19 January 2013

The I-word

Stamps of Disapproval (image from here)
When it's used in talking about someone's art work, the I-word - "Interesting" - covers a multitude of sins. It's especially useful when a friend shows you something they've made that's surprisingly awful (in your opinion, anyway) and you need an instant response. Its other major use is in talking about a third person's work when you don't want to out-and-out slam it, for various reasons.

Interesting  has two forms of output: "Interesting!" and "Interesting..." - giving rise to a multitude of nuances. Its hidden meanings include:
- I can't think of anything positive; give me a moment to think harder...
- I hate this, but I know you like it.
- I think this is the ugliest thing I've ever seen.
- I wish I could say something nice, because I like you as a person.
- I know there's some redeeming feature lurking in this work; I'll tell you when (if) I find it.

Unfortunately the savvy person is all too aware that "Interesting" means anything but that. What to say instead? The N-word and the L-word are tainted with the same brush as the I-word ... they are mere verbal makeweights in situations where offence is not to be caused ... after all, if someone says your work is Nice or Lovely, how could you take offence - they might be innocent of the layered meanings of these anodyne terms.

What to say instead of "interesting", though? A thesaurus is always useful - here are some useful synonyms -

absorbing, affecting, alluring, amusing, arresting, attractive, beautiful, captivating, charismatic, compelling, curious, delightful, elegant, enchanting, engaging, engrossing, enthralling, entrancing, exceptional, exotic, fascinating, fine, gracious, gripping, impressive, intriguing, inviting, lovely, magnetic, pleasing, pleasurable, prepossessing, provocative, readable, refreshing, riveting, stimulating, stirring, striking, suspicious, thought-provoking, unusual, winning

So we can say, for instance -
"This is provocative work, don't you think?"
"Unusual ... "
"This certainly has a striking effect."
"How thought-provoking - what was your starting point?"
"Fascinating ... this really intrigues me ... what's your reading of it?"

Among these comments is a hidden strategy - get the other person to do the talking - turn the comment, the opinion, into a conversation. Rather than saying what you don't mean.

7 comments:

Nina Marie said...

ohhh this made me smile - big! I've been known to use the "I" word when making blog comments - sometimes because I think its truly crazy interesting and I want to think on it a bit and sometimes because its in the "I have no idea how your mind works and why would you even THINK of doing that" category and sometimes because I don't want to make this long winded comment on the piece in such a little comment forum.

Since we are on the subject of words if I have another artist describe their work using the word "Juxtaposition" I'll scream! I mean do you think that it sounds artsy because it has an x in it?

love this post and will be saving it because its - well - interesting LOLOL!!

Sandy said...

HA. now I will have to analyse your comments when I show you work! LOL I can just hear the way you say Interesting sometimes. ;-P
Sandy

GMYR said...

Interesting analogies (vbg). Your comments are thought provoking...we've all been in the position of how to say something sincere without hurting someones feelings

Vivian Helena said...

I agree completely,, and you get an even younger generation, and the word "cute" comes up... another one I would like to wring out. Can't think of anything that I have made that is cute... after that what do you say to the person!

Margaret said...

I too have been guilty of using the "i" word...but not recently, as I've begun to exhibit mine!

And I use "lovely" a lot but only if/when/because I think something truly is, and I prefer it to "beautiful".

Of the words on your list, I like "intriguing", "provocative", "thought-provoking" and "unusual" the best. These terms still leave a great deal of room for interpretation, whereas I think words like "attractive", "beautiful", "striking" and "winning" commit one to actually liking the given piece...

Sandra said...

As a Canadian fibre art teacher, I am sometimes put "on the spot". I can usually find something to say other than 'interesting' whenever I don't particularly like a work. I find one little thing to comment on and start with "I like the... ". the thing I like could be a technique, or a choice of colour but it doesn't mean I like the whole thing or understand the work. I then turn it over to the maker and ask them what they think? And they often just think out loud and from that I sometimes start to appreciate the work more.

Sandra said...

As a Canadian fibre art teacher, I am sometimes put "on the spot". I can usually find something to say other than 'interesting' whenever I don't particularly like a work. I find one little thing to comment on and start with "I like the... ". the thing I like could be a technique, or a choice of colour but it doesn't mean I like the whole thing or understand the work. I then turn it over to the maker and ask them what they think? And they often just think out loud and from that I sometimes start to appreciate the work more.