Seeking Balance in a Self-imposed Spotlight

There’s a piece of advice you’ll be familiar if you’ve spent any time assembling a portfolio, “you’re always judged by your worst piece.” I’ve adhered to this advice almost religiously as I’ve gone through many versions of a portfolio. The more I go through this selection process, the more I’ve started wondering how self-curation might apply beyond the 10 or 15 pieces I call my work.

Social media provides us access to more information about each other than we’ve ever had before. Right now I have accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Flickr, Blogger and Delicious, and I’m not nearly as involved as many of my peers. Being connected has been a great thing for me; I’ve learned so much from designers who’ve taken the time to blog, seen many things I never would’ve stumbled upon on my own and even made a few friends along the way. However, always being judged by your worst piece has difficult implications in light of this transparency. While it can be liberating to think of the web as an open forum full of room to create, the reality of constantly being on display can dampen the freedom.

A worst piece isn’t even necessarily bad design work—it could be a poorly written blog post, a foolish tweet or even a questionable Facebook photo. Granted it can seem pretty narcissistic to worry that people are paying so much attention to you that they’re evaluating your every gesture. Frankly, it’s not likely that people are paying attention to me at any given moment—it’s the fact that the information is available that gives me pause. Every time I click publish, I think, “This has my name on it, am I prepared to stand behind this tweet, drawing, design etc., as a representation of me?” This hesitation is often a good choice, and yet sometimes I feel as though it has a tendency to make things stale.

An example of my struggle between sharing openly and strictly curating my work occurred last fall. As I was walking around my neighborhood I noticed how much trash was lying around. Normally I wouldn’t consider it a dirty place, but the more I looked the more there seemed to be little pieces of garbage everywhere, so I went out with a bag and picked it up and made a poster with the trash to vent my frustration.

Afterwards I did something that I almost never do—I posted the image to my blog the day I made it. Usually when I’ve just created something I’m way too close to the work emotionally and have no ability to judge it objectively. Later that week Brandflakes for Breakfast linked to that post and sent more traffic my way than my blog had ever seen. Looking back I’m glad I posted it, and I still believe that the poster was a good idea but there are definitely some things I might have changed had I waited.

Here’s my big question; do I post more raw materials that haven’t been fully vetted yet, accepting that some may be real garbage and I may get judged as such? Or do I hold back most of the untried pieces until I’ve had an opportunity to really think about them, accepting the fact that some of the good stuff may never see daylight? I don’t know that there’s a strict right answer to this question. It heavily depends on an individual’s willingness to take risk. In answering this question for myself I take inspiration from this quote by Howard Zinn
“If you don't want to take risks you've lost your freedom”


Steve Saunders said...

Your point is well articulated, Chris. The open medium of the internet has changed and is changing so many things: artists and journalists alike.

Chris Beesley said...

Thanks Steve, I think the transparency the web has given us goes deeper than we often realize

GregandSarah said...

I think I'm with you guys on this as well. I've often thought about your comment to me once, Chris, that I should start a blog. I had one pretty consistently in college, mostly to get my mind off of school work or procrastinate for a few minutes a day or every few days. With Facebook & other social internet mediums, it's almost leaving very little to the imagination about people anymore. I think I wrote it for myself back then, but I fear that too many people would read my thoughts, that scares me a little. I'm still debating, but I do love the idea of you posting some more raw stuff, obviously still using good judgment. Thanks for posting this, I love it! The poster too :)