The quickest compliment that seems to come up when artists (especially illustrators) share their work is: “Cute!”
Don’t get me wrong – most of the time, the work is cute.
But it’s also a little bit upsetting to hear that the creative thing you’ve spent hours, days, weeks – in some cases, months – working on is … cute.
These things are okay to call cute and leave it at cute:
- a new toy that was mass produced and not hand made
There are ways to say that something is cute without saying that it’s cute – or in addition to saying that it’s cute. I mean, you can give a real compliment! This is so valuable to us. We work alone, most of the time, and most of us do this in addition to full-time jobs and families and social lives. Hearing that something in our process or final product is seen by a viewer is invaluable.
I’ve been to art sales and had potential customers walk by my table and comment that my work is cute. Okay, that’s fine – they’re talking to each other and not to me, and they’re expressing a positive feeling in connection to my work. But you know … we can hear you. One time, a woman said, “Oh that’s so cute!” and then looked closer. When she saw my signature, she laughed and said to her husband, “Oh, I thought a student had made this.” Then she wrinkled her nose and walked away. Ouch.
You see, even though it might actually be the cutest damn thing you’ve ever seen, there is so much more to the piece of art that it often feels like that work is dismissed. If you’re checking out a friend’s work, or scrolling through your favourite artist’s Facebook or Twitter or Instawhatever page, think before you comment.
“But how do I do this?” you ask. Here are some ideas:
- Take a few seconds to look – really look – and pick out something that you’re loving. Instead of saying, “That’s so cute!” you might say, “I love the expression on his face!” or, “These colours really work. I love this palette!”
- Ask a question. “How did you know where to put her so that it would turn out so beautifully?” or “Tell me about how you put this together!” This is going to fuel a conversation, and you’ll end up learning a ton about the artist’s process. Artist’s love talking about their processes, because they are ever-evolving and exciting. It’s why we make art.
- Make a connection. Identify what it is in the piece of art that draws you in, in relation to another piece of art, or an artist’s work, or a book you once read as a child, (note: for these connections, make sure the artist knows you don’t think they’re copying or mimicking that person or piece), or connect to an experience that you’ve had. You could phrase it with the “cute” compliment at the start, or at the end. “This reminds me of my favourite storybook from when I was a kid. I loved looking at the illustrations. They were so cute. This piece you’ve made is giving me the same feeling!” or “This is so cute – it’s bringing me back to the rocking chair with my mom, pouring over my favourite Maurice Sendak books!”
- Identify its uniqueness. So maybe #3 won’t work, because you can’t connect it to anything – it’s original, it’s unique, it’s special. So say that. “This is so sweet, and I haven’t seen anything quite like it before.”
- Ask for more. “This work is so great … where can I see more?” is a powerful message and compliment in itself.
- Say nothing at all. If all you can come up with is “It’s cute,” in the equivalence to replying “I’m good!” when someone asks how you are, then it may be best to say nothing at all. At the very least, seek out another adjective.