Fire for Effect: Unique is not Special

The Manifesto is proud to present the first installment of a regular column by Michael Rutherford entitled Fire for Effect.  “Fire for Effect” is a military term used by spotters for indirect fire weapons. Examples of indirect fire weapons include cannons and mortars which are usually fired from a position from which the gunners cannot see the target because of terrain. To determine the proper aiming of the weapon, a spotter who can see the target relays basic coordinates to the gunners who then fire a few ranging rounds, allowing the spotter to see how far off target the guns are aimed. This process is sometimes referred to a “zeroing in.” When, by this trial and error procedure, a shot lands on the target, the instruction will be “fire for effect” telling the gun crew that they are on the target, and to fire one or more salvos of several rounds rapidly to blanket the target with the explosive projectiles…or in Rutherford’s case, explosive rhetoric.

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Without further preamble, please enjoy Fire for Effect: Unique is not Special.

lego-snowflake AFOL

True or False: Every snowflake is special.

Answer: False.

Every snowflake is not SPECIAL… but rather UNIQUE… and unique is no big deal.

Now get up off your ass and start cataloguing snowflakes.  You will have UNIQUE coming out of your ears in no time.    After you have catalogued say… 15K individual snowflakes… photographed them, weighed them, inventoried their chemical components… you will see that while no two are exactly the same, they do start to fall into large categories pretty quickly.  Eventually, it will occur to you that most snowflakes are in fact… very similar… to many other snowflakes.   And what’s more… only a very small number of snowflakes will really stand out.  Keith… You jacked up your sample.  Go back outside and catalogue 15K more.

SPECIAL… (I looked it up just to be sure) means “BETTER, GREATER, or OTHERWISE DIFFERENT from what is normal.   Yep, DIFERENT is a part of the meaning… but don’t fixate on that small overlap.  BETTER and GREATER are right there up front, and the clause “from what is normal” nails down the ass end of this definition pretty tight.   SPECIAL = BETTER THAN NORMAL.  Embrace this truth now, or leave this essay at once!

Can every snowflake be BETTER and GREATER than the normal snowflake?  No it cannot.  Not mathematically, not empirically, and not operationally.  The assertion that every snowflake is SPECIAL is flat-out WRONG in every way, except from the cultural perspective (AKA the pretend perspective).

“Every snowflake is special” is a very powerful cultural metaphor.  It has its place, and does some good.  At its core, it contains some notions we would all do well to remember.

When applied correctly, the metaphor can re-enforce the notion that every person has some intrinsic worth.  It celebrates the inherent value of being unique.  The unspoken assertion is that this uniqueness is in and of itself a good thing, and that every variation is a potential benefit.   The metaphor is a tool.  But as with so many other valuable tools, like alcohol, duct tape, or spear guns… we seldom apply the metaphor correctly… and it is often used to suggest that every person’s contribution to every endeavor is superior and merits praise.  Perhaps MOST IMPORTANTLY, the myth contributes to a culture where CRITICAL FEEDBACK IS DISCOURAGED.  It is a tragic and dangerous self-delusion which often results in such dubious claims such as: Wearing pajamas at Wal-Mart is OK, or “If she is too dumb to see what a catch you are, then it’s her loss” or “Destroying the enemy force before it reaches the capital isn’t the most important thing… it only matters that you tried” This is destructive thinking.  Anybody who wants to do better… Athletic trainers, military commanders, lawyers, sales people and yes … wait for it… artists… They all understand that not every snowflake is special, and that honest critical feedback is essential for enhancing performance.

History, science, mythology, and often our own painful personal experience should tell us all… many snowflakes are not special… in fact, many snowflakes are trampled, defeated, destroyed, outclassed and/or never ever ever have dates on Saturday night.

So whats my point?  Why does this matter?  Am I ever going to connect this crap to our hobby, and will this essay EVER BECOME INTERESTING?  Well I’m glad you asked!  Spoiler: If you’re not interested yet, STOP READING… this essay doesn’t get any better!

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Now, if you would, I need you to re-read the paragraphs above, and every time you see the word snowflake, replace it with the acronym AFOL.  So for example, the first line of text becomes: “True or False: Every AFOL is special.”   I will now subtly introduce my thesis…

THESIS: AFOLs should abandon the SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE metaphor because it retards our individual improvement, and the improvement of Lego as an art form.

Some inoculatory observations about my thesis:

I restrict my assertion to ADULT fans of Lego.  Passion may be the king of creativity… but age and experience are its wise councilors.  We are adults, and as such we should be more objective, more humble, and maybe more thick-skinned than young builders.     If we are not those things… then we are not being GOOD adults.  Those traits are part of the whole ADULT gig.  Maybe (“maybe” mind you) we should place encouragement above improvement with very young builders (and tell them there MOCs are special… even when they suck).   But for “us AFOLs” we should be ready to challenge, grow, learn, and we should seek to develop one another even as we ask others to develop help us.  Grow up already.

I ASSUME… from the start… that improvement is inherently good.  I KNOW I want to improve, and I assume most other builders do as well.  That desire to improve grows more intense as I see improvement all around me.  Younger builders cranking out MOCs that just plain rock.  Yea… I want to stay relevant, and that is not about achieving a skill level.  It’s about embracing the need to keep developing…until the younger builders catch me, jab my eyes out with broken glass, and leave me for dead in a ditch by the side of the road (Kids!  You gotta love’em right?) .  For some, improvement may be unimportant, and if that is the case, then bail out.  I’m not talking to you.  Grab your purple crayon and go do your own thing Harold.

I KNOW that critical feedback from other builders has been the primary catalyst for my own improvement as a Lego builder, and I assume that the same is true for MOST others.  Critical feedback is not the ONLY catalyst.  There are comparisons we make to what we see on-line, and challenges we issue to ourselves… but external non-sympathetic developmental feedback?  It’s the best.  Sometimes learning means burning!

I OBSERVE that MOST COMMENTS on MOST MOCs in MOST FORUMS tend to be two things: Positive and Superficial.  (Great MOC!  Classic Space FTW!  Cool, check out my MOC!).  A salutary utterance is not without merit… Atta boy!… but like salts, sugars, and fats… we use them way too much.  Leafy greens, get some!

I KNOW that Lego as an art form has improved in the last 20 years.  I BELEAVE that this improvement is not simply the result of new parts and new colors.  Those factors can have an effect on the state of the art… but it is the ARTIST… more than any other factor… which determines the state of the art.   Builders (as a population) are building BETTER than they did 20 years ago, and Lego …as an ART FORM… is richer, more diverse, and just flat-out mo-bettah than it was 20 years ago.

So back to my point.  Why do AFOLs embrace the Special Snowflake paradigm?  Why do so many of us restrict our comments to one word messages of encouragement, and withhold meaningful potentially developmental observations?  Many reasons I suppose… but mostly because we are FEARFUL or LAZY and because we have no TRADITION OF CRITIQUE.

FEAR.  We dread the notion of offending others or looking foolish in public (again, I’m talking about ADULTs here).  We really pander to our fears when it comes to withholding CRITICAL OBSERVATIONS.  Fear of offence.  Fear of appearing presumptuous.  Fear of discouraging a builder we respect.  Fear of being called out as a malicious crap talker or a troll.  Fear of not appearing clever enough.  Lots and lots of fear.  But we escape all those fears simply by adopting the “Every Snowflake is Special” paradigm.  No negative comments means no awkward fears.  They are vanquished from the field… Hurray!  No fear!  It’s ALL GOOD!  But it aint all good.  Not really.

LAZY.  Critique takes effort, and maybe time.  OK, if give us all a big fat bye on the time issue.  We all need more… and we don’t have it.  So ok.  Excuse accepted.  But effort?  Screw that!  You just enjoyed the image.  Your not bound by contract (social or formal).  Your all foot loose… so you can just dance away like Kevin Bacon (Mmm… I WISH you could dance away like that!).  But you are also ADULTs.  In fact… your all AFOLs (See, I know you’re all AFOLs for a fact, because I already said AFOLs are the only people I’m talking to right now… cool trick right?).  So take a second to BE an AFOL.  Think damn you.  Think!  It’s not poetry.  It’s not architecture.  It’s 3 minutes of focused and candid thought.  You respect the builder and you enjoy their work… so sit down, shut up, THINK…and the WRITE!  Be candid, be direct, and show your peers in the hobby some respect!  If leaving a short critique means clicking through fewer images before lunch… then so be it!  Your critique WILL improve the efforts of your peers… what’s your excuse (no, not time… I already gave you a bye for time… what else you got?).

TRADITION.  We DON’T critique one another’s work because we don’t.  Huh?  Yea… we don’t critique because we have no tradition of critique.  Nobody expects it.  It’s not considered part of “normal” behavior.  It’s not like “thankyou” and “please” (I would mention turn signals… but most people already seem to have abandoned that shit as well).  So, it’s simply NOT DONE… but the norms of society do not emerge from the night sky.  They are not randomly occurring natural forces.  They are arbitrary and often deliberate decisions.  We can ADOPT a tradition of critique.  Traditions of critique DO exist in other art forms.  Painting and sculpture.  Architecture and dance.  Why not Lego? Fear, Laziness, and our own habitualized indifference?  Cast off the chains of habit, and make our hobby mo-bettah!

Fact is, we OWE critical feedback to one another.  An artist produces a MOC.  They publish it.  We look at it and are delighted, inspired, or maybe just touched on some emotional level.  Maybe the art communicates a message to us.  Maybe we are enriched.  OK, most often we are simply amused for a few moments… but still!  Even THAT is something to be thankful for right?

So, when we gain some small benefit from the work of another… we should repay that debt.  We respect the artist who took the chance (the chance of public rejection).  What is an easy way to repay this debt?  A check?  Chocolates in a box?  A nude photo?  No, that’s all crap.  Besides, there are already nude photos of Keith all over the internet (Keith even has nude photos of Kevin Bacon).  So what’s the point?

We SHOULD leave a short critical comment on a MOC we like because it is a sign of respect, or gratitude, and maybe… because we want to help one another improve.  What?  If we are in fact ADULT fans of Lego, then we can (and SHOULD) communicate with each other respectfully about one another’s work.   It’s not presumptuous, it’s not arrogant, and it’s not unwarranted.

