Paul McAleer

On Feedback

Paul McAleer

I’m in the middle of watching the superb documentary Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present. It’s been wonderful for me as I’ve been interested in her work but haven’t experienced it in person yet. It’s also reawakened the artist in me, the part of me that chose art school.

This morning I watched one of the best scenes thus far. Abramović is hosting David Blaine - yes, that David Blaine - for a drink, and Blaine presents his idea of how he may participate in her upcoming Artist is Present performance. He suggests that at the very end of her performance, he comes in and… well… kills her. Or at least gives the illusion of doing so. Abramović likes the idea a lot.

We then cut to a scene between her and her dealer, Sean Kelly. They’re sitting at a table across from each other, having coffee or tea, and Abramović lays it out: here is Blaine’s idea. I like it. I want your input.

Kelly hates it, and starts by calling it a bad idea. He then takes a moment to explain why and a part of it is due to the work that both of these people do: Blaine is an illusionist, some would say a magician, and Abramović is an artist. There is a reality in her work (and based on the documentary, I agree with this) and a beauty in it that is notably different than Blaine’s work. There may be overlap but certainly not to the degree that Abramović needs to preserve her artistic vision.

She takes in Kelly’s feedback and says, “You’re right.” The idea is nixed.

The conversation is between two professionals, two experienced professionals. There is a surprising lack of emotion. Kelly lays it out very clearly and plainly.

Listen. We all get emotionally tied to our work in some degree. We are human, and we have feelings. But if you allow yourself to be sectioned off from outside feedback and opinion to the point of not even inviting it, frankly, you have some work to do as a designer.

Feedback won’t bite. It’s not personal. It is professional. If you make it personal, that’s your problem.

I wish we were all as dedicated in our work as Abramović is in hers. She is inspirational not just for the art she makes but the process and care behind it as well. She doesn’t allow anyone to just come in and fuck it up with lousy feedback (or non-feedback).

That’s how you work as an artist and as a designer.