Friday, May 16, 2008

IF: Wide Gap in Reality: The Squidward Principle


I will attempt to deal with what I call the Squidward Principle, of which I believe most of us have been through at one point in our life...however it seems to be much more prevalent today and to last longer periods...some never getting out of it.

Squidward...great artist, 1st Chair Clarinet player, above all lifeforms on the planet...But the reality is much different and I will focus on one particular area that seems to be at the forefront. The Clarinet. Squidward plays it and does so horribly...and really doesn't see how bad he is...To him, the rest of the world just hasn't tuned their ears to his greatness...So when you see him practicing you have to understand that he really isn't practicing at all! He THINKS he has already arrived and needs no practice...He is playing for the benefit of the world and for himself to rejoice in his melodious sonnets...so he makes the same mistakes over and over...and is a cashier at a fast food restaurant. (NOT that there's anything wrong with that.)

Note that Squidward isn't really playing this instrument as a hobby. We can all have 'hobbies' with varying degree of capability and do it just for enjoyment's sake...but he has dreams of making a full-fledged living (and being an aristocrat it is indeed a high standard of living to uphold) playing the clarinet. If Sir Squidward might take the time to not only listen to critiques but also to self-analyze, who knows where his potential might lie...or perhaps he stinks at the clarinet because he just doesn't have the fingers for it...

So how does that relate to the Squidward Principle. Many times I have seen artists refuse constructive criticism that would help them grow as an artist and they limit their own progress because they are sure they have already arrived. When they do things it is not with the focused intent of challenging themselves, working on areas of weakness and hoping to get better, but they are already the best and the rest of the world needs glasses. Criticism results in an emotional torrent of one sort or the other. Or perhaps there isn't a true understanding of how the 'system' works and they think the world will instantly conform to them. If they want to sit at the table watching Oprah, eating Ho-Ho's, and do medical illustration using poorly rendered stick figures then someone will HAVE to hire them because they want to be hired.

Real World Story #1. (One of my favorites on myself I must say). In college during my freshman year a teacher gave me a grade I didn't feel I deserved...unleash the hounds!!! While I didn't go to her and raise all kinds of chaos as some did (there were students that would throw verbal tantrums, sobbing at times, people running out of the room throwing things, curling up in the fetal position in the corner, quitting the college, etc) I privately stewed but told myself I was going to adhere and listen and see what happened. 2nd year in college as I got better I looked back on my freshman work and during mixed critiques with freshman when tempers flared I would brake out a piece of pooh work (and not the Disney character variety) and say, "Yeah, I used to defend this too." I'm always thankful for the teachers that stopped me in my tracks and said "LOOK at what you are doing and ANALYZE the reality of your work". I'm equally thankful for the teachers that let me know the difference between a hobby, a career, and how to play up to strengths while working on areas I stunk at...as well as avoiding areas I had no shot at being able to do. To think I wanted to fly commercial aircraft with no sense of physics, not able to do exceptionally deep math, topped off by the world's worst fear of flying. Thank my 1st year graphic design teacher for not having a 747 parked in your roof right about now...

Real World Story #2. (Probably told elsewhere on this site). In a class we were required to submit design projects of our own devising every two weeks. One student never liked their grade and went so far as to have their parents lobbying for their grade to be changed. It was of utmost importance that they maintained a 4.0...apparently it was of lesser importance to have a good portfolio...teachers would often relent and just give the grade because it wasn't worth the hassle. Guess what the person is doing now...Cashier...and can't understand why they can't get a job in the field for which they have not one, but TWO degrees. And the parents? Well the student made a 4.0, it doesn't make any sense to them either.

The artists that I have seen grow and be successful are the ones that broke out of the Squidward Principle early. Sure, as artists sometimes it stings a little to get critiqued. But it usually takes about two seconds of seeing some of my favorite artists to realize I myself have a lot of room to grow. Compliments are great, but an open valid discussion of both strengths AND weaknesses is priceless and vital.

28 comments:

saffron said...

WOW! What a fantastic version of Squidward! Unique concept too, I Iove it!!

Kstyles said...

Awesome illo. Love the colors and great detail.

tofusquirrel said...

This is fantastic!

Tammie Lee said...

wild and wonderful piece, the more I look the more I see!

Juan said...

excellent!!

pati @-;-- said...

Wow! Very elaborated, Brian :O

Chris said...

Nice, elaborate piece, Brian. I particularly like the articulation of the folds in the shirt -- very nice, subtle shading. Nice color choices, too.

I'm very much with you on the "Squidward Principle." It's usually fueled by fears and low confidence. Sometimes it seems as if the Squidwards of the world are brimming with confident, defensive energy, when in reality, they're just putting up wall to fend off any criticism that makes exposes their shortcomings.

Personally, I weight criticism depending on the source. There's one guy I know who's a talented artist, but he's super critical of everything (and not just art), so when he tells me he's got an issue with something I've done, I'm usually fairly certain that he's the only person who feels that way. I have a few other friends whose opinions keep me honest. They spot my inner Squidward when I'm over-defending a misstep of mine and call me out on it without being jerky or condescending.

