My series on the principles that enable the art of creating continues and concludes now with “Quality.” As mentioned in the two prior installments, I’m using a chapter from the fine book Everyday Greatness by Stephen R. Covey as the launching point for this article.
It seems needless to mention that our works of art should be possessed of quality. Who doesn’t want that? What we’re exploring here is a presence of quality before the work starts. This comes with the nature of the artisan, or at least the person’s own demand for quality. Some have truly high standards and could not conceive of giving anything but their very best effort in bringing their creation into existence. The degree of care that Beethoven exercised in composing a symphony must have been beyond the conscious scope of the run-of-the-mill classical composer. The insistence on excellence separates the master from the journeyman.
I can’t help but add a short comment here on something that just came up which entertained me at least. I ran a search on the term run-of-the-mill to make sure I was correctly inserting the hyphens. A definition I found on Dictionary.com stated: “unspectacular,” 1909 in a literal sense, in reference to material yielded by a mill, etc., before sorting for quality. The metaphor I see is the mill being the journeyman and the material the piece of art. The run-of-the-mill journeyman grinds out unspectacular material. Part of being a master is having the vision, innovation and intent on high quality before starting the actual physical work.
There are certain pitfalls to avoid in the quest to make our creation first-rate. To name a few for starters, my list would include laziness, lack of attention to detail, making the destination more important than the journey, and poor planning. Your dream may be dazzlingly clear in your mind, but if it isn’t put into action it will never see the light of day. Leonardo Da Vinci said, “Just as iron rusts from disuse, even so does inaction spoil the intellect.” Sculpting a body that practically comes to life is tremendously hard work. If the sculptor’s energy isn’t there for the enormous task, the result won’t be much to behold.
Lack of attention to detail has to be a close cousin to laziness. A fine painting displays wonderful detail with everything from brilliant shaping to deeply inspiring color. I recently saw a remarkable painting at the Tucson Museum of Art. It’s called D.H. Lawrence Tree and was painted by Ellen Wagener. There was more detail in her drawing than any I’ve ever seen. I don’t have the rights to post it, nor do photographs do it justice. The branches and the leaves were innumerable and painstakingly individualized. The artist had an incredible eye and apparently no limit of patience. The quality of this painting so impressed the art world that it landed in a museum. Deservedly so, I must add.
The third pitfall occurs when our thirst to finish our project outweighs our analytical intention to do our best. I’ve felt this many times, especially with menial tasks. I have occasionally fallen prey to the urge when writing a manuscript. Once we slip into our work routine, we may tend to ramp up our speed in order to meet our production goals. Writing a certain number of words per day can become an obsession. It feels great to churn out the pages and gulp down the outline in massive chunks, but there is danger lurking in this approach. Deadlines and overwhelming schedules can make us want to hurry and cause us to compromise our standards. I was reminded of this earlier this month when I attended a talk at the Tucson Festival of Books. Touching on this subject, Stuart Horwitz said something to the effect that the busier you are, the more you should switch from quantity to quality in your writing. It makes sense. Focus on fashioning the most exceptional work you’ve ever done, piece by piece.
Finally, let’s take a look at how poor planning can affect the quality of your chosen medium of art. Obvious, right? How about an instance in which a person thinks they’re planning well and they simply aren’t? I do some work for a local book publisher that is excellent at making quality designs and covers. I learned from Alicja Mann, Director of Word Studio, that many printers and publishers do not know how to bind a cover so it lays flat on the front after the book has been opened for reading. I sure was unaware of this standard of quality. We need to educate and inform ourselves adequately to minimize ignorance preventing us from planning properly. Just because we don’t know about something during our careful planning doesn’t mean it can’t hurt us.