Are you too close to your work?

This weekend I was catching up on past episodes of Project Runway. I'm a late-comer to the show and so I have several seasons to watch before I can remember all the designers who show up on Project Runway All Stars (which I will be watching next). In addition to my love of fashion, I can relate to Project Runway on an artistic level. As a dance teacher and choreographer I am certainly no stranger to the creative process and "make it work" moments.

There's also something else-something big-that is definitely applicable to my career: Being too close to the work. By saying "too close," I mean being so involved in the creation process itself that you don't have a clear picture of the finished product or how it will be perceived by others. I like to think of it in terms of Monet's art. If you're too close in proximity to the paintings, you literally can't see the full effect. You have to take a step back.

You can witness the product of being "too close" in just about every episode of Project Runway. The designer obviously has a high level of confidence in his or her ability but when the garment hits the runway the skirt is too short, the panels fall in an unfortunate place or the whole outfit just "looks like a transvestite Flamenco dancer at a funeral" (thank you, Michael Kors, for that memorable critique!).

A few years ago I was in the midst of creating choreography for a musical and at one point a group of dancers needed to transition out while crossing paths with another group of dancers. I thought I had it perfectly with both groups doing a brief gesture to each other like a salute to make the transition look more cohesive. The dancers loved it and that was good enough for me. But when the director came in to watch the rehearsal she pulled me aside to watch from the furthest row in the theater mezzanine. Low and behold, the salute didn't work from every angle and for some of the dancers it just looked like they had forgotten the choreography and so the new group was reminding them to get off the stage. That hadn't been my intent at all in a scene that had a fairly somber mood and was now pretty comical.

That's why I hold the belief that even though art is a deeply personal creation, it's a group project. Often we aren't capable of looking out our own work with a critical eye and so we need Tim Gunn-like characters in our lives to give us the news when the intent is easily misconstrued or things start looking a little weird. Of course, that only works if we have the humility to accept advice.

When have you been too close to your work?



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Mansfield Park
An Assembly Such as This
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Little House in the Big Woods
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The Diary of a Young Girl
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I Know What You're Thinking: Using the Four Codes of Reading People to Improve Your Life
A Room with a View
Northanger Abbey, Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon

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