Friday, September 28, 2012

Ten thousand? Really?

I know that some people have disputed the 10,000 hour idea. Some guy has determined that you can get to a professional level of expertise in artistic skill, either music or painting or whatever, by spending 10,000 hours practising. This works out to about 6.8 years of practising 4 hours a day.

I am a little skeptical of this theory myself, but there is probably at least some truth to it. I think there is a lot more than just sitting down at a piano and practising for ten thousand hours that created an artist like a Rubenstein or Lang Lang. I know that Yoyo Ma had all manner of other things in place that allowed him to get to where he is in his skill. The right parents, the right time and place. And yes, probably an elevated "natural talent," if we mean by that an aptitude supported by love.

I know from experience that sometimes one simply gets "bitten" by something. When I was a teenager, I was briefly in the army cadets in the NWT. I loved it. I couldn't get enough of the outdoors stuff we did, running about with maps and compasses, building fires of damp wood and making traps out of a sapling and a shoelace. Hiking and camping and swimming and target shooting. I didn't care one way or another about the military aspect of it, though I enjoyed the disciplined and organised approach to learning things it taught me, (not that I ever applied it to much).

I got bitten by it, the outdoor bug, very hard, and for years after, even long after I moved back down south to live in BC again, I would annually be seized by the need to be outdoors for days at a time, and would pack my stuff and just walk all over the islands. Living in Cheshire, I couldn't resist the countryside and would spend hours stomping all over the footpaths, always reluctant to go home. England was so tame; I missed the great, vast emptiness of BC.

When I went to university in Nova Scotia, in the theatre department of Dalhousie, I was hoping I would get "bitten" by the theatre bug, since it seemed like it would be such a natural fit, but it never happened. In the end I was so depressed and alienated from what I was doing I couldn't wait to get away and never wanted to go anywhere near a theatre again. It goes to show that there is such a thing, at least, as aptitude.

I suppose it could be said that I was "bitten" by writing, but it happened so long ago, and has become so much a part of my daily existence, that it is like saying I was bitten by breathing.

The more I draw, the more I want to, which is a sign at least of bittenness. Obviously love is needed, and I think it is a stronger thing than "talent". Nothing I've ever done has ever so calmed my mind and quieted the arch-chatterer that lives in my skull. And it happens every time I start; time seems to stand still, even as the waves keep crashing and the birds keep flying and the sun keeps moving towards the West. maybe it's not time standing still, but me.

I remember reading an essay by Stephen King about writing. He said that everyone has an obsession. And the lucky few are those who can make their obsession their work. Other people do a job in order to support their obsession, which their families politely call a "hobby". The English are famous for this kind of thing, all those men going out to work in the shed or at the allotment, after they get home from their jobs. What else could possibly account for the Industrial Revolution? How do we think the Cotton Ginny was invented?

If talent is real at all, I think it is just another name for love. Without that love, or obsession, it would simply be impossible to practice anything for 10,000 hours. No one would ever do it, even with the most terrifying Tiger-mother standing over him.

I've found there's a strange push-pull that happens with drawing, though, in your brain. On the one hand we get obsessed with it, with perfecting this or that technique. Once the pencil is in the hand it is close to impossible to stop. A lot of times, I've found myself standing with an aching back and cold feet at the easel and six or seven hours have passed, it is dark outside and I'm hungry and all I had intended to do was just fix this one little thing here... At other times, I can go for weeks without touching a pencil, with the feeling of hopelessness growing on me, my Evil Brain whispering coldly, "there's no point in trying, you're never going to get there..."

Anyway, I've decided to start tracking my practice hours and see how much per week I can do. And maybe try to apply some of the disciplined approach I learned from the Canadian military.

And at the next long weekend, I'm going to go to Florence again. The last time, I had no confidence about drawing from life and the statues intimidated me. We'll see if things have improved.



Ingemar said...

"Without that love, or obsession, it would simply be impossible to practice anything for 10,000 hours. No one would ever do it, even with the most terrifying Tiger-mother standing over him.

Yesterday in my personal writings, I played with the thesis that a sign of your love [for someone] (I was thinking of agape) is your willingness to bleed for her/him.

I wonder if it's the same thing for an obsession. My current obsession is weight lifting. These days, I get upset when I DON'T bleed after doing deadlifts.

Mark S. Abeln said...

The ancients noted that someone really isn’t an artist unless they enjoy what they are doing. An artist ought to be happy when they practice their art.

I’ve seen lots of people with a good career but hate every minute of it. Their work might be very good, but it certainly lacks something. Love, perhaps?