The art of perfection or how to develop the skills that pay the bills!
In David Bayles and Ted Orland’s book “Art and fear” they cite a project of a ceramicist teacher. In the project the teacher split the class into two groups one group was told that they would be graded entirely on the quantity of pots that they produced - produce as many as you can, they whole elite will be weighted at the end of the project. The other half of the class was told that they would be graded entirely on quality. It did not matter how many pots they produced during the process, they simply had to arrive with one perfect pot at the end of the project. The results were astounding as, without exception, the students that produced the most pots, also produced the best pot. It would seem that the students in the quantity group were rapidly producing pots, failing, and learning from their mistakes, whereas the quality group was slaving over design and working out perfection without experimentation. And without feeling what failure felt like and recovering from it.
I think this experiment is so important to understand when try trying to develop your skills as a professional artist. You're not simply looking for one piece of perfection when you're creating art you have to go on a journey before that piece of perfection happens. Anyone that is put off creating art because it won't be perfect is doomed to failure and never to pick up a brush again! Those of us who are prepared to fail, those of us who are prepared to throw the campus in the bin and start all over again, those of us who are prepared to keep trying are on the road to success because eventually something good will come.
One cannot possibly sit down at the piano for the first time, having read every book on classical music, and expect to play Rachmaninov’s piano concerto Number 2 straight off. You've got to play a lot of bum notes before you're going to play that concerto!
So how do we experiment successfully? Is there such a thing as successful failure?
Looking at my own practice I think without doubt the “quantity/ quality “ experiment is evident in my work. At the beginning of the year I started daily painting. I need to be clear here I'm not necessarily painting every single day, but every working day. everyday, I sat in my studio in Salisbury, on dark January days, painting as if my life depended on it. I think this has hugely enhanced my practice. I began the year by painting little still life paintings of fruit. This might seem an odd choice as all of my larger paintings are landscapes or big colourful animals.
So what possible relevance could it be to paint some dramatically lit cherries on a small canvas?
The benefit was in the doing: learning how to set things up, learning how to create interesting composition with very simple elements, learning to mix colour accurately, learning to see colour on a plain white tablecloth where others might have simply painted it white and grey. There are so many skills involved in painting a small painting that this has helped inform my larger, more ambitious work.
This whole process has enabled me to understand my medium in even greater depth; oil paint is, in my view, a fathomless medium so understanding it is a lifelong task.
I am delighted with the work that I have been producing of late, and you might have seen some of my work on my Facebook page or on Instagram or on Twitter. But rest assured there are plenty of experiments, accidents, and a huge number of mistakes that have led to the work that I am now able to produce and publish on the Internet.
So I urge you next time you look at a piece of art don't think about how long it took, think about how many failures there were before it worked. This might encourage you to buy it or it might encourage you to get your paint brush out, either way, you’ll be on a journey to understand the skills that pay the bills.