Dead or Alive
I learned two powerful things in college.
1. You can subsist on tap water and bulk frosted corn flakes indefinitely.
2. How to be rejected.
The first was enlightening but not goal-worthy. The second is the backbone of my creative career.
My first Painting 1010 course was an emotional TKO and my first identity crisis; I publicly declared I was reconsidering an English major frequently. I may have cried in my studio a few times. Dramatics aside - I had not been prepared for criticism of my art growing up; I had been praised and admired for my artistry my entire childhood and the fires of real critique were too hot for my fragile little ego. I was sure I was gifted and was certain my professors would see my innate talent and throw all the accolades & scholarships they could get their hands on my way.
Instead, these teachers publicly critiqued, questioned and deconstructed my work. Over and over again. For a few years, until I was a little better, until I could defend and explain my work. Then I decided to add a second degree in graphic design, and those instructors put me through the same ringer (though I had no allusions of superior talent at that point in my schooling). I graduated as a reconstructed Franken-Emily made from the remaining pieces of my childhood ego glued together with a lot of late nights, ramen noodles, and hard work.
I grew tremendously from this experience, both in actual artistic skill, knowledge and walk-uphill-in-the-snow-both-ways kind of character, but also in the discipline of seeing. In the fine arts, the art of seeing was being able to see more than the outline of an arm - it was about understanding the muscles, tendons, veins and bones that make up that three dimensional appendage and translate that to a two dimensional space with only value and line. In design, it was going beyond mimicking logos and layouts I liked and being able to take raw content and establish value, evoke emotion, and create interest with good design principles. Seeing was being able to do more than parrot the masters and being able to understand the method and principles that make beautiful art. Of course, this is easier said than done, and for every project that knocks it out of the park, I have a scratchboard of ideas that I or the client have killed. Failures.
If the goal is not to create work that is above critique or rejection (this is like being pretty enough to avoid body judgement - its not only vain, but impossible, subjective and unreasonable) what is it? For me, its about substance. By applying the skill of 'seeing' and creating work that is conceptually and technically sound that I am proud of - dead or alive. To make defendable work that you proudly add to your portfolio even after the client says 'no thanks'.
I used to cut out or photograph my favorite portions of my paintings before I disposed of them; a part of a face, a shiny lamp on a table, an emotive eye. Often not the focal point, just pieces of success in a painting otherwise worthy of the trash. In the style of those painting school days, I'd like to share some cut up pixels of recent design work - some are rejects, some haven't seen the light of day, and some are alive and kicking. But they have value to me - dead or alive. Enjoy. And remember, rejection won't kill you (unless its an organ transplant).