It's a hard line to toe sometimes, because there's much to be said for keeping true to your vision, even in the face of detractors, but you've got to know the difference between your vision and your delusions. Anyway, great stuff, Brian!

Brine Blank said...

Great comment Chris! Absolutely true. I've had a teacher here or there that would sometimes just be making up things wrong just to have something to say...and could offer no constructive criticism or direction...not solving the problem for the student but nudging them in a particular direction...just wanting to rip apart work for whatever reason other than being helpful or realistic.

In the public ed system one of the toughest areas to deal with is on the opposite end of the spectrum. You sometimes have art teachers that hand out grades and offer no constructive learning at all (and I've heard some horror stories)... when the student goes off to college they 'shrivel' within a very short period of time when reality sets in. Instead of taking criticism properly and bettering themselves they just blow away.

I also see the 'self-esteem' train running away on the tracks at times and I think it is one of the reason the Squidward Principle is 'sometimes' (read as often) out of hand...I've had people walk through and literally tell students everything they saw was spectacular. Outside of earshot it was a different story...but the students would run rampant with what they had just heard...and they would stop listening to improvements that could be or needed to be made...suddenly a 'corpse' had more credibility than me...then when work would get turned in for freelance opportunities, contests, or portfolio reviews for scholarships they would get blown out of the water and they didn't understand why...

Every time a student comes back from such a review we try to discuss it in class...it is amazing the number of times a student has come back to say, "They said exactly what you said..." Not doing a couple of weeks of hard work cost them thousands upon thousands of dollars in scholarships.

steve said...

Great great post Brian - both the art and the write-up. I had an incident in high school where I thought I made a work that was the greatest thing in the world, and my art teacher, who was someone I had a huge amount of respect and admiration for, dropped the bomb on me big time - he said something I probably would rather not write here, about the artwork. He probably would get fired or sued for it now, and though I hated him for a few days and wanted to crawl into a fetal position, I listened to his very blunt advice and changed the piece completely, improving it a hundred percent and growing so much more artistically. Today, so many people are afraid of hurting people's feelings because so many kids grew up being told how they can do no wrong and that they are number one. Truth is, they're screwed if they think they can go through life that way, and unfortunately, we all pay for it. I don't endorse bluntness or rudeness but I believe in constructive criticism and find it's the best feedback anyone can possibly have.

steve said...

Oh, and by the way, I got your print Brian--they sent it to the wrong address (it was literally sitting at the doorway of the apartment straight across from me for a few days)! It's in great shape--a gorgeous piece. Thanks you so much man. Expect a package soon!

Michael said...

Thanks for visiting!

Critique and criticism is the mortar that holds a piece together, I believe. Some will critique and criticize with no real value behind their words. Those I just dismiss or try to find something good in it.

Others, like my wife and my friend of 27 years (a very talented painter), will look at my work or idea, and ask questions, offer suggestions, etc. This I could not do without.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. They're more valuable then you know..

Brine Blank said...

Thanks Steve! I had a student two years ago that was doing a poster contest for a scholarship opportunity. I just happened to see him working on it and asked him about it...it was very 'sophomoric' and I knew if that is what he was going to turn in he had no shot at getting anything. So I had a very frank discussion with him. He only had a few days to start again but he did and he really pushed the process to come up with a more 'mature' item...cramming a couple of weeks of work in a couple of days...he ended up getting third place and some cash for it...I wish he had approached me sooner or I would have caught it earlier because I think he could have went even further with it...

Brine Blank said...

Thanks Micheal...I think sometimes criticism is treated as a seedy underworld when it shouldn't be...take for instance my tentacles on my Squidward...Someone could feel free to say, "I hate the earthworm effect you've achieved" but the next time I do an octopus/squid I know what NOT to do lol...Criticism can really help us as well as give use ideas on how to try different and greater things.

Detlef said...

And here I was thinking that Squidward was a cast member of SpongeBob, when in fact he's been moonlighting as an artistic coach and dispenser of good advice.

I think your comment in the comments re the earthworm tentacles is probably an example of quite incisive self-criticism. However, I think for this style of illustration it doesn't probably matter too much....different if you were attempting a more realistic piece.

PS Shouldn't Squidward be blowing his own trumpet as opposed to a clarinet. Just a thought.

Brine Blank said...

That's a pretty good idea with the trumpet...where were you in the planning stages?

Jenn said...

Love having some comment to read in relationship to this week's piece. And so insightful. I had a fellow art student I remember well from critiques in Drawing 101 and 103. She was actually fabulous at drawing but what she chose to draw---eyuuckk. She would come in with kitten drawings and one of a tiger (sitting just like her kitten). She could only see that her technique was good and was NOT understanding our critique of subject matter. The drawings would have been perfect for say...low quality greeting cards sold in the dollar store, 3 for $1. Not what we think she was aspiring to. At first we were all jealous of her ability but by the third critique we had all written her off because she just kept drawing kittens and never accepted any constructive criticism.

I really enjoy doing Open Studios to get REAL feedback from everyday people. I usually lurk around without introducing myself so they are free to look at the work uninhibited.

