A few years ago I read a strangely comforting book, The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It was comforting because it tells stories about people who were successful because of social constructs geared to make them successful, and others who, while being just as worthy/unworthy as the first group, were unsuccessful for precisely the same reason. That’s part reassuring and part maddening.
That’s what I took from it anyway – might be time for a re-read!
It’s been a while since I read it and even longer since he wrote it but I remember one of the salient points being that a practitioner requires 10,000 hours to achieve master at a given art or subject.
I remember a snippet of time when I stood under a mango tree in the back yard of the second house I owned and discussed this idea of 10,000 hours with my then boyfriend. I dreamed of being an expert in art history and would devote my time and energy to reading everything I could on the subject. Over the years, I have probably clocked a few thousand hours on the subject including museum visits but I truly the quality of the practice has some bearing on the level of mastery attained.
I have no doubt that given my life to do over, should I devote myself to the (almost pointless) pursuit of mastering the knowledge of art history I could do it. Mastering is probably the wrong term for becoming more of an art-themed know-it-all than I already am? And why would I do it? How can an encyclopedic knowledge of art history serve humanity? And why would I want to do that anyway? Fate/destiny/karma is weird. Seriously, why the fuck would the powers-that-be, including me if I indeed had a say in it, plonk an art-obsessed soul in the boondocks and not expect a life filled with dissatisfaction?
My first husband’s sister watched me at work in the art gallery once, all white walls and black turtlenecks, and remarked, ‘How on earth did you survive Ipswich?’ I almost didn’t.
Obviously, I found a calling of sorts in making art, but my soul longed to clasp my hands behind my back and teach a shadowy lecture hall of eager people the origins of the Renaissance, the true power of Impressionism, the genius of Georgia O’Keeffe. This is vintage me – choosing intellect over action. Why paint when I could talk, read? I’m really good at talking about painting, I’m fair to middling at painting. I am passionate about talking about art, could take or leave the painting. Talking about art energises me, painting makes me doubt my sanity.
So here I am, all these years later, writing about visual art and chance I get. The subject worms its way into my fiction novels – there’s always an artist, a painting, a drawing. My (somewhere near) 10,000 hours are starting to pay dividends however meagre.
Recently I read somewhere that researchers have since learned that along with the quality of the practice, it is also the space between the hours of practice logged that is the magic in the formula.
Spending the next 4 years playing the piano 7 hours a day might rack up the magic number of hours but there’ll be something lacking, surely. After all, it’s not achieving the goal that is important but who you become on the way to achieving the goal. (Ooh I love an inspirational quote!) What we do daily is crucial but we also have to take time out to follow our curiosity, to rest, to make mistakes.
We have to remember to follow our passions where they lead us, even if there’s no career path or money to be made. We need passions, even if it’s just for five minutes a day. Is this me justifying the fact that I’ve had to squeeze a few minutes of writing in here and there during this very busy time for our business? You’re damn right. 😛
Check out the amazing work of Lucy Bellwood starting with the 100 demon dialogues. Bloody brilliant more than a few ideas for dealing with our inner critic.