Friday, April 8, 2011

Your Thoughts Please

A reader sent this photo to me with this thought bubble:

"I'm a long time admirer of Bunny Williams and John Roselli, but in photos, that green wallpaper in the Bee Line showroom looks like something curdled and nasty at the bottom of a fridge."

This post is not about the photo or Mrs. Williams or Mr. Roselli. Their work is great and they are tried and true and proven icons I respect. At this point in their careers, and I think it's great that they try new ideas that are edgy. And the gentle reader does give the benefit of the doubt that perhaps in person this looks awesome.

And I am not faulting the reader who sent me the photo or the thought bubble. He was a major design influence himself and he is entitled to his opinion, which I respect and value.

The point of this post is how do we critique the work of professionals (and God forbid, even each other!) without being bitchy, envious, or snarky? There are quite a few blogs that regularly feature posts, being cranky Debbie Downers about another person's achievements. None of these bloggers are published (except by themselves, or by each other, or on other blogs), or really working in the design field as a bona fide professional. Their witty blogs are their claim to fame, which they earn, and I respect their hard work and dedication, and even have a good laugh sometimes.

Are successful people and celebs fair game to say just anything about? Including just heaping on praise because they are successful and known, something most of us want to be? How do we critique something with honor, have an opposing opinion on taste, and do it with decency, and respect, as adults keeping it relevant?

I reckon if the pithy blogger naysayers were included in the very books or mags they bash, or got free product from the companies they ridicule, they might be writing those blog posts with the dulcet tones of decor blog baby talk in the form of praise.

I have been a smart ass on my blog too, and I have made mistakes with stupid immature posts. And I do leave a smart ass comment or two on other blogs. But I have tried to learn from my mistakes, and change, to grow and find a better way to express an honest opinion about something. I don't want to go all Mary Sunshine and just j'dore everything darlings, but I don't want to bash something I don't care for just for the sake of sounding all fresh mouth and cute, and be the blogger seeking popularity for misguided reasons.

Of course there is an unspoken rule that we shalt not critique other bloggers, because after all we are sensitive and get our feelings hurt easily, though you would never know it by the way it gets dished out, and after all it's "just blogging" for your fun and our enjoyment. But Oy vey! The private e-mails among us bloggers talking about each other are priceless in candor and snark!

Perhaps if the smarty pants ones had to come up with a book, get someone to publish it, and then try to sell it, or perhaps if their work or homes were published and up for praise and/or damnation, or perhaps if they invested hard earned money and ideas in a company that made and sold a product, or had someone pay them thousands of dollars and trust them to decorate a home, they might see what it's like on the other side of their funny critical posts.

Another thing is that you may not think anyone "famous" is reading our little blogs from bum fuck nowhere. But they are. The first week I blogged, I made some snippy "funny" remarks in a post about a well known designer on TV. And guess what? He wrote to me personally after he saw the post, and was fucking gracious! Famous people have feelings too, and our comments and our blogs do affect them. Our words have consequence, something I learned the hard way from my own blog mistakes. I am a smart ass, but I am not a hater, or a "hurter".

Stay with me here (this is convoluted): I just had an email from a well known "decor personality" who was disappointed by a silly snarky comment of a blogger on another blog about that "personality", because the famous one always thought that the blogger who left the comment was "friendly" towards them in the past, and was bothered by less than friendly comment. This blogger might have gotten something from the already successful and famous "personality", maybe a chance to be published, but now I doubt that that blogger would be the first to come to mind for any professional courtesy that might be extended. The consequence of our words indeed! There are lots of talented "nice" and non trouble makers out there for the powers that be to give opportunities to.

I was watching Top Model the other night. The girls are so young. One poor girl really just didn't dig another one, and it escalated into a nasty verbal exchange in front of the client. Tyra was livid and wanted to eliminate the one who misspoke in front of the client. Her thoughts are that if you don't like something, you shut up (shut your lips were her words) publicly and be professional in front of your peers and your clients. In private you can say what you want. The judges voted to keep the girl in the competition. They said everyone deserves a second chance.

