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Editing: A Completely Different Skill Set

Monday, 27. May 2019 0:34

There have been a number of posts in this blog on creativity. This is one more—well sort of. This is about the step after creativity. No matter what art we are engaged in, sooner or later we have to edit. And that’s a completely different skillset from the set that we used to create the artifact in the first place. There have previous posts about editing: one discusses the benefits of editing, another discusses the necessity for editing, and a third discusses the difficulty of editing.

To edit is “to alter, adapt or refine especially to bring about conformity to a standard to suit a particular purpose.” So basically we’re going to refine results of our creativity. In order to do that, we are going to judge our own work and then take action to correct the faults and omissions we find. This is a difficult thing to do, particularly because it’s difficult to get the distance we need to do a really good job on our own work.

So what skills and qualities do we need to do this job?

  1. Objectivity. We must come to the work with “new eyes,” i.e. we have to look at the work as though we have never seen it before. When we are in edit mode, we are looking at the work the way we think a very discerning audience might. Once we are in that place, we can begin to see what might impact that audience in what ways. So we begin to learn what we might leave out and add to make the work stronger.
  2. Ruthlessness. To actually start cutting away and adding in we must be without fear and without remorse. Every piece that we eliminate or modify is something that we made, and while it may have a great deal of merit on its own, it must be removed for the overall good of the piece. It takes strength to excise perfectly good material, but we must trust ourselves that the impact of the edited piece will justify the surgery.
  3. Knowledge of purpose, plan, message. In order to make such a judgement, we must first be aware of what the piece of work is trying to accomplish. Only by having this goal foremost in mind can we assess whether the artifact succeeds or fails in achieving that purpose. A firm separation from the artist must be maintained to insure valid judgement.
  4. A set of standards by which to judge. In addition to the goal of the piece, we need to be aware of our own standards about what makes art good. This can be something as simple as adherence to the principles of design or some more complex set of standards that has to do with our sense of aesthetics and ultimately what we think about the nature of art.
  5. A willingness to check the tiniest of details. We not only have to look at large issues like message and adherence to standards, we have to be able to drill down into the work to see how very small details affect the larger work. It is at this point when we really begin to understand what must be changed to improve the piece, or what needs to be left out entirely, or what must be enhanced.
  6. A means of judging the overall impact. Now that we have standards and some notion of the purpose of the piece and have looked at the details, we need to take a bird’s eye view to see how everything works together to create overall impact, and, more importantly, how pruning can improve that impact.

As you can see, this is not even close to the skill set for creativity. But if we are to be successful as working artists, we must develop this set of qualities and skills as well as the creative ones. Just as we develop our creative work flow, we must develop our judgement and willingness to edit ruthlessly to better our imaginative output.  Better editing will facilitate better work.

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How Much Skill Do You Need?

Monday, 18. February 2019 0:20

An old article on the hyperrealistic work of Leng Jun circulated through my news reader this week. Hyperrealism is probably the epitome of drawing and is practiced by only a few artists. And while such work is interesting, even amazing, it seems to exist for no other reason than itself. Perhaps that is enough.

The real question in my mind is how much skill does an artist need? Certainly not all artists have to draw as well as Leng Jun or any of the other hyperrealists to create their work, but how well do they need to draw? Do they need to be able to draw at all? It seems that if one is a visual artist, drawing is a basic skill. Even Banksy has an opinion on the matter: “All artists are prepared to suffer for their work but why are so few prepared to learn to draw?” (from his book Wall and Piece).

For that matter, how much skill does any artist need? The intuitive answer is “as much as s/he can get.” But is that the right answer? Certainly every artist needs some skill, but does very artist need as much drawing skill as Leng Jun? Some would say “no” and cite successful artists who seem to have excelled without being able to draw. Some would even use Picasso as an example; those, however, would have demonstrated that they were not familiar with his early work. The man could draw, perhaps not on the level of Leng Jun, but certainly competently.

Others, of course, would say “yes” and point to that exact same early work, arguing that had he not been able to draw well, Picasso would never have gotten to the pinnacle of his success. But did Picasso need the extreme technical mastery that Leng Jun’s work requires? I would argue that that artists do need competency in basic skills; however, they need not be “the best” at any one skill unless their specialty demands that.

Readers of this blog know that I am a fan of John Chamberlain’s sculpture but probably do not know that I have had welding training (I do not claim to be an expert, but I am competent). I have examined Chamberlain’s welds on a number of his works carefully and can verify that he was not the best welder on the planet. He did not need to be; he needed to have enough competence at welding to assemble his sculptures securely enough that they could be transported. And that he did; he had no reason to reach the level of competence expected of, say, a gas pipeline welder.