Oh, and great illus. too!

Brine Blank said...

The 3 for a dollar greeting card thing is pretty funny. I often see very talented students and it is murder trying to get them to understand if you can only do one thing...what if nobody likes that one thing. Especially in our 'modern world' commerial artists really have to be the jack of all trades since employers expect more out of one person. You have to be able to transfer skill sets to multiple creative areas...and the inmates running the asylum model it seems we've switched to has made it difficult to get students to reach their potential.

(Speaking as an American at this point) As much as our field seems to be insulated from 'outsourcing' it appears that if young folk aren't careful they might get large chunks of the industry shut out to them. Clients want good and creative...if that means importing talent or exporting services that is what they are going to do eventually. You can already see some of those trends occurring here and there. And then they'll throw up their hands and just say, "Oh well" and never realize the opportunity to have a great CAREER they blew.

Wow, I'm all over the soap box on this one...

studio lolo said...

Excellent character looking so full of himself!
I remember having a hard time with "constructive" criticism now and then because I was so criticised for everything as a kid. Maybe we have to take all of that into consideration as to why someone may be reacting in a certain way. Now,more mature and smarter about life in general, I sort the criticisms in order of who said them and who's opinion matters most. (Who do I respect more as an artist, etc.) And sometimes I still cry. Or get pissy. Waaah.

Raluca C said...

Great composition and colors-not to mention the detailed story behind it-I can see in your words a very didactic style,this is a gift,you know!I just discover your site today:i liked a lot your work,and the surency(exist this word?)of your hand:I mean the very fine and sure lines you use to build images!Great job.I´m on the point to check the other site you have:)).Thanks for your nice comment,I´m trully honoured a profesionist like you made such nice remark on my work!Touche and all the best wishes!

Brine Blank said...

I think that is a big key Lolo! Learning and maturing in knowing who to listen to...not just folks saying everything is great, but those that have vital info because they want you to grow...and it really is a growing process in and of itself, especially on how to properly apply criticism without wanting to throw in the towel! I believe we put so much of ourselves into our art most of the time that the first reaction tends to be defensive...the maturity part is stopping and saying, "Yeah that stung a bit but is it a valid criticism and can it make me better?" This is definitely a field where you have to be able to handle rejection and criticism...knowing this from first hand experience as well as reading so many stories from some of you great folks!

Candace Trew Camling said...

i dig your squidward!

rbaird said...

I once had a portfolio review with a very bad tempered AD at a conference. When the artist ahead of me came out in tears, I was more than a little nervous to go in. She ripped me to shreds! Some of what she said was valid...some of it was not. It hurt my pride for a bit, then I got busy and asked myself "how do I take it to another level?" In retrospect, it was the best critique I ever had! I'm sure we won't be going out to coffee or anything anytime soon, but she made me grow! Thanks for that!
BTW...your Squidworth is awesome!!!

sketched out said...

Great post! I love your rendition of Squidward and your essay on the Squidward Principle.

I had a life drawing teacher, way back when, who would light people's work on fire with his cigarette. (Yeah, cigarette, that's how long ago it was.) Ok, that's a bit over the top, but I'll tell ya, I learned so much from that S.O.B. Maybe it was fear, eh?

But really, a good, well balanced crit is invaluable and truly helps us grow as artists. Thanks for reminding me!

Brine Blank said...

Rbaird...great story...and having to learn to handle 'all kinds' of personality types is important in school as well as in the work world. Most of my professors were great people but they took the work very seriously...if you were willing to learn they would be willing to help you...even if that meant a metaphorical kick in the pants. And in the real world our field is like everything most other jobs...time is money...one of the main qualifications I keep hearing from business folk I'm involved with is "I can't afford to babysit...they are the creative problem solvers and they need to be creative but work within the confines of the limits without me standing over them every second...I have to have confidence they can learn quickly and not cost me money with silly mistakes."

Sketched...our 'Super Teacher' had the red magic marker of death...and it didn't matter if it was graphite on illustration board or oil on canvas...you learned to catch your own mistakes or spend 5 times as long trying to fix them after the fact. On the digital side we had the guy that would say, "Okay don't follow directions...then he'd yank the power supply...he was confident (and 95% of the times correct) that students didn't follow his continual advice to back up their files...

neil said...

Hi Brian

Personally I approve of his worm-like tentacles, Octopi can be pretty repulsive at the best of times, no matter how much you may want to 'warm' to them! I really do like the tiki on the table, judging by the look on his face he's obviously heard one too many squidward recitals. Great work Brian and I completely agree with the Squidward Principle.

Dot said...

i like him! he definitely seems to have a story behind him...
dot

ValGalArt said...

Amazing piece and post Brian! I know I have lots of room to grow myself, my husband does critique my work and I often get upset and sometimes throw a tanti because I know he is right... i could only get away with this because we are so close. A teacher would have thrown me out long ago :)

Honor Bowden said...

Very interesting post, you made some excellent points. Also, what a nice surprise to visit your blog and find out I'm not the only grown-up to watch Spongebob!