Though my blog is personal. I do write it in public, and in many ways I consider my readers my peers, and many of you are professionals, even if blogging is your profession so to speak. I really have tried to be a better person and a better blogger, and I do appreciate your giving me a second chance. It is a learned skill to offer a difference of opinion with tact, and constructive criticism, and humor. And I am still learning. And I do slip sometimes when my nerves finally get worked, and my comment can get snippy. And I have always apologized, and offered to take down any comment, if the blogger wrote to me and expressed distress.

I would love your thoughts, but please this is not an invitation for the anon hate comments to commence in a free-for-all hate party. I will turn on moderation for this post if it gets out of hand. If a civil and pertinent anon comment comes in, I will publish it. And remember if you have something personally to say to me because you dislike me, please feel free to email me at and I will be happy too discuss it with you.


Jennifer @ Belclaire House said...

Great post! Honestly, I would be totally embarrassed if I said something snarky about someone or that person's work and then they called me out on it. I would totally back down and be all, "oh I was just having a bad day, you are awesome, who am I to judge anyway." So I just keep it positive to avoid the guilty conscience. That being said, I feel like other blogs can do and say whatever they want. If I don't like it, I just don't read it.

Unknown said...

Hi there,
I learned from a very young age that you never regret what you don't say and for God's sake don't ever write it down for a person to read over and over to themselves or others. Today, with the permanency of the web it's never been more true. If you have to write something down that is less than becoming save it in draft then DELETE the next day. OR tell that person to their face or on the phone what you think. Something stated civilly but truthful works every time....otherwise its just cowardly and petty. So that's my two cents.

Good post. I hope some people take it to heart.

Katie Rob said...

I just think that being honest and being gracious don't have to be mutually exclusive.

I remember a story about this famous socialite (I can't remember who) who was hosting a big, fancy party. A guest spilled red wine all over the front of the hostess' expensive white gown. The hostess, without missing a beat, laughed and said some thing to the effect of, "I never liked this dress anyway, and now I have a reason to go change."

I don't think the story would have been quite so wonderful and inspiring if she had said something snarky and embarrassing.

Notes From ABroad said...

Personally, from someone very new to blogging .. I think a "Comments" section, a place that says Leave your comment .. invites , well, comments.
And why invite comments if there might be one or two that will not be positive and perky?
I try not to ever say things that are mean or terribly negative but when someone requests an opinion, I can't promise mine will not be all gushing and oohing and aahing ..
I think that is a funny remark about the wall paper.
Not long ago, someone asked how her readers liked a certain Fireplace .. it was a brick fireplace.. painted a shocking harsh turquoise with mirrored edges and some ghastly faux animal print over it all.
I had to write and delete several times, before I my comment didn't sound too harsh .. but I still said the fireplace looked awful.
If this person did not want to hear negative comments, should she have said, only tell me if you like this fireplace?
Now I am going to worry every time I comment, that someone somewhere will think I am snarky.
I am glad though that as owners of our own blogs, we can review and delete if something nasty comes our way.

Notes From ABroad said...

I meant to say that I cannot promise my comments will be gushing, oohing and ahhing.. See! someone can remark on my inability to write a thought down clearly :)
un beso ..

Unknown said...
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susan said...

It all looks easy 'til you try to do it yourself :)! The bad thing about comments is that it does not allow the reader to hear intonations or see facial expressions---often critical in determining the spirit of the comment. Bambi's mom gave good advice: if you don't have nuffin nice to say, don't say nuffin at all

Reggie Darling said...

Excellent and thought-provoking post, m'dear. You raise many interesting points, and give much to think about. I attempt to maintain a sense of humor in my blog, which I sometimes either am not successful at, or a reader misunderstands and then -- wow--what a torrent of anger is released. It prompts me to question, is it me, or is it them? A useful question to ask oneself from time to time and a learning experience, certainly. And yes, our little scribbles do get read, and sometimes by people we would be astonished to learn are doing so. End of day, I try and write and post only what I would not regret or be embarrassed to see quoted elsewhere, in another medium. I don't expect every one of my readers to agree with everything I write, and I enjoy a healthy debate, certainly. But it should be done respectfully, because as you write, we all have feelings.

