Monday, July 15, 2013

Practice Makes Perfect....Or At Least Brings Improvement


Dancers practicing with instructor.

It's always interesting when something new pops into your attention and with your new awareness you see this new concept, idea, thing, everywhere or at least you see it again.

Last week I was looking at Daniella Woolf's book Encaustic With A Textile Sensibility.  In her introduction she mentions the concept that it takes 10,000 repetitions of a specific action to master that action.  In the case of this reference Daniella was speaking about learning to prime a substrate with wax  so that it was flat.  Looks easy but isn't.

WOW!  10,000 repetitions!  Really?  OK, Daniella did not make this number up and I doubt she really literally means 10,000 repetitions, but I do appreciate the idea behind what she was saying.  In order to be a master at what you are doing you must put in the time to learn your craft.  You can not expect to walk in an art studio, or any other studio, and do everything perfectly the first time you try.  It does happen that some people have more dexterity or better ideas etc. but sometimes this is the famous occurrence of beginners luck.  What I'm talking about is the absorption of a skill to the point that you use it correctly and with ease.  It becomes part of who you are and what you can do.

Repetition of a skill or better yet, conscious and informed repetition of a skill will bring improvement.  I looked around on the web and found several articles about this idea of 10,000 repetition.  Here is link to one of those articles relating to dancing: Repetition: The Mother of All Learning.  This article points to the importance of practicing correctly.  You can also teach yourself to do something incorrectly just as easily as correctly.  I shared with you some time ago that I am taking piano.  The system my teacher teaches is Simply Music.  This system teaches by playing and then later you learn to read music.  This means that you practice pieces over a long period and continue to practice and in about a year you should be able to play around 50 pieces with no music. If you practice correctly you will play correctly.  Students are encouraged to learn the music slowly so as not to learn bad habits.  The best practice is with a teacher who can give you feedback instantly as to what is correct and what you might need to change.  The picture I shared is in a dance studio and in the back ground you can just see the instructor who was dancing with the students and then watching them to give directions.

The visual arts attract people of all ages and the expectations of these different age groups is very different.  The child often comes to the art table with wide eyes and a fearless attitude.  Adults often come to the art table with self imposed pressure, anxiety and a desire to perform like a pro but without the years of practice a pro has.  One of the things I try to incorporate into my workshop classes is accepting students where ever they are in the process and helping them to stay positive and see that they just need to keep learning and practicing and change will come.  Will we all be world class art makers?  I don't think so but we can grow and improve and feel the satisfaction that comes with that growth.

I am compelled to end with this old joke:  How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice, practice, practice.

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Thank you for spending time at Studio 24-7.
Practice is a good thing.
One day those hard skills will be as natural 
as blinking.

I love hearing from you so please comment.
It's FREE!!

12 comments:

  1. With practice one can do better work in less time, which is why the time spent on making something shouldn't be such a big consideration in the value attributed to a piece of work.

    And to take your analogy a little further...becoming a good musician takes years and years of practice on one or maybe two instruments. Trying a new instrument every month or two will not get you very far. I think the same is true for visual arts. New techniques are interesting and can open one's mind to new approaches, but one needs to spend a lot of time working, using a certain set of techniques in a certain medium, to become a master in that area.

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    1. Well said Susan. Jumping into new things can be good but to make them your own you have to put in quality time and practice. I especially appreciate your comment regarding time and the value of a piece of work. Many people never think about what the artist or performer has put into learning their craft which allows them to work quickly and well. This is what brings forth the questions," How long did it take you to make that?" The real answer to that questions should be, "Years and years."

      Thank you for commenting!

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    2. Pleasure!

      I get that question a lot! Or someone would comment on a quilt saying that it must have taken hours and hours of work, when I would rather have them see what I was trying to say. It is similar to someone commenting on your eloquence and the time it took to master the language after you have just poured your heart out about something...Well, maybe not that similar, but I am sure you catch my drift.

      Good luck with your piano playing by the way! I am sure you will keep practicing...

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    3. You are exactly right. The "time" question completely misses the point.

      The piano lessons have been great fun and a good mental workout. I will continue to practice but I have no expectations of performance other than for my personal enjoyment. I know now, unlike when I was a child, that the practice is part of the joy of learning.

      Thanks so much for your interest in this topic!

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    4. I've been reading more about that observation of 10,000 hours. The new twist i've read is a clarification that the 10,000 hours does not guarantee a level of expertise-- which was a conclusion kind of implied by the original book, The Talent Code. If fact, some researchers say that the more hours one practices, the more differences in ability surface. For example, Terry is gifted at composing- and has been from day 1 of our piano lessons. Some others might work for a year and not achieve the level of fluidity she has. So, there is inherent ability or for lack of a better word, " talent". But this is not meant to dissuade. It's the process of creating that holds the real joy--- more than the product. If this interests you, read Creativity Beyond Compare by Forest Kinney. Creating by inspiration, not expectation.

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    5. Thank you Elaine! I agree with what you are saying. We are not all equal in our abilities but we can improve with practice. I love the book you mentioned, Creativity Beyond Compare. See you soon.

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  2. I appreciate these comments, being both a musician and fiber artist. I get that question a lot, both in regards to music and fiber art. I never quite get why anyone cares, as my mind races to try to figure out a good answer. I like Susan's answer of years and years, because often it hasn't taken very long! But I think the person asking wants me to say it took many hours. Thanks for an interesting discussion.

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    1. Hi Gail! I always think people ask the "how long" question because in they don't understand the process used for art and they often don't understand what they are seeing. They do understand something about "time" so the question just pops out. I made a piece last year that had very intense hand stitching. I've shown it once with a group of my other pieces. Almost everyone who saw the show remarked on the intensely stitched piece. All of those who commented did so in part due to the amount of time it took to complete. Fun to know you are a musician! Thanks for commenting.

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  3. My favorite answer to that question is ALL OF MY LIFE. I would not have been able to finish my most recent work without all the "practice" that came before it. I teach machine quilting to beginners and I can see it in their eyes--they are hoping that I have some sort of potion for them to drink that will make them amazing quilters. I always say, "The only thing different between you and me and our quilting skills is practice." It is not the answer they want, but it is the truth. Thank Terry for writing about this.

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    1. Hi Maria. Thank you for sharing your experience. I can see and hear the truth of your description of this situation with your students. I mentioned that I am taking piano instruction. My teacher is a fabulous musician and she shared with me that despite her years of experience, that if she fails to practice her skills suffer. Interesting. Great to hear from you.

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  4. Well, Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this in Outliers. It takes 10,000 hours to become highly successful in anything.

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    1. I have heard of this book but have not read so I'll have to check into it. Thanks Christine!

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