Reality check: I’m talking about respectful and honest communication between adults here.  I’m not talking about some kind of over the top Marxist Struggle Session!  I’m not talking about ritual humiliation or ignoring the good in order to highlight the bad.  CRITIQUE is about objectivity and seeing both the good and the potential for improvement (nobody should try to fix what aint broke!).  That’s just a bunch of crazy talk!

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Look at it this way:  Keith offers LOTs of critique, and it is well received.  Why?  Because he is well-known?  Yea, maybe.  Because he phrases it pretty well?  Yea probably that too.  But ALSO… because MOST builders WANT critique. The fact that it comes from Keith is not really the important part.  Most of us WANT feedback.  Cast aside your doubts (or excuses) about not being an expert.  Bitches please!  None of us are “experts” (except maybe Schwartz… I mean… good god that guy can build!).  There is no national council on MOC critique.  No exam.  No license.   The artist has thrown their work up before your eyes… and THAT qualifies you!  Houston reports: You are a GO for critique!  Further, there is no WRONG ANSWER where critique is concerned.  There is good critique and lame critique.  Absolutely!  Just like MOCs.  Good and not so good and some that are downright sucky!  Does the lack of a rule book stop us from building?  Hell no!  We are building all over the dam place.  So let it be with the ART OF CRITIQUE!  If you build… and I build… then I say bring it!  We are peers, equals, colleagues… just like that!  Equals.  I post my work IN ORDER to invoke your opinions (and I cast a side long glance at any who post, yet claim to be indifferent to the opinions of others).

One last thing about this notion of being an AFOL.  I have tossed the term around in a decidedly liberal fashion in this essay.  ADULT fan of Lego.  If you think the title is anchored in your age… your wearing blinders.  On line… nobody has any age.  We are mixed up and anonymous and many of us lie about everything… gender, age, ethnicity… In the end, we have no choice but to judge one another BY OUR CONDUCT.  Are you young and want to be treated with more respect?  Step up your game.  Are you treated like a child despite your age? Might want to think about the cause for that.  On line, ADULT is just a mindset.  So set your mind.

I wrote this… rant?  Tirade?  Drivel?  Specifically in order to solicit response from any or all of you.  I specifically call out Matt Rowntree, Simon Liu, and… Mmmm… Carter Baldwin.  You guys all have specific insights that are indispensable to this dialogue.   Am I wrong?  Did I overlook crucial considerations?  Rowntree… I know you got SOMETHING to say on this topic.  And of course, to ANYBODY with an opinion, or a “yea but” or a “Classic Space FTW!”… Bring it!  Put me in my place!  Highlight my blind spots, my prejudices (and my rugged good looks!).  Like many dead Greek guys, I think the truth lies intact and hidden within honest dialogue.

Above all,

Attack!

50 thoughts on “Fire for Effect: Unique is not Special

  1. Well that was epic. Kickass!

    IMO, the easiest starting step for providing better feedback is just making your “like” specific. Categorically force yourself to replace “I love this MOC!” with “I love [this specific part, this specific aspect]”. It forces you to go through the mental critique process you were describing, and the receiver-of-feedback will hugely value the specificity. No risks other than needing more time, and the process may cause your *own work* to improve too.

    From the other side, if as a builder you want serious feedback, I don’t believe you’re every going to get it by just blasting images to Flickr. I find the effective approach is to find someone whose expertise you respect, and personally ask them to critique. This works even better if you have a WIP, and even more better if the person you’re asking is Dutch. Keep trying until you locate someone that’s gives you the level of direct + valuable honesty you’re after.

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    1. Thanks Nick.

      Yea, I agree with both your points.

      When you like something, take a moment and ask yourself why? Specify your general reactions. As you mention, such thinking can come back around and guide your own future efforts. Critique as a form of self improvement.

      And your second point: If you want it… then ask for it. A trusted mentor or a fellow traveler can be a great help. But you gotta get out there and look for those people, and… be ready to be that person for somebody else.

      Rock on man!

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  2. This definitely raises some interesting points… but a part of me wonders if they apply, at least for the moment.

    Why isn’t critique happening in afoldom as it does in other art forms? My guess is because while there’s plenty of afols building, there’s not too many to look at it as an art for; and even more so, they’re not looking at themselves as artists. Therefore there are not many hopes, not many expectations; it’s a hobby, something to have fun and pass the time. Maybe they see it as an art form in others’ builds, but not in theirs. But that’s just my guess, I can very well be wrong.

    There’s also… I’d refrain from calling it tradition, let’s call it “adaptation”. When I entered this world, what I saw everywhere were the comments you mentioned. As a newcomer and really terrible builder, last thing I was going to do was offer critique; in fact I was so fascinated by most above average builds, I wasn’t even seeing the negative side. So I just went with the flow and in eventually got used with it as the norm. I simply “adapted” to it. This didn’t even cross my mind until Keith brought this up… but looking back this definitely was a part of it.

    Now unto the subject of critique… YES it’s that important. I only have to look back to Mocathlon to see it’s importance; the critique I’ve received from my team definitely made me step it up and lead to some of the best builds I’ve done this year.

    But I also wouldn’t dismiss “positive and superficial” comments; especially for a newcomer. They may be the only thing that keeps that builder going. Frankly without those I don’t know if I’d be building today; looking at my early builds with a critical eye, I’d tear them up (hell, I tend to do that with most builds I do today :)) ). Encouragement is just as important as critique in my eyes; while it may not lead to improvement, it can be beneficial in the long run.

    I’d say in time we’ll get there. We’ll figure out a balance. And this blog and the way it is embraced is proof of that.

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  3. Absurd,

    You touch on several points that are difficult for me to keep in mind.

    “Encouragement is just as important as critique.”

    I think your view is closer to the larger shared truth than my own decidedly aggressive approach. I know a few guys who can not differentiate between critique and personal attack. When you say of the positive comments: “They may be the only thing that keeps that builder going” I think you are spot on.

    For me? Critique is like a scrimmage game between members of the same team. Partners working to hone one another’s skill. Like sparing with friends in preparation for a competitive boxing match (Wait… I’ve never boxed with anybody in my life! To hell with that!). The point is that I am often mired in my own sensibilities. For me, critique registers as respect. But for others… if this notion of “Constructive Friction” is not known to them, then the critique quickly becomes a caustic force. Not developmental at all, but on the contrary, it becomes a discouraging and eventually destructive force.

    I also think you are correct in regards to adaptation. We all mimic what we observe when we are trying to integrate. This adaptation is a huge part of the whole mechanics of culture. It is also the largest challenge to change. I hope you are right about the hobby moving in that direction.

    Thanks for the feedback man!

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  4. Yeah no, you are wrong. Talking stuff without actually having proper experience in the other side.

    So what am I talking about? If there is a critical and progressive person in the LEGO building community, a guy who idealizes MOCing and wants it to flourish at all costs, that would be me. Sounds pretty narcissistic, and it should. After pushing out of the mass and getting a bit of a following, I had everything I ever wnated so there was nothing to lose. No fear, started doing critical comments. Big mistake, almost got banned on MOCpages. Yea, at least as far as MOCpages goes, people do not “want” improvement, do not “want” critique, they want to feel good. And this is the reason why fear exists too, I guess.

    O.K., second thing. After things calmed down, I started rating MOCs accordingly, on a scale from 1 to 5 (more like 2 to 4, saved the extremes for outstanding stuff). People who got under 4 thought I targetet them personally and took it as an insult. So I stopped rating MOCs completely – it worked out pretty well for me and people receiving comments, but there was something that I could not see at the time… The community seems to be dying out at least on MOCpages (also my local LUG, might be elsewhere too, I heard Eurobricks has it hard), so I had to forsake my honour and progressive mindset to help the community stay alive.

    Yea, I guess keeping people interested by mindless encouragement helps more than hating off 90% and improving the remaining 10%.

    Apologies for pushing MOCpages to the front of the debate, but it is my home and FlickR is not a place where the community should even be (no beginners can ever progress there, cause they aint never get found). + FlickR group system sucks. + Forums are outdated. Yeah, we are pretty much doomed without a proper, functional, non-picture-butchering, LEGO-only site with a good group and comment system.

    P.S.: sorry for making this comment so unfocused and unprofessional (but the essay rant is not much better anyways), I just improvised and probably missed most of my points completely. Cheers!

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    1. There really should be a whole article on MocPages vs Flickr … it’d make an interesting reading.

      … From my perspective, I would like to argue it’s actually easier to be spotted, and progress on Flickr than on MocPages. But that’s not to say that people from MocPages might be easier to spot when they’re on Flickr ….

      For about 2 years I actively searched new worlds and new civilizations looking find those new builders. And It was fairly easy on Flickr – if you knew where to look. LEGO Group, people’s fav’s , targeted group searches.

      While the Manifesto seems surprisingly disproportionately have roots in MocPages, I would think for usual ‘progression’ special snowflakes seems to have roots in Flickr – or at least when they shifted into the Flickr platform.

      Though I think alot depends on which platform you started with, as it’s much easier to navigate your native land than a foreign one. I can find things extremely quick on flickr, and know where to hang out. But MocPages, try as I might, I’ve had a hard time navigating. And Trust me, I’ve tried / bet that I could spot new talent there. And to the best of my recollection there was only a single case where I spotted someone from MocPages, prior to Flickr – and that was Mr. Tim S – which was a hilarious story in itself when I tried to contact him via MocPages.

      I think a greater insight and question is – is MocPages an ‘incubator’ of snowflakes to take on the larger community? There seems to be quite the cast of characters that started off in the relative saftey that is MocPages before hitting flickr and beyond. Do people that start on MocPages have an edge TO get more noticed and progress faster than if they would have otherwise just started on Flickr?

      or is it less to do with the platform itself, and more WHATS ON IT. Specifically – MOCathalon. We’ve talked about it here before, but that really is a massive catalyst. Chicken or the Egg? Are mocpages builders more adapted to life on Flickr because they’ve ON MocPages? Or because they’ve done MOCathalon?

      Despite having only competed once, I’m a massive proponent of MOCathalon (I’m so sorry Matt). The great irony is that some of my best friends from the community was a direct result of MOCathalon, and not just MY team, but my RIVALS – which I’m closer to now than my actual team.