Anonymous said...

Being a blogger is like having an open house. All are welcome to come and explore and think what they like if you have your welcome matt at the front door.
I sometimes feel the urge to comment, but would respect the bloggers designs as their greatest feats and not feel a reason to insult. A compliment is shown by adding your site to thier site or mailer and passing it along.
I believe if you can't say something good then why say anything. And most important why answer someone back who was leaving a snarky comment to get attention if it was hurtful.
And my comment to you is share you heart and sole here and your story book is heart felt and a lovely place to visit.

The Buzz Blog said...

My mother raised me on the idea that "if you don't have something nice to say, don't say it"... at least in public... But I do believe that snarky, negative or mean posts invite comments that reflect the tone the author is trying to achieve. I don't think all posts should be rainbows and sunshine but I think blogs that tend to be negative in tone are short lived since no one wants a dose of negative on a daily basis! I just stumbled upon your blog today and loved the name enough to click through - and I'm glad I did!
~ Carolyn
The Buzz Blog

Anonymous said...

Valerie, I will have to probably read this post several times to fully digest it. However, I find the blog gushing over design divas a bit disingenuous at times. When the highly successful, multiple published appear in a post, the blog author and his or her readers have a gush fest no matter how mediocre a particular room looks. I have read one blog where the author commented on every single element in the room, down to a small dish on a cocktail table in order to appear to fully understand what the designer's point of view was. Were that a lesser known designer, I don't think the attention to mundane details would have been quite so evident. I find a lot of hypocrisy on many of the design blogs and frankly a bit too much ego from designers who insist that their fur be rubbed in the right direction all the time. I contend that if one cannot take the heat they should get out of the kitchen. If one cannot accept that there will be critics from time to time, they should not blog nor seek to have their work featured on one. It's great that you gave us an chance to weigh in on a subject many other readers may have observed also. As to the photograph which was sent to you, I would agree the wallpaper leaves much to be desired even if created by Bunny Williams (who I also happen to adore). Ms. Williams is not above laying an egg occasionally, nor are other well known designers.

anita said...

I love this post.
It's all so very subjective, isn't it (decorating/designing)?
A lot of people don't know how to say they dislike something (being truthful and honest) without sounding harsh and hurtful. This is a hard skill to master, and I don't think many people have mastered it. (I know this, because I dabbled in the snark brigade a time or two and felt really shitty afterward!)
Of course we can't all love and gush over everything put out there; but lately, if snark is your main objective and your forte, I move on. (There's enough negativity in my life at the moment!!)
Having my "message" out here on the interwebs, I'd rather be the chic smiling than the one scowling.
Being real and authentic is not mutually exclusive from being gracious.

Jimmy The Undercover Designer said...

Hi Valorie

Beautifully written and eloquently stated.

I do believe that we can state our opinions without hurting someone and without degrading them as people or as professionals. By the same token, I also think it is healthy to have that voice that is on the other side sometimes. I know from my experience that being a bit on my toes does sometimes bring about a better design.

I agree with everyone else that if someone is to be published or go public in any form of media they have to expect that not everyone will react in the way they would want them to react, some might be a bit harsh, but this is the way it is.

Having said all that, there is never ever a need to be hurtful. Funny and dignified can coexist though and I would always like to see/read that snarky person with funny remarks. I appreciate humour and wit and if fame gets to the head of a designer/celebrity why not point it out and remind them to be a bit grounded. For example I am a reader of Vicente Wolf’s blog and his humility is endearing, heart warming and an education for younger designers.

Being "famous" comes with a price, scrutiny is one of them, someone famous will be more under the microscope than a beginner. sometimes it is done to learn from them, sometimes to put them down, but then again we as humans are a bit envious of fame and success, aren't we? There will always be that someone that hates our success and wants to put us down whether it is writing a blog, designing a home, or winning an award, that person will always be there. It is up to us how to take it.