So the answer to the question, how much skill does an artist need? is that s/he needs a level of competency that allows him/her to produce his/her work without first having to improve his skill level. Certainly, artists-in-training should seek to master skills basic to their art, but have no real need to go beyond that. There is much more learn about to creating art than an extreme skill level. There is creativity, thought, expressiveness, and ability to communicate just to mention a few. To do the sort of work that he wants to do, Leng Jun needs a very high level of drawing skill; other artists, doing other sorts of drawing/painting do not need that level of expertise. For example, LeRoy Neiman needed drawing skill to produce his paintings, but because his work was far more expressionistic, he did not need the same level of that particular skill; it did require, however, other things.

So as we prepare ourselves for our next projects, it is well for us to remember that we need not be absolute experts in every skill that our work requires; we do, however, need a level of expertise that allows us to create artifacts to carry our ideas to our audience, with maybe a little left over.

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“I Never Thought About It Like That Before”

Monday, 9. October 2017 1:13

Over the last few weeks I’ve heard that phrase or some variation three or four times. In each case it was a genuine acknowledgement of a new and interesting viewpoint on an old topic. It’s not a saying that we hear all that frequently, so it surprised me to hear it so often in such a relatively short time span. And there’s a reason that it’s not all that common; it’s because we are seldom presented with the opportunity to say it. Rarely are we presented with a new and interesting viewpoint on an old topic.

And that’s sad, because it seems to me that that is exactly what artists should be doing: looking at topics (Old topics are just fine—are there really any new topics?) with new eyes and thinking about them in new ways and then showing that new, unique, and interesting viewpoint to their audience. Isn’t that what all the great artists have done—forced their audiences to look at a subject from a different perspective—one they never thought of before? And suddenly their world changes. Because of the new point of view, they see the matter in a completely new light, and if their mind is open only the smallest bit, they are forced to acknowledge how different the topic is when viewed from this new direction.

If the artist is in the business of making artifacts to sell and has found a comfortable market niche, s/he may not be interested in doing anything differently; the old point of view may be working very well. However, if the artist is about creating new things, developing a new viewpoint may be exactly what is needed. It will provide the artist with a different approach to his/her work which can only result in work that is new and different, work that is more thought-provoking and interesting than previous work.

Still, it’s difficult to look at thing differently than we have in the past. Artists, like almost everyone else, have comfortable habits, both physical and mental. We do things the way we’ve done them in the past, and we think about think about things the way we always have. And it becomes really easy to convince ourselves that we can create within our comfort zones. And we can, but our work of tomorrow is likely to look like our work of today which looks like our work of yesterday. Our work is of high quality and has a consistent point of view. What could be better?

Work that is of high quality and is new and fresh and unexpected might be better. That is what we could anticipate if we can manage to come out of our comfort zone and look at our subject matter and take a fresh look at our subject matter. With that fresh look will come fresh insights, and those fresh insights will cause our work to be new and fresh as well. And because our work is new and fresh and interesting, we have more to give our audience.

The net result is that we will be better artists. It is likely that we will not reach our full artistic potential until we are willing to come out of that comfort zone and look at the world or at least the artistic part of our world in new and different ways. Only by doing that will we grow as artists.

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Is It Worth Keeping?

Monday, 5. June 2017 2:57

Last week my main documents hard drive crashed. Well, not exactly crashed, but became corrupted, the net result of which is much the same thing. No big deal—I had a backup. I bought a new drive, popped it in place, and set about to restore. The backup was corrupt as well. What are the odds?

After I was sure that I had two good backups of my primary images drive, I set out to see if the non-existent files could be recovered. I found an excellent free recovery tool called Recuva, made by Piriform.  On the first pass, the program found no files on the drive and asked would I like for it to do a deep search. I clicked on yes and in 3 hours, the little utility had found 166,649 files, about half of which it thought were recoverable.

Since I had been implementing the decluttering system found in Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, this seemed the perfect opportunity to extend tidying to the hard drive, except it was not a decision of what to throw out; it was a choice of what to put in, what to recover. Looking at it that way, the problem was somehow changed. The other challenge was that all I had to go on was the file name and extension. Since the file was unrecovered, it was impossible to see the contents. It turns out that this particular drive had had a number of uses during its life before it came to be my primary documents drive. Some of the files were ancient, at least in computer years, so there were a number that I knew were obsolete, and a whole other set that I had no idea what were. Then, of course, there were some that I recognized.

