Monday, August 4, 2014

The Error of Our Ways

"Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new." ― Albert Einstein
I'm always surprised by the intensity of self-criticism. No matter the category, people always assume the worst about their own talent and the best about others' talent, and are brutally self-destructive about even minor mistakes. Whatever the underlying social cause of this phenomenon, it's destructive and needs to stop if creative progress is to be made.

Focusing the Leica is difficult. But the exposure looks good! 

Part of the solution is realizing that the creative process is just that: a process. It's a process that takes an exceedingly long time. Mistakes are the signposts of that progress. Mistakes are a sure sign that you are working through something important. The problem is that we see only the final product, and so rarely the draft. But consider:

  • Marcel Duchamp worked in private on the tableau called “Étant Donnés: 1. La Chute d’Eau, 2. Le Gaz d’Éclairage” (“Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas”) between 1946 and 1966. In other words, it took him 20 years to finish the piece. 
  • Henri Matisse worked on "Bathers by a River" for eight years, repeatedly redrawing and repainting the figures' positions.
  • According to Wikipedia, at the time of his death Gary Winogrand left behind "2,500 rolls of undeveloped film, 6,500 rolls of developed but not proofed exposures, and contact sheets made from about 3,000 rolls."

These artists took years to develop even single projects. Iteration and revision was the process, and nothing was revealed until that labor finally revealed the underlying reason for the work of art. Each piece which was finally selected represented an entirety of effort that was the life of that artist. 

A story is told about Pablo Picasso: 
   In Paris, there was a woman strolling along a street, when she spotted Picasso sketching near a sidewalk cafe.
   "Not so thrilled that she could not be slightly presumptuous, the woman asked Picasso if he might sketch her, and charge accordingly. Picasso obliged. In just minutes, there she was: an original Picasso."
   “And what do I owe you?” she asked. “Five thousand francs,” he answered.
   “But it only took you three minutes,” she politely reminded him.
   “No,” Picasso said, “It took me all my life.”
An artist can be evaluated only by the totality of produced work. Only the best pieces are hung in museums, but that doesn't mean that it didn't take 1,000 drafts to get there. 

From brainpickings.com: the changes Matisse made to the "Bathers" over the course of eight years.

Moreover, great ideas can never be expressed in one shot. Great ideas are the product of many diverse elements being seen together as a whole, and that whole--as in Duchamp's case--couldn't be understood until he produced his last work of art at the very end of his life. 

Accordingly, the goal should never be to find "the one great picture." Instead, the goal is to progress by iteration, letting the mind reveal itself over time. Accept and confront the mistakes as a necessary part of the iteration that is learning, and enjoy the process of your own iteration as you keep improving with each passing error. 

And please do enjoy a laugh at a couple of my mistakes! I hate to be alone with these disasters of film. 


Focus and framing really help an image.