Sketch42 said...

On one hand, there are critics in all other mediums: Art, books, music, and of course movies. Why is design any different? Shouldnt a healthy critical examination of design be allowed to flourish?

On the other hand, there is something to be said for people doing so with respect, and decency. We are talking about other people's homes, not to mention hard work.

As for people who arent "accomplished" critiquing people who are- well, there are people who are VERY adept at formulating opinions and that may or may not relate to their actual talent at anything other than being opinionated. I dont really think thats a BAD thing, but maybe those of us who are less accomplished should have a little more humility and respect for people who have way more talent than we do.

Mar gar et said...

Picking myself off floor after "F" bomb...

Planet Tango said...

It’s been said before but it’s worth repeating again, that observing the behavior of people in the social networks milieu, in terms of human social evolution, life doesn't progress much after high school.
What feeds this pathetic crowd is the importance that people give to their desperate attempts to get attention.
The way to eradicate the malady goes back in time to good old time medicine, a public reply to nasty private correspondence with a simple message that says, "Thank you for your words."
The complement is also time proven, public ridicule.
Some people may fret over a camel toe image, but the egotistical and nasty presence of the culprit has disappeared from screens near all of us.
Valorie, when gifted and precious people like you share the wealth of knowledge with unselfish generosity, there will be a chorus a high school rejects who will spew their spite and venom. You have to focus of those who love you, respect you and admire you, smiling with kindness at the trash lined up on the side of the road. Somebody eventually will pick it up and take it to the dump.

Anonymous said...

I just read an interesting story about the first meeting between Sister Parish and Estee Lauder. It seems that Sister Parish had quite a reputation for snark and rudeness. The first time she walked into Lauder's home she remarked aloud "my what I could do to this house". Not knowing that she was over heard by Mrs. Lauder who had just entered the room, Mrs. Lauder walks up to Sister, pats her on the cheek and says "my what I could do to that face". We must accept the fact that while we admire a certain design blogger or a designer, they may not be the person privately that they are on our computer screens. I contend that they are not above criticism.

DelBene Interiors said...

I've been reading your blog for a while now and love it! So no snarky remark from me! Haha, just kidding.

Anyway, you have read my mind with this post! There is a blog out there that makes it's success on bashing other people's designs and homes. I have to admit, I laughed at some of the responses this blogger gets. but than I thought, "what if it was my home or design that was being bashed". I would definitely be hurt. I also don't want to be the barer of someone else's hurt or embarrassment.

There is constructive criticism and then their is cattiness.

Thank you for this post!


corine said...

The written word is soooo dangerous! I can be sharp tongued with my words but I'm extra careful with my blogging and commenting. If i don't have something nice to say i don't say nuting :) I also think that there are subtleties in humor and sarcasm I don't always get because English is not my first language, so when a comment hurts my feeling I delete it and/or don't respond rather than react. Great post, thanks!

24 Corners said...

Kindness and constructive criticism can work together beautifully if given the chance...and without a certain level of c.c., designers can start leaning over the edge of silliness. If someone doesn't pull them back, they just might topple over and then what!?
On the other hand, if someone is truly in love with what they've created and posted about, who are we to be negative if it brings them joy...we all can't like the purple jelly beans, that would be much too boring.
xo J~

Anonymous said...

"My graduate professor used to say when critiquing 1. say something nice 2. point out what you would do differently 3. give an example"

Alexandra (via Facebook)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
suzanne hill said...

I think high profile designers like Bunny Williams often do something for a showhouse or a design center room with high impact in mind - the vivid green wall makes you remember it! Just like the over the top room she did for Kips Bay to launch her BeeLine products - I can visualize it easily because it was so very strong. I am saying therefore they probably would not do something quite so over the top for an actual client - so the criticizer may just not get the intent--just my opinion.

Suzanne on St.Simons