So the problem became how to decide, with limited knowledge, what was important and what was detritus. Then there was the time factor: scanning over a hundred thousand files takes a considerable amount of time, even moving quickly, much less making a save-or-delete-forever decision. Even with the software ratings of the likelihood of recovering the files, the time commitment would be enormous.

What happened was that I learned very quickly to come up with criteria about what was worth keeping, at least long enough to evaluate. Otherwise, I would still be running through the list of files. It occurred to me that just such criteria would be very useful in dealing with our art and even our lives. Many of us have stacks of unrealized or failed projects lying about taking up space. We have items in our environments which bring us no joy at all and which are certainly not worth keeping. (Kondo’s criterion for keeping or discarding is whether the object in question brings us joy.) Perhaps we should consider eliminating those elements that make our lives less artistic than they could be. (Living an artistic life was discussed previously here.)

It would not be an easy thing to do. Just like the hard drive, we have many thousands of things which take our time and energy. If we were to eliminate those that were, for whatever reason, not worth keeping, think how much more time and energy we would have to give not only to our art, but to those other things that are really important to us. Perhaps a better strategy than waiting for a hard drive—or an artistic environment—to crash is become proactive and begin to rid ourselves of those things that do not serve us.

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The Importance of Venue

Sunday, 5. January 2014 23:56

In a recent blog, Seth Godin makes the point that if we think we are supposed to like something, we probably will. He uses the examples of laughing more at a comedy club, liking the food better at fancy restaurants, and feeling like we have a bargain if we buy it at an outlet store. In other words, the venue influences the perceived value of the experience.

Reinforcing this idea is the Washington Post experiment instigated by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Gene Weingarten and implemented by Grammy Award-winning violinist and conductor Joshua Bell. Bell, lightly disguised, played as a street performer for 45 minutes at L’Enfant Plaza in Washington DC on January 12, 2007. Only seven people stopped to listen and he collected a total of $32.17. Earlier the same week, he had played the same concert to a sold-out $100-per-seat house.

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet once compared New York and Chicago theatre audiences in what seems to be a comment on the same phenomenon, “In Chicago, we just presume that the best theatre is going to be in somebody’s garage.”

This about more than the environment in which an art work exists, it is about the perception of value (the qualitative portion of audience expectation) based strictly on venue. Because of the prices we pay, and the location of the theatres, we expect New York theatre to be the best in the world, and consequently we like it more. As we move away from Manhattan, our expectations shrink and we expect to like what we see less; we are hardly ever disappointed. We look at the environment and adjust our expectations. Is it a union house? Are the actors professional? Are they students? Whether consciously or unconsciously, we modify our expectations according to the venue. We expect less and like it less.

This way of thinking does not apply only to theatre. We base our expectation of the quality of any art on the venue and the location of the venue. So when we walk into the hole-in-the-wall club in Tennessee, we do not expect to hear world class music.  When we visit an outdoor art fair in Texas, we do not anticipate seeing mature, masterful work. We do not really expect world-class anything outside of the “proper” context.

Like many of the passersby in the Washington Post experiment, many of us are so locked into the idea of how we are supposed to respond (according to location and situation) that we cannot hear the actual quality of the music or see the real quality of the art.

An earlier installment of this blog, “Context Matters” said, “The ambiance surrounding works of art, seeps into the work, and fuses with it. It impacts the work and cannot do otherwise. It’s part of the art transaction that cannot be avoided. The trick then is to be able to mentally decontextualize the work, so that you can be sure that you are actually appreciating the piece, not the context in which you find it.” Although certainly a desirable ideal, the more I learn, the less sure I am that decontextualization is a real possibility—at least for most people.

And although we know very well that quality is not related to venue, as artists we need to be aware of this phenomenon and realize that where we show our work does indeed matter to the majority of our audience. We may not like it, but we had better learn to deal with it.

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Art is Not Just a Matter of Preference

Sunday, 15. September 2013 23:44

When I was an undergraduate, I had an English professor who said that the accomplished student of literature should be able to read a poem and separate the quality of the work and whether or not it was personally appealing. The implications, of course, were that not all poetry is created equal and that liking something has nothing to do with whether it is good or not.