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      1. Simon,
        “There really should be a whole article on MocPages vs Flickr … it’d make an interesting reading.”

        Noted for a later date. Thanks!

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      2. Sorry for what? Or was that a drive-by Canadian apology? Sorey, eh. Don’t know what that’s aboot. 😀

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  5. Herr Otiosus!
    You honor me with your candor! “After pushing out of the mass and getting a bit of a following, I had everything I ever wnated so there was nothing to lose.” Way to embrace it brother!

    I will not address your observation at the generic level, but at the personal level, because I have observed your feedback style for a long time.

    Your STYLE of communication can be quite abrupt at times. This abrupt tone may be a cultural artifact, or a result of your personal style. Either way, it often comes across as “clipped”. Short. Almost mean.

    NOTE! I do not question the CONTENT of your comments! Just your style of delivery. Emotions matter in this process. We may consider people to be overly sensitive, or defensive… but in the end, our critique must be judged (In part) on weather or not we can affect the behavior of others. Put differently, if your audience is offended, your message will be lost. If you yell into somebodies face that the building is on fire… they might ignore the warning and simply yell back at you. In messaging, style can trump substance (even though that’s not logical).

    Im glad you invoked MOCpages. It was my home as well. I have abandond my home world because it had indeed become a wasteland. Peopled largely by self righteous home schooled Christian zealots and a culturally self absorbed orthodoxy. Many of civilizations basic skills (meaningful communication, respect, complete sentences, religious tolerance) are lost to that once mighty island nation. It is only a matter of time before they resort to cannibalism… skulking through the abandoned streets… hunting down and killing off the weaker members of the tribe and then eating them.

    MOCpages is an excellent example of the fate that could very easily befall MOST internet Lego forums. The AFOLs there often used to complain about the younger builders. How rambunctious they were. How annoying. And yet the same AFOLs, so angry with the state of affairs… DID NOTHING to shape the culture. Instead of engaging younger builders, mentoring them, attempting to encourage, teach, or otherwise educate or influence them… these AFOLs withdrew from the young builders. They disengaged and withdrew to one “Private Group” after another. Slamming door after door in the face of the new comer. Seldom bothering to review the MOCs of young builders. Seldom challenging the change in culture (it really was a friendly place once!).

    The young builders were left alone to install their own rules, and they did. Now the place sounds and smells like a grade school play yard. Its like Cathedral in Logans Run.

    But I can not bring myself to blame the young ones who invented their own culture. It’s Lord of the Flies baby! Where were we? Watching from our towers… congratulating one another on our most recent builds… even as our numbers plummeted… even as the AFOL population virtually died out.

    I think you saw me wrestling with the trend yes? Fighting… not preaching. Running groups designed to integrate, to bridge gaps, to provide forums for engagement. Groups designed to foster communication and critique. I did OK I think… but eventually I realized I was not really relevant in terms of the larger MOCpages culture. A bitter pill to swallow. The notion of small personal successes that don’t not really matter.

    Looking left and right… nothing but decadent disengagement and signs that read “you can come in here”. Yes, some like minded thinkers… but enough to stem the flood of Atlantis? Nope. I build a raft and washed up on these rocky shores.

    Deus, your assertion that most young builders don’t’ WANT critique is off the mark. Yes, they also want praise, and yes, they also want to feel good. But judgment…. YOUR JUDGMENT…and YOUR ABILITY TO TEACH… plays a decisive role in the process. Young builders DO LOOK TO YOU FOR DIRECTION. As the elder… don’t be to motivated by YOUR OWN desire for praise. Just try to be a good teacher.

    My worry is that MOCpages is an indicator of the state of the hobby at large. We can EFFECT the situation, and the direction of change in this community. But will we?

    Its ALWAYS gratifying to hear from you man! You bring the fire.

    Attack!

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  6. One point that I forgot to mention is that I am not actually giving up. I will sink together with MOCpages (or have already?). So yeah, I am actually doing my part. Honestly, all one needs to do is be good and upload on MOCpages, problem solved. That is not happening due to technical reasons, to be honest.

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    1. I’m afraid the technical reasons are just the tip of the iceberg. Sean has absolutely no desire, and reason for that matter, to actually improve the site. He’s left it up to all of us to either keep it afloat or scuttle the bitch.

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    2. Right on. Just don’t let MOCpages (or any other site) be your whole Lego world. It’s a house, not a home. The house you live in might collapse… and when that happens, you move into another house… and make it into your home. You, your skills, and your values are the home… MOCpages is a house… the house of Usher!

      http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/poestories/section3.rhtml

      Perhaps like the narrator of that dark tale, you will only be able to escape when the house finally crumbles to the ground.

      Until then, fight the fight!

      Rock on man!

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  7. I really don’t know where to begin other than, Thank You, Mike! This is precisely what I was talking about when referring to giving and taking critique.

    Much like L’etranger, I came into the hobby astounded by the style and artistry; however, I came from a critical background where the conversation was just as important as the art itself. In fact, it WAS the Art. Art (with a capital “A”) is a process, art (lowercase) is just the products that get dropped off along the way. Art is not in the eye of the beholder, it is in the mind of the creator. And that is where the conversation begins. When it communicates to and through the medium, that is when the conversation begins with the viewer. And in this case, each snowflake is definitely NOT special. Unique? Yes. But I’ll go several more and say that each snowflake has validity, soundness, and logic based on each snowflake’s experience. Even if chemically they are the same, there is a life lived that CAN NEVER be shared or even conceptualized fully by another. It can also never be expressed enough to completely and wholly relate to, empathize with, have sympathy for, or understand totally (I was kicked out of many religion classes back in the day while running with this pair of scissors in hand.) So every snowflake is unique indeed, and THAT is its value.

    How then do you cash in on that value? Respect. It’s not just a nice ideal and a bitchen song by Aretha, it is a vital component for all this communication to be successful. There are builders out there that do not show respect in there critiques; therefore, those builders being critiqued have instinctual, reflexive, defensive walls immediately go up and whatever was said harmlessly falls away ignored and the conversation ends. Same when the builder being critiqued is so thin-skinned that every comment is deemed trolling or the builder thinks that every work is a masterpiece and cannot be improved upon. Again, the conversation ends. The process is retarded and learning ceases. Growth and expansion stop and it then becomes the product that is the focus. As someone that works directly with artists in the actual art world of bronze sculpture, I can say with authority that this is what has destroyed art by making it a commodity (I will refrain from any further dissertations regarding the “real” art world. Just know that I’ve refined and honed my cynicism, sarcasm, and hatred honestly.)

    LEGO holds such an odd place in human history as a medium in comparison to “legitimate” art. Who thinks back fondly about the oil paints they played with as a toddler? Who reminisces about welding steel as a child? (Other than me, but I’m weird.) Who remembers molding modelling clay around an armature as a youth? Blowing glass? Pouring molten bronze? Woodworking furniture? I could probably count them all on one hand. But who remembers building LEGO as a kid? It’s universal, catholic you might say. It is our religion of choice and we ALL speak its language fluently. Not only that, but I dare say that if you were to drop off a bucket of bricks in the most primitive of cultures, as soon as they put two pieces together, they would instantly understand and be able to communicate (the human brain appreciates simplicity and will thank you for it.)

    And now that can be done across the globe (depending on your slow as fucking hell ISP. grrr.) The LEGO community online rivals any Art community to have ever existed. EVER. And it’s not simply due to the nostalgia LEGO evokes, creativity is human nature at its best. And we ALL want a piece of that action. And we have all found out that it ain’t easy but it’s not as difficult, expensive, or painful as the other art forms and it’s readily available (god bless BL!) There are new techniques daily, new pieces to add to our language, new software to help with presentation. As creatures of habit, we NEED to learn as much as possible. That requires a bit of listening. And a whole lot of knowing that there is more things in heaven and earth, reader, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. All us AFOLs, and FOLs by and large, have a NEED to create, you could even call it an itch that needs to be scratched. And we NEED to get feedback on our endeavors to know that the work is working and the process is progressing.

    This process has to be refined, critique must become THAT vital tool in EVERY artists palette (LEGO or otherwise.) A very simple way to think of the Art (capital “A” again = process) is to look at comic books (seriously one of the best examples and easily recognizable.) There is a frame of art (lowercase) and it shows the character, story, action, dialog, etc. Then there is the next frame of art that shows the continuation of everything before. The actual Art is the line in between. What was it that got the artist to the next frame? What is next? WHAT IS NEXT?! If critique is given from the point of reference of the current art, then the conversation can begin. If the artist takes that and shows progress into the next art, the conversation is a success. The art may not be, but the Art is. Make sense?

    What must happen is that “like” button must then be a promise to explain why rather than an easy out for us the viewer and an easy fix for the builder, as Nick alluded to. And gamut travelers like “awesome” or “totally awesome” should be filed appropriately in the toilet of uselessness. As Mike said, if you like it then show some respect and explain why. What works, what doesn’t, what might have been a better option in our language, what might be next, what does it say to the individual viewer, what does it represent of our culture at this moment in time, what can legitimize this in the eyes of the art world that looks down on this as nothing more than a hobby filled with geeks and nerds who know nothing of the pleasures of sitting in a darkened room looking at slides after lunch with an a/c blowing on the back of their neck while awakening startled at the massive drool stain dripping from their Art History 201 desk.

    We all took the time to view the moc and the builder took the time to build, realize, and post; we should respectfully take the time to review it rather than adapt to what is expected and easy. I agree that simple encouragement and positive comments will go a long way towards new and younger builders, but it needs to be a skill of the critic to understand the audience. Taking the time to critique a build with respect and honesty will go a whole hell of a lot further than hitting the “like” button. You won’t get very far through the cluster of builds coming down the pike, but isn’t that the point? If you “like” them all, then the art becomes like every other snowflake and certainly nothing special.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, brother rowntRee!
      I was going to chastise at length if you did not jump in on this. But jump in you did… and in a shiny gold lycra unitard no less!

      You hit a lot of good points man.

      “so thin-skinned that every comment is deemed trolling or the builder thinks that every work is a masterpiece and cannot be improved upon. Again, the conversation ends. The process is retarded and learning ceases.”

