I’m reminded of a story I read years ago.
Nancy and Ronald Reagan were invited as the special guest of some Hollywood actress to the premiere if her new movie. This was pre-politics era for the Reagans, and it was said that Nancy didn’t think much of the actress, professionally or personally.
After the screening, there was a reception line where the attendees extended their congratulations to the actress (as well as the others involved in the production).
When the Reagans got to the front of the line, it was said that Nancy beamed broadly, took her hand warmly, and said “Well! You did it again!”
That cracked me up.
For me personally, I learned a hard lesson about false flattery years ago. Angie and I were newlyweds, and she called me at work all excited about this amazing spaghetti dinner she had planned, and please don’t be late because it is going to be so amazing!
I drove home with thoughts of this amazing dinner in my head, only to be profoundly disappointed at some ghastly, mushroom based white sauce abomination that I could barely choke down.
Of course, being the supportive husband that I wanted to be, I told her I loved it.
Which means I spent the next ten years eating that foul concoction twice a month. Until I had had enough and told her the truth. Went over as you might expect, but my purgatory ended.
The challenge as I see it is that people invest so much of themselves and their egos into creative work. It’s hard, to the point of impossible, to give an honest appraisal of the work without also giving one of the person.
All things considered, I’d rather be told something I produced is shit than to be jerked off. Nothing is more valuable than your time. If I’m wasting mine, I want to know.
All this is complicated by the fact that creation tends to be a young person’s game. There is a line between constructive and honest opinion vs cruelty and discouragement. No one wants to crush a creative young person’s spirit. You never know how they might evolve.
My go to is usually something in the form of “I’m not sure I understand it, but it is certainly interesting”.