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LeavesAs we make art, we all begin to wonder what others are thinking about it. Sometimes we seek out the input of others into our work. Sometimes we are asked to give someone else feedback. Either way the "critique" can be tricky business, and it takes both backbone, and soul for it to work right. As a rug hooker, or fibre artist I have come up with the following ideas, but I think they can be employed to any medium.

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Years ago, when I first started hooking rugs I hooked rugs with a group that were all hooking in a very traditional style. There were only about seven people in my community hooking at that time so they were the only game in town. If I had been a follower, I too would be hooking in a very traditional style. Perhaps I would never have pursued rug hooking as an art if I had been one to follow all the rules, or succumbed to pressure from others to confirm. The group I began with did not understand why I hooked the way I did any more than I understood why they hooked the way they did, but they accepted me for who I was and the way I hooked rugs. We were all good people, with a single goal in mind, to hook for pleasure, and to spread the craft.

When I first started rug hooking, whenever I was with experienced rug hookers, they would look at my work either slightly scornfully, or confused. The general consensus was my loops were too high, and they were uneven. I did not follow a pattern. It was thought that I used wools that were raggedly or too thick. My rugs, some people thought, were not following the rules of rug hooking as they knew them, and therefore they were not right. I could have caved you know. Right there and then as a twenty-something, I could have said, "Teach me the right way. I will do it your way, and you will love me, and we will be friends." I could have caved to acceptance but I didn't. I just kept making mats the way I felt (read "felt" again, cause it is all about feeling) that my rugs should be made. I never saw my way as the right way, just as the way that I like.

There were times that I asked people who were hooking in a very traditional style what they thought. Once I asked Doreen Wright, a teacher with the Rug Hooking Guild of Nova Scotia if she would be interested in critiquing my work, and she gave me some very good advice. I respected Doreen, as she had compiled all the bluenose patterns together into a book, and was a compatriot of Marion Kennedy who taught me how to hook. Both were old school rug hookers, who had done a tremendous amount for the craft. Doreen, sat back in a statuesque way, and with her very dry voice said, "I can tell you what all the rules are that we follow, and judge your work according to that, but do you really care? Then she said,"… Think about it. If you want me to I'll do it." I thought about it and quickly forgot about it. I also went to see another person who had contributed a lot to rug hooking over the years, Doris Eaton. Doris told me, "Keep doing what you are doing. Just keep hooking the way you hook." Both were good pieces of advice.

I have sought out a lot of feedback on my work over the years, often from artists from other disciplines, but I have learned a great deal from other rug hookers as well.

It is natural as you carry out a hobby that is important to you that you will want to hear what other people think. We make things and we enjoy feedback on them. We are part of something bigger than ourselves, a community, and we are often interested to know what the community thinks. Giving and receiving feedback is an important part of growth, and many rug hookers want it. Over the last little while I have been thinking about what is important as we give each other the freedom to grow in our art and craft, and here are a few of the things I have come up with.

Getting Critiques

SunflowerIf you want to get a critique of your work:

  • Find someone who is supportive and kind, and who believes in you and your work, but can still be honest.
  • Make sure you trust the judgment and like the work of the person who you are asking to give you feedback.
  • Be ready to hear the negative as well as the positive.
  • Do not act on all the feedback you receive right away. Give it time to settle in, so you can sift through it.
  • Make sure you are confident enough in your work that you are ready to hear the feedback someone has to offer.
  • Do it in the daylight. Pick a time to do it when you are feeling rested and refreshed, not tired and irritable.
  • Wait until you have hooked a few rugs and know what you like before seeking feedback. Let your style develop, so that you know what you like. Do not cave on your style of rug hooking.
  • Know that all opinions are subjective, and different people will give you different opinions about your work.

If someone asks you to give feedback to them about their rugs, it is good to consider the previous suggestions from your perspective. I have a few personal rules that I try to follow when giving feedback to people about their rugs or artwork.

Giving Critiques

  • I don't do quick and dirty critiques for people who want on the spot feedback. When you talk to someone about their work, you should know them, something about them, and the meaning that there work has for them. It is a personal issue, and it takes time and consideration.
  • Remember what Somerset Maugham said, "People ask for criticism but they only want praise." As the person giving the feedback you are in a precarious position.
  • I try not to judge the work on whether or not I like it because I do not think that my opinion about that matters. I just try to look at the parameters of rug hooking as I see them, and give them feedback based on those.
  • I always find the positive in their execution, ideas, style or design and point those out.
  • I never get at the nitty gritty until I have spent time with them, and know that they can handle it.
  • I always tell people that my advice is just an opinion, and that if they choose to do it differently I'll still like them. This always gets a laugh.
  • I ask questions that help the person critique themselves such as , "what do you think of this area?" It also helps me understand where they are coming from.
  • I do not overvalue my own opinion because I was asked and I often suggest that they get feedback from others as well.

Giving and receiving critiques can be difficult unless you do it with someone you are sure of and comfortable with. I will sometimes spend an afternoon with my friend Nancy Spear, who is an oil painter. We will look at either hers, or my work, and sing its praises but we will also get right down to it, and often as not, we find that the thing the other person picks up on is the thing we were wondering about ourselves. Sometimes she will point out something that is a problem for her in my work, that I just love, and cannot understand why she feels negative about it. I live with the comment and think about it.

Often I will stick with my own opinion, but sometimes she brings me to realizations that I was not aware of. The thing is when I am with Nancy, I know she wants to build me up, not tear me down. She wants her artist friend to thrive, so that she can have a thriving artist friend. She is confident I feel the same way about her. When she is making great strides in her artistic life, I get the side benefit of learning from her. Feedback and critiques are great things in the right hands. Go gently, be kind, and surround yourself with kind and sensible people.

Next: Romancing the Cod

©2010 Deanne Fitzpatrick. All rights reserved.

About Deanne Fitzpatrick

Deanne FitzpatrickDeanne Fitzpatrick is a member of the Editorial Board of Rug Hooking magazine and has been the subject of a television documentary and features on national radio shows. More

More by Deanne Fitzpatrick

'The Spirit in the Mat'
The Art of the Critique
Romancing the Cod
Creativity and Inspiration
Digging for Ideas
Ideas to Nourish Creative Genius

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