Thursday, August 26, 2010

Practise Quantity NOT Quality Control

Artists often become experts at quality control, we look at our own work and that of others, very critically, eager to point out aspects that can and should improve. We hone our critical skills, certain that this will ensure better and more meaningful paintings. Many become so good at controlling the quality of their work that, instead of making a painting that might not be good enough, they don’t paint at all. Quantity is the secret of better work. When we make a lot of work, we become experienced at what we are doing, we become more familiar with our medium and our materials, and we become more intimately acquainted with ourselves through the work. Our work improves, our understanding of our work deepens, and our confidence increases. When we are confident in our ability to handle our brushes and are familiar with our materials, we are daring and open to other possibilities, we don’t hover over our painting terrified that something may go wrong. To make quality work, make more work.

In their book, Art and Fear, the authors, David Bayles and Ted Orland, tell the story about a ceramics teacher who divided his class into two groups, those on the left, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of the work they produced, and those on the right, solely on the quality. On the final day of class, he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the ‘quantity’ group: fifty pounds of pot rated an “A”, forty, a “B” and so on. Those being graded on ‘quality’, however, needed to produce only one pot, a perfect one, to get an “A”. When grading time came, it emerged that the works of the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while they were busy churning out piles of work, and learning from their mistakes, the quality group had sat theorising about perfection, and in the end had little to show for their efforts.


  1. I am utterly inartistic, but I see the logic in this approach and I like it. This principle can be applied to many aspects of creativity and it has long been said that practice makes perfect!

  2. Thank you for reading and leaving a comment, Slinkyspiral. I am not sure about practise making perfect, but it certainly gets us moving in the right direction!