Doing The Work: Why Quantity over Quality wins for me
If an Artist feels obliged to make only the RIGHT art, rather then ANY ART AT ALL, doesn't that set us up very firmly for art block?
'I want to make something' my soul announces.
‘But it must be beautiful’ my ego whispers.
For me quality control triggers that constant creative companion, perfectionism and it’s weapon of choice procrastination.
With the very best of intentions I find myself wanting to draw/write/make so many things, but then baulking at the result. It's very hard, if not impossible, to make only wonderful things repeatedly and in the world of social media where polished perfection is Queen it feels difficult, if not professionally sabotaging, to share the mistakes and ugly bits and all the failings.
And there are a LOT aren't there?
For a start, this blog post contains over 1500 words which is WAY higher then the recommended word count of 600 for a 'perfect' blog post, so my fingers are hovering above the delete button... but I refuse to submit, because this post is important. If we were to examine my artwork I would say about 50% of the work I make is utterly appalling, but I'm actually completely fine with that. It doesn't bother me at all, for various reasons. For one, I know that getting something wrong is the only way I can figure out how to get it right- it's just another thing I've ticked off my list of experiments and I take away what I can learn from it onto the next piece of work.
Being able to say 'This looks awful', and not be devastated by that, is actually one of the most potent tools I have.
It's allowed me to destroy work, start again and have genuine belief in myself because if I KNOW I can do better, there's no harm in admitting it. It works in reverse too. If I like something I've done, nobody else can convince me otherwise. No one.
But yes, if I baked a cake and put in salt rather then sugar I'd most definitely chuck it in the bin and try again.
My point is, finding out that cake is vile in private is a very different emotional experience to serving that cake to your kids head teacher, at the school fair, in front of the press and watching everyone's face drop as they get a mouthful of salty raw cake mix. Nobody wants their bad bits to be seen publicly right? We don't want to show the worst of ourselves, even if the lessons we learn from them are the best, the most compelling, the most human. And maybe most interesting. Because it's just too uncomfortable. Too scary. Especially if everyone else carries on showing their finest bits.
Regardless, as a follower myself, I want to see the real bits, not just the finest bits. I want to break through the porcelain facade and hear about the processes behind the polished portfolio. I want to see the creatives I admire laugh, cry, think aloud, joke and share their unique little secrets and collections and stories. Why? Because it's damn more interesting then perfection. And not the 'I woke up like this' fake authenticity I keep seeing. You know what I mean. Those creatives sharing 'spontaneous' photos of themselves working in their art studio that wouldn't look out of place in an edition of Vogue. Or the utterly perfect sketchbooks that could literally be immediately printed as fully edited art books. All strewn with flowers and cups of herbal tea.
Who seriously, truly. works like that every day?
I don't! I like to take photos like that and pretend my creative existence is beautifully lit and not strewn with pencil shavings and my children's toys, but it's as real as my red lips. And I'm not saying it's a bad thing. Beautiful photos and glamour bring me a lot of joy in the form of escapism... It's mythic. Inspiring and beautiful and it encourages me to reach for the stars and to improve myself and my life, YES, but it's not authentic. It can quickly become sterile, robotic and fake too. I feel it myself when I make something to try and appeal to a certain audience or holiday. I get that dark tension in my guts when I'm advised to make more artwork of a certain style because it 'sells well' or it's 'That time of year'. What if I don't want to? What then?
So I really think we need a balance. I need a balance. Maybe freedom is a better word. Yes, I need freedom to not be perfect and to do what I feel like.
So I've been thinking.
For many months now I've felt reluctant to share the rougher bits, to just say what I want to say, to quit fussing over the detail. I've admitted that and I'm coming round to a new plan, one which supports the idea that Quantity over Quality might be a better creative lifestyle for me. Maybe not for you, but for ME.
It's not a novel idea. Julia Cameron's mantra is 'Take care of the Quantity and the Quality will take care of itself' one which has been supported by many other significant and successful creatives across the globe such as Elizabeth Gilbert and Austin Kleon. Which makes perfect sense... the more we do something, the more we improve. The more we make, the better we become at making it. Quality is naturally born, not forced. If I stop trying to make art for other peoples entertainment and concentrate on just making more art in general something HAS to give way and settle me into a happier, healthier pattern of work.
Rather than sabotage me, it could launch me into true creative joy.
But in today's online community that idea is incredibly controversial. Where you're encouraged to strictly 'curate' your instagram feed to ensure it looks its best and the artwork you make is carefully managed to target very select audiences to achieve maximum click through rates (this is all exhausting by the way and takes hours up every day) by turning my back on all that and just having fun again, like it was a few years ago: I'm basically committing online artist suicide.
Yet despite all that, I remain curious. To focus ONLY on making more work, rather then SEO or page views or followers or sales... something about that makes perfect, alluring sense to me, despite how terrifying it sounds.
Do you know how a blogging expert responded when I said I was going to focus on quantity over quality? They were horrified. They strongly advised I didn't. They warned people would become bored and put off by me sharing anything that wasn't polished and I'd lose followers. But I just couldn't help but think SO WHAT?
It's not as if I have 2 million paying subscribers expecting that level of stuff from me anyway. I don't have a team of 15 helping me put all this together. Nor do I even really want to.
I want to make Art. Period.
I'm a casual creative blogger yelling into the void of cyber space like everyone else. The only person who this really matters to is me! What difference will it make if I throw out the rule book, ignore any kind of online strategy and just make and share everything and anything I feel like again?
I'll tell you what happens... I MAKE STUFF.
I don't second guess everything I create or go through that process of deciding whether or not it's worthy of being witnessed. I pick up my camera. I take creative risks. I have fun. I feel heard again. I connect with people more and have interesting conversations that go beyond 'great pic'. I feel part of something.
I don’t want 3 perfect blog posts strategically arranged as a meticulous sales funnel to get the maximum number of people to sign up to my course so I earn a few hundred quid that doesn't even cover my website costs to run the course in the first place. I actually think I'd prefer 300 perfectly adequate blog posts that share my ideas and inspirations and twee little achievements because it makes me HAPPY and blogging has been a fun part of my life since 2003! I think I need 500 drawings that I've absolutely loved working on into the early hours of the morning and that I truly think are beautiful, not 20 perfect pieces for a perfect portfolio that I reluctantly made to impress a bunch of galleries and clients I don't even really want to work with.
I want QUANTITY over QUALITY because nobody got anywhere with perfectionism. Writers don’t write by editing. Artists don’t make art by erasing everything out.
Creatives create by creating.
Write write write. Draw draw draw. Paint paint paint.
I want to become that artist who just let's the critics decide if it’s any good, not me, and while they decide make even more art. To keep chucking it out, just throwing it out there. To just collect it, and pile it up, and use it as a barricade against other peoples opinions & feedback or silence. Drown out the sound of my audience with yet more music. Immerse myself in the belief that making anything at all is a miracle... whether it's a masterpiece or not is irrelevant. Constantly busy myself with learning and experimenting and exploring and making and consuming and giving and using and creating. Moving forward constantly. Not looking at where I’ve gone, just making more and more. Then when I’ve truly emptied my soul of art for that year, look back, and observe how far I’ve come. How I’ve evolved and achieved so much more then when I just sat there worrying about quality first.
No one got good making the RIGHT kind of art.
Artists get good by making a lot of art- good, bad, ugly, stupid, crazy, interesting, boring, funny, sexy, offensive, angry, emotional, simple, dark, broken, confused, sweet, naff, awkward, incredible art.