      Yea baby! A huge part of my point. We talk about “the build” or “the MOC” all the time. But what we crave is “the conversation”. We often don’t realize it… but we (humans) love to learn. Our ultimate survival adaptation is claws! No, wait… Excellent night vision!.. No that’s not it… Acid venom! Sucker cups on our fingers! Super acute hearing… no no NO! It’s CULTURE…which is nothing less than…all learned behaviors. No learning = no culture = extinction. We love to learn, because we are the learning animals. And that LEARNING PROCESS happens during “the conversation”. I tired learning with pheromones once… like ants? It didn’t work. Turns out the ants can’t engage in conversation either. Uncultured dicks…

      Then there is this part about Lego being unique in history.

      “Blowing glass? Pouring molten bronze? Woodworking furniture? I could probably count them all on one hand. But who remembers building LEGO as a kid? It’s universal, catholic you might say.”

      It’s a cool observation. Lego overlaps with the petro industrial era and the information revolution in a way NO other medium does. Plus… I kind of like your use of “catholic” as a synonym for universal. Everybody knows the catholic deal… even if you aint catholic. Bless you my child.

      And then you’re all… “As creatures of habit, we NEED to learn as much as possible.”

      Everybody get foot loose!

      But then you pop off with…

      And gamut travelers like “awesome” or “totally awesome” should be filed appropriately in the toilet of uselessness.

      And so I’m all…Hey ease up brother, lets consider Absurdes earlier comment:

      “But I also wouldn’t dismiss “positive and superficial” comments; especially for a newcomer. They may be the only thing that keeps that builder going.”

      I’m throwing in with Absurde on this point. Every scrap of speech has it’s time and place. Sometimes “Your killing it dude!” is the right call. You say as much, a few lines later”

      “I agree that simple encouragement and positive comments will go a long way towards new and younger builders, but it needs to be a skill of the critic to understand the audience.”

      And again, this talks to what I told Deus about critique as a message. Offend the audience and your message is lost.

      You and Absurde both bring a genuine understanding of Art which I lack. I am focused on conduct, development, and communication… but the real Art aspect of this topic? That is one of my blind spots. Thanks to you both for shoring that up.

      An itch that needs to be scratched you say? Huh…

      Attack!

      Like

  8. Mr. Rutherford, that was legendary. Your unmatched skills in presentation and articulation have created a beautiful essay that will forever be a reference for me in this ever changing hobby of ours.

    Absurde makes a point that rings true with me. In that the Afol culture as a whole tends to turn from thoughtful critique and guidance and leans more towards ego and superficial praise, all because in general, Afols don’t see their work as art or themselves as artists. I think one of the hardest challenges this hobby has faced and will face is that it is, at its most basic level, plastic bricks adored and played with by children worldwide. That each member of the community in even a small way still feels that Lego is still only a toy.

    Like I have said before, Lego is not often considered art. Art is an incredibly vast and often frustrating topic, but nonetheless, I feel that most Lego builds are not considered art because they aren’t. Developing in this hobby, I have seen this in my own progression. We see things built out of Lego we never thought possible. We see the creative freedom and realization from our childhood perfected into something a lot less multi colored and clean. And we try to do the same. Because good builds look COOL. Castles, spaceships, characters, cities, etc., all gloriously captured in the brick. We build in our favorite themes or theme and take pictures of it, put it on a white background and post it online. We get praise and ego boosts and we often take offense at critique because we don’t need to get better, our build is COOL, and that was all we wanted, that was the final destination for our build. It satisfies our imagination, ego, and other people like it too. But there is a problem with things that are “COOL”. It is easy to make something that is ‘cool’. In fact, most AFOL builds are pretty ‘cool’. Its ‘cool’ to see iconic things built from Lego.

    On the contrary, it is hard to make something meaningful. It takes time, emotion, and some extra creative process. You can tell the difference between something cool (other describing words include awesome, epic, fun) and something meaningful ( powerful, emotional, moving, thought provoking). The same way you can tell the difference between Lawrence of Arabia and a Super Bowl commercial.

    Now for fear of letting this become unrelated to the article above, I will just say that I think an AFOL culture more focused on meaningful builds will save and revitalize a slowly declining hobby. Meaningful builds, well, mean something. They bring and emotion, a memory, a sense. They tell stories, whisper secrets, or leave you hanging. And none of that has to include ‘symbolically metaphorical’ builds with bizarre imagery and over the top symbols. I find that some of the most powerful and meaningful symbolism is found in simple things. I can think of so many builds that if changed every so slightly, presented differently, would become powerful artistic statements.

    Art in its purest form is a statement from the artist. A way for an artist to open themselves and their thoughts and feelings to the viewer. That being said, a true artist is LOOKING for meaningful critique and discussion, because art itself is to open oneself up to other opinions and mindsets. If more builders were focused on expression instead of views or ‘coolness’, we would see more individual builders that are truly unique. That push the boundaries of Lego and go against the tide of normalcy within the hobby. Because while not all AFOL’s are unique and special when it comes down to it, not one of us sees the world exactly the same as each other, which means there is infinite POSSIBILITY for each AFOL to be unique.

    In perspective, the hobby is still incredibly young. There is great potential for change in Afol culture, and I daresay the KeithLug Manifesto could be the standard bearer for some future revolution.

    Just some thoughts.

    Like

    1. That’s an excellent points Kyle – coolness is at the heart of what most of us perceive as ‘job well done’.

      While ‘meaningful’ sounds nice, and would be amazing to achieve, I’m not sure if a shift to ‘meaningful’ builds would necessarily save the declining hobby (is it really declining?). The problem with ‘meaningful’ is as you describe is that it’s hard to do. It requires a an incredible amount of effort to provide a powerful symbolic build that hits home. And a lot of it seems to be less build or skill dependent, but more timing. Looking back at what I would consider my more moving and evokative builds, are all based around events – generally very depressing ones. Paying tributes to those that have fallen to horrible things.

      A rare positive one that I could think of wasn’t even a build at all … it was a stack of trophies I posted on Facebook with a message from the heart.

      Non-event based builds, which Keith has highlighted wonderfully earlier last week, seem to be also on the morbid side, and I wouldn’t want us to start pumping out more – thus dampening their impact.

      Maybe ‘meaningful’ might not be the best phrase – maybe ‘significant’ builds, which could encompass meaningful. ‘Significant’ builds can be things that leads or changes the path of progress in the community – Paul’s Modular Interior would be a great example of possibly leading to an earlier untapped theme. Similar to Jacob’s GARC (that was carefully choreographic) to start off that micro crazy. … plus I can’t wait till we actually build a massive SHIP layout based around Paul’s’ standard.

      But going back to the plebeian builds – we still on for that ‘Cool’ build for BrickCon ? 😉

      Like

      1. Outstanding points made by both Simon and Kyle. I would contend that it is still the art that is the focus rather than the Art in the case of something being cool, meaningful, and/or significant. That is the product and not necessarily the process.

        Telling the community to shift towards high art for legitimacy sake is total masturbation And would in fact be detrimental in the end. What critique actually does is refine the Art rather than the art. This goes then towards a shift in the artist and the audience mindsets to a point where we are no longer reinventing the wheel, rehashing clones on a plate, or regurgitating boiler-plates. But sometimes a wheel can be cool, a clone on a plate can be meaningful, and boiler plate can have significance much in the same way that Lawrence of Arabia has some corny moments that don’t quite work and as some Superbowl ads have emotional creativity.

        The medium we have all chosen to fully immerse ourselves in holds potential, as much as paint, clay, and metal. The perception of it still being a toy should never be taken as a negative connotation, it’s the icing on the cake. It is what makes this so universal. And to say that we are not artists because we build for the wow factor or just simply to make something cool is rather absurd. Van Gogh’s Sunflower was painted SOLELY as decoration for his buddy Paul Gauguin’s visit, not to harbor a $39,900,000.00 price tag or be a definitive statement of High Art. It was a painting executed flawlessly based on his own conversation with himself and the totality of experience and skill he brought to the canvas.

        Just as Vinnie created a simple painting that may have been cool, meaningful, and/or significant to himself, those aspects still only concern the end product. It is always what is next that should be the goal. And by definition, it will always be difficult, frustrating, brutal, emotive, and exposing. But in the end it is the only thing that can fully satisfy our need to scratch that creative itch.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Kyle!
      Your thoughts makes my spirit soar like… like… CHIMA!

      You nailed a lot of good points here.

      You clutched into Absurdes point that we (most AFOLs) don’t think of ourselves as artists. I agree, his point is completely correct and completely relevant. And I don’t imagine changing that reality. Lego is FIRST and ABOVE ALL a toy. It is in practice, more about PLAY than ART. (I had to go to a meeting while writing this… and by the time I come back, I see the rowntRee has totally beat me to the punch on this point. Thanks rowntRee… thanks for thinking and writing faster than me… and making me redundant and superfluous. Your killing my Chima man!)
      And YOU and SIMON are both quite correct when you say that for most of us… it is THE RULE OF COOL. Yea, cool = success… that is the reality (and will remain so).

      “We get praise and ego boosts and we often take offense at critique because we don’t need to get better, our build is COOL, and that was all we wanted, that was the final destination for our build.”

      Where rowntRee says basically, that we should focus on the dialogue… the Art… My point is that most of us still want to be “Mo-bettah”. Even if our motives are base… mo-cooler, mo-hits, mo-praise… we still seek IMPROVEMENT. And further, even if we restrict our discussion to the smaller number of us who want to ENHANCE THE ROLE OF ART IN THE HOBBY… it’s still a large number of builders.

      I don’t disagree with rowntRee, it’s just a question of emphasis.

      Then you hit me with this:

      “I think an AFOL culture more focused on meaningful builds will save and revitalize a slowly declining hobby.”