This has not been a popular position in the postmodern world, where all work is pretty much equal. And although postmodernism is, according to some, dead, it left a legacy. Daniel C. Dennett has said, “Postmodernism, the school of ‘thought’ that proclaimed ‘There are no truths, only interpretations’ has largely played itself out in absurdity, but it has left behind a generation of academics in the humanities disabled by their distrust of the very idea of truth and their disrespect for evidence, settling for ‘conversations’ in which nobody is wrong and nothing can be confirmed, only asserted with whatever style you can muster.”

And as elevated as the egalitarianism of postmodernism sounds, most of us who work in the arts know that it simply isn’t true. There is good acting and bad acting, good directing and not-so-good directing, good writing and bad writing. There are, in fact, qualitative differences in the performing arts. And other arts are no different. Given that, the problem is articulating what constitutes good art and less good art, and that, in turn, requires that we be able to distinguish art from non-art.

Although many have attempted this, novelist Leo Tolstoy is one of the few who not only distinguished art from non-art, but articulated the conditions which determine the qualitative levels of art. Tolstoy collected his views in a book called What is Art? It is not an easy read. Fortunately, Maria Popova has summarized and presented Tolstoy’s ideas in a recent posting to Brain Pickings. Essentially, Tolstoy said that art is a union between the artist and viewer or receiver of the art that allows the receiver to feel and experience the feelings and experiences that the artist put into the work. Additionally, this union works not only in one era, but across time and cultures. He says that what distinguishes real art is the presence of this infectiousness.

He goes on to say that the stronger the infection, the better the art, and that the degree of quality is dependent on three conditions:

  1. The individuality of the feeling being transmitted. (More is better.)
  2. The clarity of the expression. (Clearer is better.)
  3. And the sincerity of the artist. (Sincere is better.) This is the most important condition.

Sincerity in Tolstoy’s view is what gives art it’s power and is the source of its infectiousness: “The chief peculiarity of this feeling is that the receiver of a true artistic impression is so united to the artist that he feels as if the work were his own and not someone else’s — as if what it expresses were just what he had long been wishing to express. A real work of art destroys, in the consciousness of the receiver, the separation between himself and the artist.”

Whether or not we fully agree with Tolstoy, or even understand him, most of us instinctively know that all art is not created equal. There is excellent work and there is crap, and there are all sorts of levels in between. Most of us know that. It’s time that we quit pretending that it’s all about individual expression and acknowledge that Tolstoy has a point. Art is not just a matter of preference.

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Artistic Success: A Matter of Definition?

Sunday, 26. May 2013 23:47

It is very evident that the student’s comment that he wanted to “live an artistic life” engendered much discussion. The meaning of the phrase was, according to the student, to support himself by doing his art. One person with whom I discussed this suggested that the student’s was likely to produced art of diminished quality. Further discussion revealed that the idea was based on two suppositions. The first was that the student would cling to the notion of supporting himself through art without regard to the quality or level of work produced. And this, of course, is based on the other supposition: that certain types of art are superior to other types.

For many, the question of the superiority of one type of art over another was resolved by the postmodernists, who declared very loudly that there was no high or low art, or if there was, there was no difference between them. Of course, not everyone accepted this idea. We sometimes hear photography instructors criticize a student’s work as “too commercial,” which somehow makes it unworthy, or music instructors who are certain that if a piece is less than 100 years old, it cannot be possibly be considered art.

To be sure, some works of art are of higher quality than others. Some are more difficult, more complex, more sophisticated than others. Some exhibit a higher degree of craftsmanship than do their counterparts. In those ways they may be superior. But to say that one type or form of art is inherently superior to another is nothing but bias and snobbery. Certainly within every category of art are those qualitative differences that exist in almost every area of human endeavor.

The other consideration is whether the student in question is willing to reduce the quality of his work in order to make a living from his art.  Some would say that if the student were to be a soap opera actor rather than performing Shakespeare, he would have become an actor of diminished quality. If he had set out with the goal of becoming a Shakespearean actor, that might be the case; working on a soap opera would certainly represent a failure to achieve his goal. If, however, he had set out to be a professional actor, he would have succeeded admirably.

Likewise, if what you want to do is sing for a living, and you front a cover band, and that pays your bills, you are indeed singing for a living and thus succeeding in making a living from your art. Thomas Kinkade, according to most critics, failed at painting fine art masterpieces; however, Thomas Kinkade succeeded wildly at making a living from his art.  Whether the artist, in his/her attempt to earn a living from artistic work, succeeds or fails depends on how the artist defined his/her artistic goal in the first place.

