Artist’s discretion, when and how to let go

A wooden sign that reads
Deer camp sign designed by That Family Shop.

One of my favorite life lessons I learned from my father was the idea of “artist’s discretion,” the idea of hiring and artist, giving them some parameters, but also leaving room for them to be who they are, artists, creatives. Doing so almost always leads to results well beyond my imagination.

Anyone who has spent a decent amount of time with me knows that, in most of my life, I’m incredibly thoughtful and purposeful. My kitchen dishes are green because I’ve studied color theory and concluded that green was the best color for dishes. My emails are written in particular formats based on empirical research and business books I’ve read about which format in which situation will most likely be read, received well, etc.

How to let go

But when working with artists, that level of calculation leads to frustration on everyone’s part and, most of the time, only an average result. Instead, you have to let go of the reigns a bit and allow room for creativity. This doesn’t mean you give up ALL parameters, but you only communicate the important ones. After that, you provide “the overall picture.”

In high school, I would order my date’s flower from a local florist. I’d call him up and tell him how much money I had to spend (parameter), what color my dress was and that I’d like it to match my dress (overall picture), and that I’d like something different. Every time, he would make me something exceptional, such as a beautiful arrangement of wildflowers. While admittedly, my dates didn’t care, I appreciated the beauty of his work and he told me that he appreciated the opportunity to be creative and not just do another traditional rose.

Similarly, recently I ordered a custom sign for a deer camp from That Family Shop on Etsy. While I designated the size, waterproofing and the words that needed to be on it (parameters), I asked the artist to use artist’s discretion on what the design should look like. I then provided a description of where the sign would be used and a description of the person the sign was for (overall picture). The result was the amazing sign you see in the photo above.

When to let go

It may be different for you, but I’ve found that artist’s discretion should be encouraged whenever you are working with an artist and part of the goal has to do with beauty vs. solely effectiveness (which is pretty much every instance of working with a creative).

For example, part of the arrangement of my home is for it to be efficient and effective, but I also want it to look beautiful. So, after my move, I tried to sit quietly as my aspiring interior design friend rearranged my strategically-placed furniture. The result was much better.

What are instances where you’ve allowed for artist’s discretion?

Artists, I’d love to hear your side of this too!

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