      Simon, you ask if the hobby is actually in decline. My fear (Fear! The mind killer!) is that YES… the hobby is in decline. Sales is not the hobby. That is the product line, the company, and the amount of PLAY. The Lego PRODUCT is not in decline. The HOBBY as I see it is distinct from the popular toy. The hobby includes play, and popularity, and speculation about the product… but as a lasting activity that encompasses large numbers of adults across languages, countries, and cultures… yes. I think the hobby could very well be approaching its HIGH WATER MARK. The specters of “FAD” and “CRAZE” stalk us. Lego could easily fade… and fall short of it’s POTENTIAL. Not all Lego is or should be Art… and Lego is totally cool without Art… but Art is also cool, and we might get a larger part of the hobby into the realm of Art… and that would be a good thing.

      Reality check: I think critique… good critique… is a valid goal even without bringing Art into it. You guys are right about our self perceptions. I’m not trying to say “If it aint Art… then it’s crap!”

      What I am saying is that a culture that encourages critique is mo-bettah than one that does not… and that right now, we have a culture that by and large discourages that critique. That’s all.

      Kyle, this line had me jumping out of my chair:

      “That push the boundaries of Lego and go against the tide of normalcy within the hobby.”

      Yea, totally! PUSH the boundaries…against the tide. MONEY! Normalcy does not need our help. It’s already… the norm (rim shot!). I am trying to bang the drum for the stand up guys and gals. Not to elevate them to heroic levels… but to say: Get out and push you sukkahs!

      And this also struck me as a very simple and very relevant truth:

      “It’s still an incredibly young hobby”.

      Well said man.
      Attack!

      Like

  9. Keith, “You control the action” couldn’t describe this site more perfectly. I have never found a site that I read EVERY word of, but this is it. Rutherford, Rowntree, and the rest of your daily readers certainly bring food for thought that tastes delicious.

    Well, I’m that guy. And since my point of view is probably different from the rest of yours, I figure I’ll offer up my two cents.

    Unlike (most of) you, I wasn’t raised on Lego, even though 2005 sets stocked the shelves. In my house, Lego was the synonym of pain, broken fingernails, and frustration. I think my parents were right not to feed them to me at a young age, and as such I’ve never seen the brick as a toy. I feel that, along with my natural disposition away from people my age, having Lego as a hobby and refuge more than a play toy has given me an inspiration to look beyond the “home schooled Christian” society of MOCpages that I should, by all logic of heritage and association, embrace as my home.

    But there’s something stagnant and monotonic there, as if activity is a furnace, and the bellows are dusty with misuse. Originality, too, seems to cripple the life in that society. Frankly, I suck at stonework. That’s an area on which I need to dreadfully improve, yet sometimes I feel as if it’s the one loose stepping stone that’s prevented me from walking up the wide, unwelcoming path into that group. So I gave up.

    I think it also helped that my venture into the MOCing world was on Lego Ideas. Now I have a difficult time going back to that site, but at least there my closest acquaintances were adults of moderate popularity. I had the chance to see the passion under the surface for building, that of the AFOLs who I later began to know when I transitioned to MOCpages. Then I ran into Pico van Grootveld, David Roberts, Stephan Niehoff… the rest is history.

    Funny thing is, I still had to get over hurdles to actually find my crowd, the ones I preferred to mingle with. I’m now in a Private Club, populated by AFOLs (and which hasn’t seen a fresh comment in half a year). For the first year of my time on the ‘pages, joining that club was my ultimate goal. I didn’t know then that all it would take was a well-timed request to join. Pico just sent me an invite, simple as that. That’s where I began to see the people behind the names and aliases on the web, reading back through the past 1,111 comments and posts in that group. It was enlightening, but also deeply melancholy, since so much of the interaction and passion seemed to be on the verge of extinction.

    It’s taken some wandering, and a lot of initiative on other people’s part, but I’ve finally found a Lego community where everyone is as passionate and interested about the hobby as I am. Actually, that community is the one right here, on this website. I think I could count the members of this group on my fingers and toes. I know Keith or anyone else could give a better estimate as to their number, but it’s small. Yet there’s honesty to be found here, champions of a more healthy Lego society. I think Rutherford’s assessment is appropriate for everyone here: “You [all] bring the fire.”

    You know, after writing all this crap that I’m sure several of you were courteous enough to read through, I don’t even know who or what I was trying to address. But now that you know my history, I would like to add my voice to the topic at hand, at least to give this comment something along the lines of relevance.

    For me, constructive criticism, slander, praise, and flat-out rejection are far better than the ambivalent passivity of most comments, or individual likes. I am always thrilled to see recurring faces comment on my work, but rarely will a comment inspire me to try something more. I have so little time to build that I try to plan, strategically, how to develop as a builder the most with the least use of resources. It is often not fun and barely endurable, and posting a creation to the web which receives virtually no recognition, all because of minor flaws no one wants to teach me how to improve upon.

    And I won’t go looking for handouts. Possibly, I will ask for advice or suggestion, but I aim to forge my own way as a builder. And here I am, writing all these words for someone to consider. Not to aid my own pride, by any means, or to try to cheer me up. But certainly, there’s something to be said from someone in the middle of it all. I’ll have a moment of vanity, and say that’s me. I’m that guy.

    So, I’m a snowflake. I’m unique, and I daresay more unique than many builders.

    I’ll never be special, because special presumes I’m better. And that’s not the truth.

    And yesterday I finished sorting my collection. Today, I discover that there’s a mass of pieces left to sort, all the pieces and beliefs and preferences and motives that make up today’s AFOL community. But that’s the beauty of an Art like this. There’s always one extra piece to sort, isn’t there? The job is never done. This hobby is a gift that keeps on taking.

    In closing, I have to appreciate everyone who read this post. You’re why I’m here. You’re why I look back, years into history, to try to uncover the golden era of the AFOL. To me, you’re living legends. But you aren’t special.

    You just care enough to leave a comment, and read another one.

    Like

    1. I would challenge that the golden era has yet to be realized. We can all think fondly back to those builds and builders that have inspired us, but it must always be what is next that drives us. This is not optimism, it is evolution (and it is damn near always painful and difficult, and in our case brutal to sort.) What makes an era golden is when the experiences of the past meet the visions of the future to elevate the now.

      Like

    2. Vackkron,

      You suggest at several points that in the process of writing your post that you have looked back and inventoried, reviewed, or otherwise taken stock of your time so far, as an AFOL. You allude to shifts in your outlook, changes in your perspective. Development. Growth. I don’t think I am stretching your words when I label the process you describe as a maturation? The notion that anything I wrote might have helped to stimulate any such self-examination is very rewarding to me. Thanks for that.

      It’s a very candid bit of self-evaluation, which sets the stage for your actual response to my assertions. I like that deliberate stage setting. It’s important for our audience to know where we are coming from. You do a good job of orienting us before carving out your position on the issue at hand. Bravo man.

      Your position suggests that we differ at the bedrock level. The assumptions which inform our “start points” are not only different, but even opposed. Regard:

      “I’ll never be special, because special presumes I’m better. And that’s not the truth.”

      I counter:

      Wrong. You ARE BETTER than some. (it’s important to remember here… that we are talking about the narrow topic of building with Lego… not our overall value as human beings!)
      If I were to accept your assertion that you are NOT BETTER than some, then it follows that I would have to accept one of TWO other possibilities:

      1. You are not better than some because you are the WORST Lego builder on Earth. I reject this possibility with an indignant scoff (Yes! Scoff I say!). Good god man! There are so many SUCKY MOCs out there… I assure you… I promise solemnly to you… that if they had a competition for the SUCKYEST (SUCKYIST? SUCK-EE-EST? Builders who SUCK THE MOST!) then you sir, would not even make it into the first rounds! Your building skill would eliminate you from the suck fest early on! You wouldn’t even make it past the county level SUCK FEST competitions! Your SUCKING is WEAK. You are way to GOOD a builder to SUCK that bad. VACKKRON = WORST? ASSERTION REJECTED!

      2. You are not a better than some because all builders are equal. Equal in rights? Yes. Equal in human dignity? Sure. Dignity! I dig it! But equal in SKILL? NOPE. Some builders build crap… built crap as kids… built crap as college students… and build crap today as CEOs, parents, or even grandparents! The good news is that we can DECIDE to improve. Decide to develop. We can train, work out, study, learn, grow. THAT is the point. We can build, or we can STRIVE TO BUILD BETTER.

      Runners in a race… one will win, others will come close, and a few will come in much later. All are competitors. All strive. All are in the fight and I salute them, one and all. But that thing about being the fastest? That is a thing. A real and meaningful thing. And not everybody comes in first…ERGO… not everybody is special… BUT some runners are. In fact… the entire top 49 percent are BETTER than the last 51 percent, and all are BETTER than the guy behind them. There placing is not fixed. Not assigned. The guy who came in 4th today may move up to 3rd or 2nd in tomorrows race. Do they WANT to? Do they KNOW they can?

      Victory in battle. Closing the sale. Getting the girl. Winning the election (I suddenly feel ill…). These are examples of the relationship between OPERATIONAL IMPERATIVES and HUMAN IDEALS. Lions that catch antelope eat. Lions that don’t catch the antelope starve… so do their little lion cubs. So… even though all the lions respect each other (down at the Lions Club?) only some will survive. Survivors are special. Or phrased differently: Only the special survive? Maybe survival is special?

      Stratification based on skill DOES NOT compromise the universal values of human dignity, or respect. Those are valuable and maybe even sacred or universal human (Cultural) concepts. But make no mistake my friend: nature gets a vote as well. Mother Nature is part of the same world where we all walk around and extol virtuous cultural ideas. And she is intolerant of organisms that do not, in their own unique way… strive to survive.

      Vackkron, you are BETTER and that IS the truth.

      Deal.

      Like

  10. Speaking of how many people read the blog… I am getting the feeling like this is more like a forum or something. Might be wrong though, but it is always the same ones who coment and we do so quite often, makes it feel like there is nobody else here.

    Like

    1. It is a valid point to be sure. It is a new blog and one that rivals the others by content alone. The forum aspect is one that is a healthy and very necessary departure from the status quo of the more showcase blogs like TBB. Those are equally valid and necessary, but this gives voice to our itch. The great thing about something like this that Keith has created is that the rash will spread in due time, others will eventually pipe in to be heard. The most that can be hoped for is that the reader listens and takes something away from it whether or not they add to the choir/dissent. Keith has built it, they will come.