Will this student be able to support himself doing art? We don’t know yet. Will he have to figure out exactly what success means to him? Of course he will. Will that demean his art? I think not. So far, it seems that he does not aspire to act Shakespeare or sing Wagner; he wants to sculpt and make music and perform; some might consider what he does lower forms of art. He doesn’t; it’s his art and he loves doing it. And, I suspect there is a market for it. He just has to find it.

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“Make It Work” Does Not Mean “Produce Substandard Quality”

Monday, 18. February 2013 0:20

An actor whose name I don’t remember once said on Inside the Actor’s Studio that the phrase he hated most was “That works.” Although he did not elaborate, I think to him the phrase represented something less than excellence, or perhaps a willingness to accept a product that was not planned in advance. In another television show, Tim Gunn has made the phrase “Make it work” a rule to live by, although that phrase also raises questions in some people’s minds about excellence and certainly about meeting deadlines.

I suspect we all, in the best tradition of the reality “skills” shows, have had to “make it work” on some project or another—or maybe every project. In most cases, this has to do with meeting a deadline of some sort, whether it is imposed by a client, a show, a pre-existing schedule or ourselves. Most of us have learned that if we allow ourselves the luxury of not finishing a piece because it presents challenges, we would never get anything done. We would never, in Seth Godin’s words, “ship.” And if we are to be productive, we must ship.

This necessity forces us into a “make it work” mentality. Sometimes, the time constraints that we place upon ourselves cause us to find a solution that works—at least for the moment. Developing this mental attitude, in turn, provides the pressure we need to overcome some the difficulties that we were having in realizing the work.  What “works” is probably what we would have done if we had had more time with the project. Having to make it work in order to meet a deadline just made us find that solution sooner.

That done, we may have a varying set of responses to our own work. We may be quite satisfied, so shipping feels good and right. However, we may have had the very common experience of creating something that works but is still not satisfying. What we then do about that turn of events varies. In some instances, we ship and forget it; after all, we gave it our best effort, and that is all that can be expected of anyone in any situation.

Other times, however, our dissatisfaction nags at us. That shape in the corner just isn’t what we want, or that color is not precisely what it should be, or this paragraph doesn’t quite reflect the feelings we want to convey. It works, but it doesn’t work as well as we would like, or exactly the way we want it to. In that case, it might be well to revisit the work with a little perspective —if we still have access. If it is a work that allows us to “correct” future copies (photography, prints, writing) or it has not shipped, and we have figured out what to do to make it better, we should do it by all means—if for no other reason than to ease our minds about it. This, of course, is the reason there exist multiple versions of many books and poems. Those are easily modifiable—even if thousands of copies have already shipped.

Pieces that are already in the hands of collectors are more problematic. For those, the best solution is to leave them alone; they have a home, and modifications can only disturb an already-satisfied collector.

So, if you find yourself in what you consider a “make it work” situation, make it work. If your work does not reach your quality threshold, set it aside and make something else that does; if it meets all your criteria, ship it. If you need to revisit the subject later, do so. “Making it work” does not mean that your work will be less than it should be. “Make it work,” simply means using everything we have, our experience and skills and insight and creativity (and all the serendipity our individual karmas can gather) to make the best work we can, given the constraints of the situation. In other words, make our art the way we do normally.

 

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An Artistic Philosophy–Why it’s Important

Sunday, 10. February 2013 23:30

If you study Henri Cartier-Bresson, you cannot but be struck by the quality and consistency of his work. (If you are not familiar with his photography, you might want to look here or here.) What strikes you immediately is that none of it is posed; it’s all captured. He said himself, “’Manufactured’ or staged photography does not interest me.” His work bears out his words. Even the portraits are captured; you have the feeling that as far as the subject is concerned Cartier-Bresson might as well be a piece of furniture.

This post, is not, however, to celebrate Cartier-Bresson’s work or photography in general, but to consider how one of the great artists of the twentieth century managed to do what he did and discover if his approach has anything to teach us.

He said, “To take photographs means to recognize – simultaneously and within a fraction of a second – both the fact itself and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that give it meaning. It is putting one’s head, one’s eye and one’s heart on the same axis.” Photojournalists, or those photographers who work in that style, spend entire lifetimes trying to master the approach set forth in the first part of the quote, an ability that Cartier-Bresson seems to have had from the outset. Perhaps it is not a learnable skill; perhaps it is one of those abilities that we either possess or do not.

