Craft Comes from Repetition

  • one of the common themes in Art & Fear is that quality of work in terms of craft comes from the quantity of work produced - simply put, the more of something you do, the better you get at it
  • but this seems to work only up to a point - in The Mundanity of Excellence the common theme is that big jumps in performance come from qualitative, not quantitative changes - but one is about working on your craft, and the other about your performance - can these be meaningfully compared?
    • I think these might be micro and macro views on the same thing - you probably can improve just by doing more of your craft/training up to a point, and then to make a big jump to the "next level", you need to focus on the way in which you are "doing":

      A qualitative change involves modifying what is actually being done, not simply doing more of it.

      The Mundanity of Excellence

      • the hope in Art & Fear is probably that the focus on "what is actually being done" will come downstream from just doing more, where "The Mundanity of Excellence" argues that this is not the case
    • I think I find "The Mundanity of Excellence" paper a bit confusing, as later it says:

      At the lowest levels of competitive swimming, simply showing up for regular practices produces the greatest single speed improvement the athlete will ever experience; and at the lower levels of academia the sheer willingness to put arguments down on paper and send it away to a journal distinguishes one from the mass of one's colleagues in the discipline.

      The Mundanity of Excellence

      • so after all just doing the "correct" thing produces good results, and then Art & Fear says the "correct" thing is working on your craft through repetition

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pounds of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on. Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot - albeit a perfect one - to get an "A". Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Art & Fear

Szymon Kaliski © 2021
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