      Like

    2. Remember man, the vast majority of any population is usually silent. Compare HITS to COMMENTS on the platform of your choice. The ratio is always massively heavy on the hit side. Silent viewing. It’s the norm. Further, remember that this is still a young platform. Keith doesn’t even know what he wants it to be (So typical of his “organic” or “emergent” approach to all projects!).

      I do agree that a vocal minority has already formed… but Keith DOES NOT play favorites. He WANTS more people to chime in. (our banter gets tired pretty quickly!).

      In fact, I will piss him off right now by saying: If you (yea, you… anybody!) want to share an idea… write it up and send it to Keith. He WILL read it. He doesn’t give a rats ass about your street cred. If it is a good essay, he will edit it, and he will post it. (If he thinks it’s crap… well… then he won’t… duh!).

      I predict a long shallow growth curve for this site. The growth will be slow because Keith doesn’t really like to billboard or pimp his action. But the content is unique, and many readers enjoy these topics. Like rowntRee says, readers will find stuff here that you wont find on larger sites like PVC Inc. or the Flickr Lego group.

      A year from now, this outhouse will be the size of a public bathroom!

      Like

  11. I’m a special snowflake.
    At least in the LEGO community.
    It’s true, and if you know me, you’d agree. I won’t deny it.
    But what you don’t know is I actually really dislike it.

    Like Deus, I came and I conquered. But much less like Caesar Deus, and more like an infection. I didn’t mean to do it, it just kinda got loose and happened… enabling me to try and do more and more things that was afforded to me by my so called street cred.

    It’s been such a short time for me in the community that it’s very easy to remember back to the early days – the early feedback I got. The discussions I engaged in, my own MocAthalon Team (still undefeated!) and I’m ashamed to say I used to comment, A LOT. And even despite my super noobiness, I did tend to have some good comments and creative criticisms as outlined by some of the above, but sadly again – Mike has hit it on the head in that I got lazy and it’s tough. It’s a lot of work to sit down and positively critique and comment on things. Not just ‘why I don’t like it’ but also ‘what could you do to make it better’.

    And I think being a special snowflake commenting helped people swallow the critique pill. I’m Canadian, Eh, so there’s a certain politeness I tend to (try to) apply when commenting in public, coupled with said street cred I think it was well received. But it is a lot of work.

    On the flip side, as my credibility rose, a proportional decline in people criticizing my own builds. I yearn for those simple days where I get that nugget of truth and slap in the face and I get to grow and improve.

    Nick makes a good point in seeking out comments, I do have a personal subset of people I go to when I’m not sure (or more likely I’m sure, but just don’t want to admit it to myself). They come in and can tell me what’s what. And I’ve had times where I’ve literally been told: “that’s shit, start over”. And I did. And it was much better.

    And of course people seek me out as well – either close friends, or complete strangers. Josiah, featured in the next article, is actually an example of someone who reached out randomly and asked for feedback, which I readily gave – and started our current friendship …

    Which brings me to the main reason why I don’t comment, not that I feel it’s unimportant (quite the opposite), or that I’m lazy (okay this is also pretty true), but I’m freak’n burnt out on commenting and criticism, because, I basically created an entire month devoted to it (now two).

    SHIPtember – while the on the outside the concept doesn’t seem like it, but one of the reasons it was created and structured the way it is, was to foster builders helping builders. It’s why that the posting of WIPs is such a critical part of the month – so that people can see, and have time to provide input and comments. Last year there was probably about 120 SHIPs, on average there might have been 3 updates, that’s about 360 times I’ve commented (not that I keep track) – sometimes it’s a simple pleasantries, but usually trying to reinforce something I particularly like or suggestions on improvement. While many others feel the final SHIPs are the end goal and final product of the month, but to me, it’s more about the journey within month – a time where we collectively come together and take our turns chiming in and helping each other.

    Of the three SHIPs I’ve built, two I had a pretty good sense of where I wanted to go – but year 2 – I had no clue. And I let the crowd control the action – and I remember the amazing feedback provided – including a ‘yeah you can do better’ and a ‘looks like last years, with yellow’ and scrapped the entire SHIP with 2 day’s work early on. And again, I remember NickyT with a clutch play to solve a problem I had when I was off by 1/2 plate.

    But to me, that’s what’s missing a lot in the community, but the time it hits flickr (and I contend it is a good place for the community), it’s almost already over, and the perception of criticism is seen less as a ‘something to think about next time’ and more of ‘knocking down a builder’ which is totally wrong, but I can see how it can be misconstrued. Hence why things like MOCathalon – working with WIPs in team, or WIPtember offer an great reprieve which I would hope starts to spill out over in to the general consensus. So that when people leave constructive criticism, it’ll be taken as such.

    And there’s a hilarious irony in that our host, and benefactor was the biggest campaigner against the whole ‘WIPtember’ – refusing to play by the rules, abet amusingly.

    So I’ll echo others and implore people to comment more, constructively.

    Another irony, in this well penned diatribe on the fine art of commenting and feedback, that this very site has generated more insightful and provocative discussion than many other places out there. And the very interesting fact that I actually really like finishing the article (and I call it an articles, and not posts) – just to hit these delightful tidbits of insight from the ‘vocal minority’

    PS Vakkron – you rock man.

    Like

    1. Simon!

      Yes! Thank you for the close out!

      I wanted to hear your take on this topic for the exact reasons you site: Your fairly new to the hobby, your cred is high (straight up fact), and you are active (almost like a one man frenzy) in the community. Considering your level of influence on the scene you are a relatively young cat, and THAT is the biggest reason I wanted your take on this topic.

      “I’m a special snowflake… I actually dislike it.”

      That reminds me of what Keith was talking about with builders using pseudonyms. I have heard from a couple of builders that once they reach a certain level of popularity, it seems like nobody dares to publically point out any flaws or offer candid critique. Smart cats WANT it… but it goes away. Your point about forming a cadre of people you trust to give you the straight dope… I think that is what a lot of people end up doing. It’s a shame because groups of people can develop biases just the same as individuals… you want to try and keep feedback open and fresh. The other down side is that MANY more people will benefit from giving and reading critique. This “greater good” angle is lost when we have to use the same small group over and over. But I don’t know any simple solutions to the problem. I just know that I hear it over and over.

      MOCathalon has come up again and again in this conversation. I think it might be one of the most influential on line efforts to have occurred. Maybe one of the best things to come out of MOCpages.

      “I think being a special snowflake commenting helped people swallow the critique pill”

      Cred is a huge modifier when it comes to people’s reactions. In reality, the skills used in critique are radically different from the skills used in building. Communication vs Creating. But in our AFOL culture, CRED IS KING. And any feedback from an acknowledged “special” is GOLD. I think your work with efforts like SHIPTEMBER allow you to exploit this fact in the best possible way. You not only have the cred, but you USE THAT LEVERAGE to HELP OTHERS. That is crucial! It is an ethic that I think we (AFOLs) are largely lacking.

      QUESTION: Do you think the younger builders are ANY BETTER about helping their peers improve than the older builders?

      Flat out: I think the older builders have fumbled on this. SOME have done better than OTHERS… but as a demographic, as an group, I think the older crowd has NOT done much in the way of encouraging the younger. What I DON’T know is if the younger cats, again, in general, are doing any better than we did.

      You seem focused on the building process. You encourage an open participatory approach. WIP it good! (A little Devo for you there…).

      WIPs in SHIPTEMBER are part of the whole deal for you. And you make a good point: After a finished product is posted… it’s all over. All the critique can effect is… the NEXT EFFORT. and yea, that is basically anathema for Keith (and a few others). We want the grand unveiling. Ta-dah! But that’s just our thing. The grand moment. You advocate the WIP… Drama be dammed. You think the use of WIPs ENCOURAGES feedback, and if I understand you, that it DEVELOPS BUILDING SKILLS more effectively?

      Simon, thanks again for this response. Everybody is invited to tell us the deal … but yours is a voice I really think we needed to hear today.

      Attack!

      Like

      1. Mike – I apologize for not starting off and giving you a superficial pleasantry on your article – “Good job! Great Writing”

        Cause let’s face it, you deserve it.

        And yes, you caught me, in a nutela laced trap – this whole article just resonated to me.

        Yes the proportional criticism to popularity curve is very real. And it has pointed out to me many times – usually in the people laughing at me sort of way (I have great friends). Though I think I’m damn lucky that I seem to be slightly better off – as I’ve made many personal connections with builders in person and online, that I tend to get slightly more comments and critcims than many of the Special Snowflakes out there, because people know /ME/ and know I’m very accepting of it.

        But even still it has to be a fairly obvious that people would nitpick and publicly knock me down. But it does actually happen! A perfect example was Mercy V1.
        Mercy [Overwatch]
        People took me to town, justifiably.

        And I took that and revised it. Even though I’ve done the grand reveal, it needed to be improved:
        Have Mercy [Overwatch]

        Even with my status, I still find it very hard to try to comment publicly – as we have that AFOL perception of criticism = jealous or hate etc. Heck, even though I know I could comment and point things out to the Legohaulic, I probably wouldn’t outside the sarcastic suggestions. Even as I write this I cringe at the thought of criticizing TYLER. O-M-G. Even though, as we have established I have the Street Cred and I also list him as friend and have worked together in past.

        But having the proper feedback is so critical. People that follow me, or worse chat with me in any realtime basis, knows my atrocious spelling and grammar, despite (technical) writing is a big part of my day job. But what’s interesting is I’m probably one of the best proof readers around, and can turn a turd in to at least a polished one. And I feel the same way about builds – I, and I assume many others have a very hard time looking critically at their own work. But other people’s work, it’s easy. So having a good flow of communication and constructive criticism would be so beneficial to everyone…

        So how do we solve this? I don’t know… I don’t have a great answer sadly.
        Obviously my grand attempt to try steer the ship with SHIPtember worked to a limited effect – you can also note that I explicitly kept the name of the original group: SHIP Wips/discussions and refused to create new flickr group to host SHIPtember. Maybe I should be more explicit next time I have Machiavellian plans to trick people haha.

        Prior to SHIPtember I actually created a ‘WIP comment’ thread on Eurobricks – where space builders could post WIPs and everyone can provide feedback – that worked to certain extent … I think there actually is a WIP Flickr group that could work – but maybe we need to try it again … or maybe in a more visible spot like LEGO pool, or AFOL16+.