And there are some of us to whom that way of working seems foreign indeed. A number of artists, even photographic artists, plan and experiment and pose models and do all sorts of intricate things, not because they lack Cartier-Bresson’s ability to size up the situation instantly, but because that is that way that works for them. For many of us, the creative act is not instantaneous, as it was for Cartier-Bresson, but rather a process, and sometimes a rather complicated and involved one that takes some time—and in some instances quite a long time.

That Cartier-Bresson’s “precise organization of forms” was instantaneous, certainly does not diminish yours or mine or anyone else’s who works at a different pace. More important—for us anyway—is the latter portion of the quote above, that we put our head, eye, and heart on the same axis. Only by doing this will our work achieve the excellence that most of us are aiming for—it must be the product of all our faculties.

The second quality of Cartier-Bresson’s body of work is the consistency of it, another goal to which many of us aspire. If you study his work and writing, what you find is that the foundation of his style is his philosophy of what photography is and his assumptions about how excellence is achieved. This philosophy informs all his work.  We are not talking about technique or environment. What we are talking about is a personal philosophy, an idea of what constitutes good work which governs his approach, technique, and choice of tools, and which enables him to engage eye, head, and heart to generate a remarkably high quality product consistently.

What Cartier-Bresson has to teach us is that if we develop our own philosophy of what makes an image or a sculpture or a poem or a play, then base our personal aesthetic and methodology that, we are more likely to facilitate full engagement and produce consistent results that are satisfying, both ourselves and our audience. It’s more than developing a style—it’s establishing a way of thinking that serves as the foundation of all our work, regardless of subject matter or medium. Our philosophies and resultant methodologies may differ drastically from that of Cartier-Bresson and from each other, but they are just as valid, and with such underpinnings, our work can improve both in consistency and quality.

 

 

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New Beginnings

Sunday, 6. January 2013 23:47

This time of the year we hear a lot about new beginnings and modifying our lives, our businesses, our art. It seems that it’s a time to evaluate where we’ve been and adjusting so that the next year will be better. Some will create lengthy lists of resolutions, but most of us realize that, with a few exceptions, resolutions fail. Other pundits, Like Seth Godin, suggest that we make an inventory, as “a way to keep track of what you’re building.” What is curious to me is that you never hear about this sort of thing at other times of the year.

Why is this time of year the season for appraisal and adjustment? Certainly, nowhere on the planet are we even near the rebirth phase of the natural biological cycle. We are, in fact—at least those of us in the northern hemisphere—just about to step into the depths of winter. Perhaps that is it; this could well be considered “dead time.” Several artists I’ve talked with recently regard January, and perhaps February as “creative time,” which, so far as I can determine, means that they choose to spend this time making art—perhaps because of the unfriendly weather and lack of other activities. This means, of course, that they have already done their evaluation and path-setting, so now they are able to move forward.

Still there exists the question of why the majority of people use January as the marker for judging past performance and setting standards and goals for the coming year. The answer is simple. Most people’s lives are not segmented, but continuous.  They go to work, come home, eat, sleep, relax a little, and do it all again. The cycle is the work week, with months overlaid and seasons providing a sort of background. But almost all cultures celebrate winter holidays of some sort, and these holidays seem to last a little longer than others. So things slow down, and in slowing down there is time for reflection. And then there is that event called the “New Year.” Yes, just another day, but a day when we get to hang a brand new calendar on the wall—which looks for all the world like a fresh start, a new blank page. A new beginning.

And that is something we all crave. Humans, at least those in western society, seem to need to fresh starts. And as artists, we have more of them than most people, because we—and it does not matter what kind of artist—work on different schedules from the majority of the population. Each artist may be a little different, but we all work on projects, and projects have ends. Dancers, choreographers, actors, directors, scenic and costume designers work on “the show.” The production is conceived, rehearsed, performed, and closed. The painter or photographer or sculptor works on a piece or a series, which also has a completion arc. Writers work on the book, the poem, the short story, the essay, the blog entry. None of these conform to the calendar year.

And even though many of us (if we’re lucky) move from project to project, there is usually a point at which we can look back and evaluate what we’ve done, and perhaps discover ways to improve our working procedure or efficiency or whatever might need adjustment to improve our output. Performing arts production teams often hold “post-mortems” to evaluate procedures and approaches. Individual artists rarely do anything so formal, but we do have an opportunity not available to all: evaluating our work and adjusting on a per-project basis rather than once a year. It’s up to us to take advantage of those opportunities.

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