I’m not at all sure I agree with today’s tip — the last in The Art of Practice. For what it’s worth, here it is:
Let Inventory Be Your Teacher
The more you paint, the luckier you’ll become. Small is best. You’ll make more if you work small. (Many, many more.) Avoid sofa-sized work until you turn 90. Then you might be ready. Until then, just don’t. You’ll be happier with inventory.
When I read this tip, it seems to be saying that quantity is better than quality, and I definitely don’t agree with that. Sure, it’s nice to have lots of completed paintings, but given a choice, I’d prefer to have a few very good works of art in my inventory than a room filled with mediocre paintings.
Trust me, I know what it’s like. I do have a room filled with mediocre paintings. Although my husband believes every canvas I paint is a true work of art, I’m honest enough about my abilities to admit that many of my paintings are downright awful! Others are better, and a few are better still.
Learning oil painting is an on-going process, and I hope my paintings continue to improve. That does mean making a lot of paintings — so there’s the idea of quantity again — but today’s tip seems to imply that we should be happy with our present level of skill and merrily churn out dozens upon dozens of works without giving thought to improvement.
Maybe there’s also a suggestion there, though, that getting better is inevitable if we keep churning out those paintings. The tip tells us that the more we paint, the luckier we’ll become — and maybe that means we’ll get better results.
Still, I don’t like the way the tip is written. Luck is great in any endeavor in life, yet I also want any success I achieve to be attributable, in part, at least, to skill. We all work hard to improve. We invest time. We put in effort. We deserve to give ourselves credit for what we do.
The tip also repeats the idea of working small — The Art of Practice – Tip #2 — and I don’t fully agree with that one, either. According to today’s practice tip, very few artists would ever be ready to paint a large work. That’s nonsense, don’t you think?
Overall, I find Practice Tip #10 to be demeaning and discouraging. I don’t want to focus on how many paintings I make, nor do I want to create lots of little paintings. And if I feel like doing a sofa-sized painting, that’s exactly what I will do!
The purpose of practice is to improve, not to be content with where we currently are, not to count on luck to get us through, and definitely not to limit our expression or discourage us from attempting bigger and bolder works.
I understand that I will have to make lots of bad paintings in order to get to the good ones, but doing those paintings should be seen as a means to an end — improvement — and not the end itself. Isn’t that what practice is all about?