Mackenzie Freemire on Critique
Mackenzie Freemire is a Co-Founder of MOUTHWASH and a Designer by trade. We took some time to reflect on what it means to be critical in our practices. These are some of her thoughts and feelings on the subject.
I still have yet to experience a rush similar to the one I felt on a weekly basis in design school - nervously pinning up my work, hands shaking slightly, running on coffee and no sleep, and turning to face a group of students and professors gathered to discuss my work. In the beginning even the slightest criticism to my process or my idea would send me into a spiral of self-doubt and defensiveness. But each new time I pinned up my work I was more confident, becoming certain of my ideas, and ready to discuss disagreements. Over time, I realized I didn’t have to agree or appease every single person sitting in that room - it was still my work at the end of the day, I still had to be able to stand behind it after all changes were made.
So why critique in the first place? Are there repercussions for working in isolation? How do we allow the complexities of critique to guide us to be better artists?
David Bayles, author of the book Art & Fear, once said, "You make good work by (among other things) making lots of work that isn’t very good, and gradually weeding out the parts that aren’t good, the parts that aren’t yours. It’s called feedback, and it’s the most direct route to learning about your own vision.”
Critiques identify holes in our thinking, catch weak spots, and help us create holistic design solutions. They move us forward and grant us a greater understanding of how the people will interpret it before it’s out in the world. Sharing our ideas and solutions also requires us to think critically about what we’ve made and explain it. We’re prompted to think about the intent of our choices during the creation process.
Alternatively, holding work close to the chest is the easier answer, running less risk to our ego. Work that is never seen or out in the open can never be wrong. Airing it all out is scary, but an important part of the process. Every critique you endure, no matter how revealing, is making us braver, more courageous artists.
In addition to understanding the importance of critique, and repercussions for a lack thereof, I find it important to understand the applications of critique for the most impactful return.
Less is better, not only in design, but in who we allow to have a say in our works. Selective critique illustrates the vision we have for ourselves and where we wish to go. If the desire is for everyone in the room to like our work in order to feel like we’ve succeeded, we’ll end up sacrificing original ideas to make it more palatable, more average, or more mainstream. On the contrary, if we present our work to people who have already been places we wish to go, we find ourselves taking steps in an upward trajectory toward our end goal or destination. In most cases, this is a place that is incredibly difficult to discover on our own.
Be conscious of who your critical circles consist of. Find people you trust, whose work you admire, who’s good at talking about their ideas. You may find yourself growing at a faster and more efficient pace.