so simple that at times I was nervous that it was not sophisticated enough, but it looked the way I wanted. I was in charge of my technical craft, inspired by that mysterious place in my head. I was content that it was clear. And everyone got the point no matter their personal opinion. My young students understood but just shrugged when asked if they liked it. My older students and all folks who’d been married or in long-term relationships also understood it and loved it. There was an older couple, early seventies, who always came to our shows…they came every night to see that dance and she cried. It did not matter to me if anyone ever liked what I did again!

In terms of Irish Dance dressmaking, I very often do not understand why a particular dress is thought to be beautiful. We do all have our own tastes…but sometimes I feel “taste” is lacking in ID costumery. A mystique has developed around the BNs (the big name dressmakers) that to me is mostly undeserved, yet people pay big bucks and seek to have those “looks” copied by dressmakers who do not charge as much. As someone on the boards always writes when this subject comes up, “It’s a case of ‘The Emperor’s new clothes!'” Have to say I agree, but do we ever talk critically about why? What is it that makes these dresses so desirable? And we NEVER discuss the bad designs, the over-use of the same design elements, the dresses made with fabrics that make no sense together, the colors that seem haphazard, the specific bad construction techniques and practices. Why not?

There is an over-whelming sense that we don’t because feelings should not be hurt. Very often that is exactly what gets said when someone is brave enough to post an opinion, and it is usually stated by someone other than the dressmaker!

So what do I think about criticism and its place in any field? I think that if you don’t want any, keep your ideas & creations to yourself. Ultimately, if we “publish,” we invite comment. If we present our work to the public, we are fair game for positive and negative review. I make dresses that people buy, and I use pics of those dresses here on my blog as advertisement for what I do…many people have looked at my dress gallery and there are as many opinions as there are eyeballs! Do folks tell me if they hate what I have done? Not directly, no. But should I ever create the ugliest of the doozies, perhaps then my name would be bandied about as “that incompetent dressmaker!”

But let me be clear, saying something is ugly with no explanation, badly made with no example, horribly designed with no critical analysis of why…well, that’s just personal likes & dislikes. That is not “criticism” to me. The American Heritage Dictionary states criticism is: “The practice of analyzing, classifying, interpreting, or evaluating literary or other artistic works.” By doing these things when we look at someone else’s work be it a car or an ID dress, we learn something.