Sunday, March 16, 2008

Am I There Yet? (Skill Acquisition 101)

Isn’t this humbling? Above is a photo of some of my first beads (they are made mostly of furnace glass). The teachers were fantastic (Toby Upton, and Al Young – be still my heart!). It’s not they aren't great artists or great teachers. I just had not yet accomplished the skill set I wanted so desperately to acquire.

Recently a questioned was posed on LE ( A member, Lori Greenburg, of this honorable forum posed a question asking, “When will you be there"? It raised a lot of discussion about the arbitrary deadlines we all set for ourselves. A kind of “timeline” is what Lori called it. We all want to feel accomplished at what we choose to do, but how is that standard set? I mean, what’s "accomplished?" - define that please. Art is in the eye of the beholder is not a statement that sings a single tune. I considered, and am still pondering, the posts made by others.

Tink Martin (who I personally think of as accomplished) hit the nail on the head for me in a very special way. She stated that the word itself could be defined in many ways, how true. For her ‘accomplished’ means that she would have excellent control of the medium, be able to obtain predictable and reproducible results, and have a full understanding of the processes and materials involved. Touché. And further down I'm going to explain why.

Another outstanding point was made by Terri (sculptorgirl) who pointed out that there is a difference between accomplished and accomplishments. Let me quote her directly here, "We can dance around the ideas of "making art for art's sake", or of immersing in the process and letting nature take it's course, and sometimes we will be greeted with some measure of public success. But those who plan (even silently) to expose themselves to attempting "accomplishments" will likely be very much further ahead as a career artist with recognition in their field (as examples of accomplishments: being in a guild, being accepted to a show, teaching, selling work, etc.),...But personally accomplishing something is no more than setting a goal for oneself…., and then working to attain that goal.”

"Otter’s Flame" (a screen name) agreed that the term “accomplished” can mean several different things. He felt (and I hope I do not misquote) that, as applied to his own work, the term had nothing to do with commercial success but the degree in which one can combine technical ability with what they believe has artistic or aesthetic merit. Otter went on to say that if he ever thought of himself as accomplished then he might feel as though he had become complacent and therefore apathetic. Apathetic in his pursuit of knowledge, experience, and creative endeavor. He could not think of himself as accomplished for fear of impeding on the creative challenge of learning and growing as an artist. Interesting, huh?

All of this discussion brought up plenty of fodder for self analyzing. Have I set arbitrary deadlines, have I accomplished what I wanted? What are my goals or, ack, motives? Is it about being known, financial gain, having community respect, does it matter on any level but a personal one?

Personally, I think everyone goes through this (artist or not). It’s a life process that is self perpetuating. Think about it. Didn’t you want to learn how to ride that two wheeled bike? Walk, talk, run? The “personal” part is to what degree you wish to become accomplished at your craft (or anything) and how important it is personally to have those accomplishments recognized in the larger community of your peers and and within yourself. Not everyone goes on to be a BMX star, or wants to, yet they feel accomplished riding that bike around the block. A-okay with me!

There are recognizable steps to skill acquisition: Regardless of what you are learning, if it is new to you, you will go through a determined set of steps. It is inevitable. And this matters why? It’s human nature. When you were a baby you kept trying until you crawled (you wanted to be…over there…and you were going to practice until you got where you wanted to go!) and so the skill acquisition cycle began. Some accomplishments are consciously planned endeavors and some just seem to be an inevitable course of nature. Learning how to reproduce the cycle is what is important if you desire to arrive at wherever it is you want to go, no matter the desired skill.

Let’s go over the steps;

1. Awareness – You become aware of what it is that you don’t know. For example:
The shiny two wheeled bike in the store window you are about to talk a parent in to buying for you!
2. Awkward - This is the” klutz” phase. Do you know anyone who could ride that bike without training
wheels and practice?
3. Skillful - Woo Hoo! You have the ability to do the task with focus and mental
effort. No training wheels, and mom and dad have given up running beside you (they probably can’t
keep up!).
4. Mastery – You do the task effortlessly without even thinking about it. You are
probably riding friends on your handle bars.

“Psychologists have found that it takes about 10,000 hours to develop expertise which usually takes a person on the level of 5 to 10 years.” I have noticed (through experience) that it is fairly easy to move from step one to step two, and not terribly difficult to rise from step two to three. It is arduous to “accomplish” the final phase.

All of this requires a time commitment. Ah-ha, now this is where the arbitrary time line of Lori’s enters the picture. I love learning. To this end anyone who knows me can attest to the fact I take a lot of classes. I have been lampworking for a long time. Well over ten years. I felt pretty accomplished at the last class I took, Jennifer Geldards. I felt skillful and triumphant in all that I accomplished because I could reasonably learn the skills Jennifer was teaching. She was definitely the master and I the student. I will not consider myself a master of those techniques until I have incorporated them into an artistic conception of my own. But, I will get “there”; I know what steps to take!

Some exerts from Lampwork, Etc. and, Escape from Cubicle Nation.


Lori G. said...

whoo hoo! You go girl. How have I not known your blog is out there? I love philosophical discussions.



Sharon Driscoll said...

Thanks Lori - I check your blog all the inspired me to start mine!