Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The peril of pursuing perfection

with 4 comments

I have written about the difficulty faced by adult beginners in playing piano: they are hyperconscious of the mistakes they make, and they don’t want to play until they can play without making such mistakes. But studying our mistakes is how we learn.

I just came across this story from Art and Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland:

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.

Update: Cf. Linus Pauling: “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.”

Written by Leisureguy

16 November 2020 at 3:42 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Wow that’s so interesting. I just picked up drawing, and a lot of the lessons I’ve been seeing have encouraged me to ‘fail faster’, to make more mistakes so I can learn from them, instead of spending days on one little thing like drawing an eye. Thanks for this!


    Stuart Danker

    16 November 2020 at 7:02 pm

  2. Note how very young children learn: lots of mistakes, lots of learning. But you must observe your mistakes to learn from them. Basic rule: “Do lots, and pay attention.”



    16 November 2020 at 7:13 pm

  3. To learn to draw an eye, draw lots of eyes. (Cf. Linus Pauling: “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.”



    16 November 2020 at 7:16 pm

  4. BTW, the same thing is true for learning how to operate on an eye. An early-20th-century eye surgeon remarked, “I must have ruined a bushel full of eyes before I learned how to do it.”



    16 November 2020 at 7:17 pm

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