        “QUESTION: Do you think the younger builders are ANY BETTER about helping their peers improve than the older builders?”

        Yes –
        Absolutely. At least ‘today’.
        I think in the OG LEGO Crowd, back in the classic space forums and LUGnets there was much more peer help. I imaigne it was a ‘us’ mentality. AFOLs (or whatever term coined at the time) was a very isolated group, so there was a vested interest in sharing improving the greater whole. There was no mountain to climb, everyone was just scrambling to build rocks that would lead to the eventual foundation.

        Fast forward to today, there is a progression-mountain where there is an egoistical urge to climb that so called mountain. For better or worse, the older AFOLs see this and tend to want to climb the mountain alone and achieve some bullshit glory. Younger builders, they see this as they’re the lowest on the totem pole. And their collective urge to not even climb up said mountain, but to get to the point where they can be recognized as even a climber is an achievement in their eyes.

        So there’s a lot of co sharing and working together to achieve that mark.

        I think that’s this divide between young builders and older builders hurts the collective community.

        We have a preconceived notion that the old should teach the young. And while that’s true in society, I think it should be less true in the community. A comment from a TFOL or KFOL is just as valid as a comment from an AFOL or a Special Snowflake. But I would think we can all agree it’d be hard pressed to find many good examples of people providing feedback ‘up the hierarchy’ especially if it’s several ‘levels’.

        And as we get further to the top, the inter-peer criticism and feedback gets less and less.

        Personally, I’ve always thought younger builders have SO much to offer. They also have the secret super power that most AFOLs lack: time. Time to exercise the creativitiy and the art. Yes AFOLs have a massive advantage of disposable income (some more than others) – but some of these younger builders can do what a massive collection can’t – build creativity.

        ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ – and in this case, the actual lack of parts, or ability to get brick has resulted in extremely well executed, abet small, builds that tend to be lost on some AFOL builders.

        And it doesn’t help that the community seems to lack the foresight that is the growing builders. They are our future. They’re the ones that will keep this community, not us. And the fact that I know some feel marginalized and want to just even be seen as equal – saddens me.

        I even see it at the conventions – depending on which ones there are very different attitudes… Some they’re passively ignored. Others they’re ‘welcomed’ but really left to their own devices, but you gotta get out for adult time… I’m a brickworld guy – it’s well known – it was my frist major convention and it shaped me a lot and set the expectation and bar for me. At Brickworld, the view of KFOL/TFOL – was pretty much irreverence. Not that they are irrelevant, but age was irreverent. Yes they had special award category, but for the most part they display and integrated in like any other builders. And I have fond memories of an epic conversation with Ian/Max/Paul (more MOCpage People!) at the time when they were like 16…

        And while I think it’s AFOL’s responsibility to lend a hand and reach out to the young builders, we shouldn’t let that be a one way street – and builders are builders, it doesn’t matter the age and if they can build, they can build. Period. And as quasi proof- here’s my favorite young builder. I have hockey equipment older than him, but I couldn’t tell from his showing at BW: https://www.flickr.com/photos/142075755@N08

        Stepping back to he “grand unveiling. Ta-dah! But that’s just our thing. The grand moment.”

        Yes WIps and SHIPtember does take a bit of a bite out of this. And I totally understand, as I’m actually totally in your corner, wanting to have that moment. Hence the reason why I’m suddenly ‘active’ and posted like 15 things in the last month. Even though I actually have been building pretty crazy since Feb – cause I wanted the big unveiling at Brickworld, everything drops and it’s only after do I post online.

        While there isn’t much that can be done during something like SHIPtember, you can be a bit cheeky about it… In the previous 3 years I’ve always kept something close to chest for at least a bit of a fun. Year 1: it was a frog scale SHIP to launch my frogpods. Second year was fully operational RC-landing pads (okay that one was kinda lame), and last year was the fact my SHIP had a giant hole in it that was a hanger bay for a smaller ship…

        “MOCathalon has come up again and again in this conversation. I think it might be one of the most influential on line efforts to have occurred.”

        … This also needs to be an article unto itself.
        But I think MOCathalon, Going to a convention, Collaborations, and getting blogged. are all watershed moments in a builder’s progression. And much like going to college or university teaches us so much more and allows us to grow so much more than we’d ever expect.

        But I’ll bring it up for discuss at another time…

        Like

  12. Another stunningly accurate post, or more as Simon put it more accurately, article.

    Personally I think that criticism is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) assets to any builder.
    While yes, encouragement is an essential too, and it kept me building in my early days in the LEGO community, I think that criticism is really what improves a builder.

    I find that comments such as “good job” “cool” “awesome work!” etc. are more of a detraction, I think personally, than anything else.
    I know that the people probably have good intentions, but I want to hear critiques, criticism, and other feedback which will help me grow.

    *Disclaimer*
    I will readily admit though that I’ve been the person in the past to just post comments which praise the model, and I sometimes still do too. Its something I’m trying to work on, and I hope to actually HELP the creator of the model, and maybe even give some guidance which could improve their work.

    And like Simon said, I think that while seeing the final product is cool, I think that WIP’s are some of the most awesome things to see in the LEGO community, especially if you have a hand in shaping the final model. Because its something to know that the completed model which someone has made has gotten to that place partly because of you, and your willingness to critique and encourage.

    I’m not 100% sure about what this whole comment is completely about, but the basis is that I think criticism and critiquing are some of the most vital things to a builder’s success and progression, and the more of C&C (critique and criticism) that the LEGO community has, I the more it will grow.

    Keep up the awesome work with this blog Keith, and thank you Micheal for writing this exceptional article!
    I’m so impressed by how this blog has brought builders together, and has allowed for such interesting and thought provoking discussion.
    I love what you’re doing Keith!

    -Josiah

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    1. In the words of a good friend of mine, I put my stance on criticism.
      “To successfully criticize, you should first encourage, than criticize, than finish with affirmation and encouragement. “

      Like

      1. It’s called the sandwich method. Good, bad, good. It works pretty much every time, as the old saying goes, “you can attract more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”

        It isn’t necessarily a tactic or strategy as those words tend to lend more to a game mentality, but it is in essence just that. First lead in with the good points and what is working well. This actually allows the one being criticized to lower their defensive tendencies and not feel attacked. Then you can point out what is not working from an equal point of reference. Then finish it off with a dose of pure respect for the fact that this person just put themselves and their work out for all to see. It is a bold and respectful move on their part and should be acknowledged and encouraged.

        It should also be noted that it is NOT necessary to find flaws in a work just for the sake of finding flaws. This is when just a simple word about what is working and to continue developing that is more than adequate. That encouraging nudge and praise that can be gold can be enough to get to the next thing.

        You have a wise friend there, Josiah.

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      2. That’s right on point Matt!
        And I definitely agree with you about not actively trying to find flaws, because if you’re trying to do that, than I feel like you start to only notice the negatives and move away from what’s good about the creation.
        Sometimes a word of encouragement can work wonders, even more so than criticism too. 🙂

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  13. As someone relatively new to the AFOL community I do enjoy the encouraging and “superficial” comments I too miss the lack of critiques. I’ve maybe gotten 4-5 on my limited photo stream. There are MOCs I’ve posted in the last year that are downright shit and are well deserving of some harsh criticism. I seldom leave criticism because they few times I have the persons’ buddies attack, which isnt ever fun

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    1. You sir, don’t really count. And are excluded from our snowflake creation thesis that has slowly been evolving in these comments. Almost everyone here, regardless of caliber had to climb the so called builder progression mountain. Except you. You just kinda parachuted on top of the mountain.

      Zelda micros, then macros, bam! mic drop and you’re untouchable.

      I remember some of the shit you posted during ABS. But it was the zelda castle guy… and again we fall into this pattern of people that are too good to criticize.

      I’m starting to realize the only way to change is from the top! So Joseph, please start criticizing. If you want a soft target that will fight back against any nay sayers pick me!

      I spotted Joe starting off already on the hell boy gun. Bring it on.

      Viva LA revolution Mr. Znowflake.

      Like

      1. Wow thanks for such kind words! Top of the mountain? There are a great many builders far better and far more popular than I (including yourself).

        As for ABS, Im pretty embarrassed regarding my showing during that. The North Pole and the High School were downright awful. I was genuinely shocked by the overall positivity of the comments. However the less than average fav count showed what people really thought 😄

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  14. Simon,

    Your take on the difference in behavior between older and younger builders, and how the overall size of the Lego community has affected that behavior was exactly what I was looking for.

    Also your observation that we should be open ourselves to the notion of TALENT being the relevant variable instead of AGE… excellent. MERITOCRACY baby! Like I said up front, on line, ADULT is a mind set, not an age.

    It can be a challenge in real face to face situations. For the adult to accept recommendations from a kid. We are talking about overcoming an ass load of cultural programming. Most of the time, I would not be optimistic about it. But in the same breath I hasten to add: A successful learner, takes their knowledge from WHEREVER they find it! If you meet a junior who can do something better than you… then sit down, shut up, and take note… or simply miss out fool!

    Thanks again man. Oh, and that was a good example of MOC/FEEDBACK/IMPROVMENT. Visuals are key.

    Like

    1. Alright, this time you beat me to the punch on this one, old man. Spot on with the “successful learner.” There is a statement from Frank Zappa that applies here; and, no, it is not the one that says, “You can fuck a chicken, but then it dies” or “The crux of the biscuit is the apostrophe.” He said, “Information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, wisdom is not truth, truth is not beauty, beauty is not love, love is not music, music is the best.” All of THIS is in front of us, what we do with it is up to us.

      Like

  15. Michael,
    I really appreciate this article. Both in how it relates to the real world and to the AFOL community. And I have spent a good part of my *ahem* work shift reading all the replies. I’m so glad to have started in the ground floor of what I think is going to be a great place for everyone.

    Kudos to Keith. It’s about time!

    I think my downfall is the FEAR element. Assuming my critique is not valid because of my inexperience. But I also have an advantage in that I am not part of the Flicker/ MOCpage history. My only Lego exposure is buying sets for me and my kids and of course *Keith*, my brother from another mother. I didn’t even know I was an AFOL until he called me one. What’s that??

