Degrees of Tolerance

posted in: Art Making | 0

(Passion vs. Craft, continued.)

I’m still thinking about yesterday’s post.

Well, honestly, I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and will likely continue to churn through thoughts about it even after I write this. My thinking process tends to be very murky, with sudden bits of quicksand and strange sinkholes where thoughts go to drown until they are washed back up onto the boggy shores of my consciousness; bedraggled, changed, but still very much alive.

I used to keep a small notebook on me at all times so that I could try to rescue these drowned thoughts as they emerged, shivering from the waters, but it was more work than you’d expect.* Also, there is no way to look inconspicuous walking down the road, and then suddenly crouching over so that you can write in your little notebook. After a while, people start to notice, and I’ve spent most of my life trying to hide in the background of things.

But back to the post! Sorry for the derail.

I was thinking about yesterday’s post, and I started to think again about process, and how even if you start just throwing words and images at a page and hoping that they stick, you find yourself eventually learning from your messes. You begin to develop your craft, and find what works best for you.

It is not elegant and it’s not efficient, but it does create an understanding on a deeper level than if you had just read “how to make” whatever it is that you’re making.

A bit like cooking: you find that you have certain talents and can mix up a roux without anything going weird or lumpy, or perhaps you find out that cilantro is the worst tasting herb ever, and that you can cook perfectly fine without ever touching the filthy herb ever again.

You begin to learn how rules apply to you, and how they do not.

By creating and working, even (especially?) when you do not know what you are doing, you are able to find a starting point. That starting point is so very important, especially in art or writing where it is far easier to talk yourself out of creating. By doing something – anything at all – you give yourself a base of operations, so that you may launch your next attack. You are better able to assess how much time and effort, and what kinds of effort, are needed for your goals.

You begin to learn how much care and craft you need in order to accomplish what it is that you are doing.

The problem (or perhaps it is less a problem, but is instead some unknown “something else”) is that too often my impatience to keep throwing things at the page means I don’t take the time to sit down and really craft. I have become so enamored of “getting stuff done” that I tend to do less than My Very Best.

However, I would also argue that there is a point where perfection seems so easily within reach, that with just a little more effort, with a few more hours, with just a little more _____, you could have something really amazing, and so you find yourself never finishing anything you’ve started. You become subject to your craft to the point that you can not settle for anything less than your very best.

And that is also a terrible place to be.

I had a friend explain to me that in engineering and many sciences, there are “degrees of tolerance” where as long as the machinery function within those guidelines, everything will work as intended. It’s why things sometimes break down after a while: those degrees can add to instability and ultimately failure, but in art, they allow us to finish what we’ve started.

Perfection will haunt you otherwise.

The trick is finding what your Degrees of Tolerance are. I’ve found that when it comes to drawing comics, I give myself far more leeway than I do when painting. When I am writing, I give myself even more room for “acceptability” because I know that I am not, nor will I ever be, a writer on the scale like those I read and admire. But when it comes to painting, I am a very harsh self-critic, and this narrow degree of perfection, or the illusion of what I think I am able to achieve, has been extremely detrimental to my painting. I have only painted a few times since graduation, and I spend far more time frozen, staring blankly at my canvas than I do actually applying the brush to paint.

Hm… Perhaps that will be another series of blog posts? My “self help” adventures into rediscovering my love for painting, and my struggles with whether to leave brushstrokes showing, or to blend them out. Ah… the eternal painter question.



* I had also managed to lose my notebook, which filled me with despair and panic until I found it several days later. If you do not have your thoughts, what do you have? And if someone else should find them and read them, would you lose yourself to this unknown person? It messed with my mind on several levels.

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