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I’m fairly certain an artist should not be the sole judge of their own work. Maybe a case can be made for the auteurs of the world having the final say on how their work gets presented. I think that is likely rubbish, and any creator given total control and freedom will either make something terrible, or just never finish anything at all.

I’ve been working on the same set of shaders for ages now, and while I can tell how the new version is subtly better than all the previous versions, it’s doubtful that anyone else will notice, or care. I could probably put a few years into tuning an effect or model or bit of animation, and never be fully satisfied. It’s a cliche that the artist is always the harshest critic, but I don’t think that is really true. It’s not that I think the things I make are terrible, it’s that I know how much work it will take to improve them.

I use to work in commercial art. Logos, layouts, designs, compositions, that sort of thing. Often I would work very hard at it, really put some solid thought and effort into making the best whatever I was making. Some of the stuff, I was really proud of. Sure I saw the flaws, the places that a bit more time, money, or material could have improved, but I wasn’t upset about it. I felt like I had done a good job for the client and I was happy to present them with whatever it was they were paying me for. They were happy, I was happy, I could move on to the next job and do it all over again. This cycle played itself out almost daily. It certainly didn’t drag on for months.

So there is the problem, and also the solution. It isn’t that artists are too critical of their own work to ever be satisfied. The problem is that the client can’t be yourself. The time will never come when you won’t send something back to yourself for revision. You will never hesitate to offer yourself notes. And on the other side, you won’t take the extra step to please yourself. You won’t put in overtime trying to meet your own standards. You already know that you are the worst kind of client. One that can never give a final sign off, one that can’t resist asking for one more pass. So the solution I’m working on is to not be the client.

It might not be entirely healthy for a grown man to invent imaginary people. I’ve got a client here with me, we’ll call him Jeff. Maybe it’s Geof. Either way, that guy is giving me the big thumbs up on this latest version of the shader. He tells me he has a bunch of orders to put through. 3D models, UI, animations, a whole stack of stuff he needs for this game. I couldn’t be happier to help. I want this project of his to look great and I’ll keep banging away on these orders. I may still see the flaws and the places where things could be improved, but Geof over here, he has pretty high standards and he says it’s looking good. If he’s happy, I’m happy.

This post is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 by the author.
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