    I remember my first project was two Christmases ago and it was a (fire truck!) for my son. He was so impressed when it was done, and the process was both new and soothing to me. I was hooked. But I went down the path of “don’t touch that it’s Mom’s”. And the day I saw a smashed city block on the floor I realized I had to re-evaluate. We can rebuild it, and I had to teach both of us that concept. Make a mess, change your mind, walk away, be inspired and most of all have fun.

    The best times are when my son asks me to build something like a ship or haunted house. HA!! The results are interesting….but the time is what it’s about.

    When my son stops his sorting and building to say, “I love you, Mom”. I know it’s not about the build.

    – Amanda

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    1. Amandroid,

      Ha! This is classic!

      “it relates to the real world and to the AFOL community”

      Yea, we wouldn’t want to mix those two things up!

      During our next department meeting, I think I’ll tell the boss to take into account that I have Asperger’s syndrome… that his trolling is eroding my desire to be a part of our community… that we should continue this conversation in a private chat room… and that short positive comments are the only thing that keeps me going…

      Yea… that should work well for me…

      Glad you dig the action. Keep building with the boy, ensure that he is inculcated against Mega-blocks (despite their SUPERIOR franchise action) and

      ROCK ON!

      Like

      1. Ha! I guess I worded that wrong. It was meant to be existential. Society as a whole.
        I’ve never been part of a specialized community. Still observing as an outsider, I guess.
        Mega-blocks? Puleeese, we are high class.

        Like

  16. This comment thread is incredible. I come back a few days later and find the amount of comments quadrupled and increasingly relevant and enlightening.

    Matt, your insight on my comments has been very useful in refining my views. It is very accurate to say that we should be more concerned about refining the process over the final product.

    Simon, I have thought for a little bit on whether or not the hobby is indeed declining, and have come to the answer of yes. Dying, no, but declining, at least slightly. The amount of active builders and hype within the community has been decreasing, but I might just be looking in the wrong places. And don’t get me wrong, I love a good ‘cool’ build. Significant is perfect. And cool builds can still be significant. To me its just painfully evident when a build/the builder has made something to be cool rather than a creative expression or journey. _Tiler on Flickr is the perfect example of this. His builds are usually of cars or things from movies, and are all extremely cool. But each build feels like it has been built with extreme care, every detail there for a reason. Maybe its just his presentation or his personality, but everything he posts has a significance to it. As for Brick Con… I need to figure out a new way to get there haha.

    Like

    1. Oddly enough Kyle, refining viewpoints is not only my primary goal but also, as it would seem from Mike’s article, the responses it has generated, and Keith’s blog in general, that it is also the goal of many out there. Including yourself. It is kind of a difficult concept to grasp because the final product isn’t really a product at all, it’s an abstract that is more concerned with more abstracts. And most minds don’t like venturing down that particular path. There is no simple math or easily catalogued labels for mental compartmentalization. It is more ethereal than real. What I find most interesting is that an engineer/architect mindset taps into the artistic side with LEGO quite easily, as does the artistic mindset accommodates the engineering/architectural path equally. It is the uniqueness of LEGO that unifies both somewhat opposing mental processes without prejudice. No other medium is capable of bridging like that. So, of course it is a toy and will always first be considered as such because our brains automatically filter something as uniquely developmental like that accordingly. Whether it is cool or otherwise is merely a byproduct of a byproduct. Our development is ongoing, stopping the Art is not an option.

      As to getting to Brickcon… Hope I see ya there. 😉

      Like

      1. Rowntree, your insights into the uniqueness of the medium are delightful. I hope to read a full article from you on the subject at some point.

        Like

  17. I view a lot of “cool” builds the same way I view concept art. They are creating a small piece of a larger world. What else is in that world? How is it different from our own world? What do those differences say about our world? Maybe the work is a purely aesthetic experience with no other “meaning,” which the artist simply wished to capture and share with others. Does the lack of a message mean that experience has less value? I don’t think so. It may resonate strongly with someone for completely different reasons than it did for the artist or for no apparent reason at all. My point is there are a lot of subtle things packed into that word “cool” that seem to be glossed over. Subtle things that I personally find more interesting than, say, blatant sociopolitical messages.

    There are some psychologists that argue that the “wow” factor is the reason that humans make art in the first place, that it was initially a signal of a creative, intelligent mind, something desirable in early human societies and maybe even a force driving the evolution of the human brain if one includes sexual selection as a strong influence. Others have observed that the part of the brain associated with a sense of self lights up when we view art that truly resonates with us. I personally experience that same feeling sometimes when browsing Flickr as I do in viewing a painting that hits home or listening to a song that makes me think of a time or place in my past. That strong emotional reaction is what “legitimizes” Lego for me.

    RE: the “decline.” I’m really not sure about this one. Sure, a lot of the greats of yesteryear have moved on to other interests, but we’ve gotten plenty of fresh talent in the past few years like many of the builders featured on this blog. Are the number of new, talented builders disproportionately small compared to the refinement of techniques and aesthetics over the years? Perhaps, but that’s a tough call to make. Nostalgia goggles are a factor as well. We all remember that one guy who was a major influence on us who doesn’t build anymore. But as long as there has been a “what’s next?” as rowntRee would put it, I have been optimistic about the future of the art/hobby/whatever you consider it. And I don’t see that dying anytime soon, especially with a blog like this around.

    And yeah, it is the responsibility of the experienced to teach the new students and we probably aren’t doing as good a job as we could be. Constructive criticism does need to become less of a touchy subject. But I agree with Mr. Absurde about encouragement also being important for those just starting out. As a soon-to-be English teacher of thin-skinned Japanese schoolchildren, what I say and do could make or break a kid’s motivation to learn. I think the same applies here to a lesser extent. You can’t expect people to improve if your critique is so sharp-tongued that it makes them want to give up before they even have a chance to grow. As has already been pointed out, audience and delivery are important.

    Thanks for continuing these fantastic articles here at the Manifesto. Ya’ll are doing God’s work here. I’ve never come across anything in this community this thought-provoking that evokes such quality discussions. This blog is one of many things that gives me hope for the future. I’ve been without internet for two weeks and it’s a pleasure catching up on every word, comments included. Rock on.

    Like

    1. Something does not need to have “blatant sociopolitical messages” or subtle meanings to be art. Art and cool can go hand in hand. For me art is first and foremost an aesthetic experience; however once it’s imbued with a clever message that blend in perfectly with the aesthetic and doesn’t detract from it but embraces it, then it becomes something more. But then there’s a lot of things that are cool yet completely devoid of any attributes to make it memorable. The sort that give you the “Heh, nice” reaction, then you move on. That don’t invite you to explore it further, to experience it, to contemplate it. That is mainly what makes the difference for me between art and “cool”. But then as you say, it’s a very subjective thing. What for me is “nice” can be completely different for someone else.

      In a way I suppose you can apply Kant’s view on aesthetics to this (if I recall it correctly), the beauty (in short, a pleasant sensation) and the sublime (an intense experience that can be both pleasant and unpleasant, that invites contemplation and awe). You can easily substitute beauty with cool and and the sublime with art.

      Like

      1. “Something does not need to have “blatant sociopolitical messages” or subtle meanings to be art.”

        Agreed. My comment was largely in response to Kyle’s first comment, but I felt it inappropriate to respond to it directly since Kyle seems to have changed his tune slightly since then.

        “For me art is first and foremost an aesthetic experience; however once it’s imbued with a clever message that blend in perfectly with the aesthetic and doesn’t detract from it but embraces it, then it becomes something more.”

        I have a more holistic view. There are some works that I think really nail both the aesthetic and the message, but still don’t emotionally resonate with me as strongly as some others that may not have clear messages or fall flat on aesthetics.

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      2. Absolutely, the whole affair’s first and foremost subjective. I will not be drawn to something that doesn’t click with me regardless of how successful it is in ticking every box. But from an objective point of view, it still makes it “more” than that neat thing that may click more with me.

        I was mainly trying to paint a thin line between cool and art… where this line lies exactly is entirely up to the viewer.

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      3. Nailed it. Both of you. That visceral “wow” moment always drives us and we ALL want that “pleasant sensation.” It is more than human, it is life all around. A dog will bring back a stick because it wants to please its master enough to be petted. We build for praise and admiration, and it is nothing to be ashamed of or thought of as lowly, base, or without merit in comparison to Art. They are most definitely NOT mutually exclusive. In fact they cannot exist without each other. No one sets out to build a piece of shit, not even Mike. 😀 And it is because of that as to why we as a collective need to not only be encouraging but also honest.

        In this particular social medium, the only way in which to teach is through example and critique. Showing someone “the how” is easy and second nature. We are even blessed with builders like Nick that go the extra step with extreme details of that showing no fear in revealing the mystery. Critique on the other hand is a very sticky widget. And it is getting more difficult to give and receive in the correct way. That is where the decline of the hobby truly exists and not so much in the quantifiable numbers of builders, posts, or conversations. The substance is vanishing and we are being left with the hazy dopamine infused “Awesome!” or “NPU!” or “Kick Arse!” They encourage for sure, but what are they encouraging? Static growth is NO growth. It’s why a lot of builders continue to regurgitate their “boiler plates” and refuse (yes, refuse) to expand and explore. Comfort zones and the quick fix placebo praises are satisfying enough. And it is NOT a bad thing, nor is it a good thing.

        Art is neither as well. That “sublime” must, by definition, be subjective and personal. It is not a factor of being aesthetically pleasing or socially contemplative, those are merely the results of Art and are only two specific types of byproducts. There can be more depth in those “Heh, nice” moments than in a massive 100 plus square foot LEGO Smurfs collaboration (trust me there.) At least with something subtle and innovative, even if it is simply a new way to configure two pieces of LEGO together or realize a new way to view an established element, it is still in the very least revealing. AND, therefore, something learned. Mission accomplished. Now, apply it. Now, expand on it. Now, make it relevant. Now, what’s next? And the more eyes and brains you have on those ideals (critique), the more opportunities you’ll gain. After that, it’s what you do with what you’re given. Take it or leave it. And again, it is neither good nor bad. It is Art.

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