Sometimes it seems like my mind is a kettle brewing stuff while I sleep. I woke up thinking about two very difficult things: communication and mastery. It struck me that they might be related.

Back when I had an art shed and lived in California, I started a blog on blogger about painting. I called it “A Lifetime Apprenticeship” because I couldn’t imagine ever being a master or even imagine what it would mean to BE a master. I also decided that becoming a master would be the end of the exciting part of painting which, at the time and still, seems to be learning more and doing better.

I still think that way, and it’s a good thing because I’m a long way from being a master, but… I wonder what it would be like to approach a project and KNOW it’s going to work out. I wonder if that’s even possible.

I did a drawing yesterday that seemed to be going really well and then, later, when I looked at a photo of it, I realized the river in the drawing was behaving in a manner that is impossible for rivers, all for want of a line.

The thing about this is that I’m OK with that. I’m even OK with, “I’ll never get it,” and that doesn’t discourage me because I don’t even know what “it” is.

As for communication, I can’t begin to figure that out. Like drawing and painting, there’s probably no mastery. Unlike drawing and painting, I can get discouraged, fatigued, disgusted, and hopeless about communication. It’s all Samuel Beckett: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Sage Grouse in Luv

37 thoughts on “Ruminations

  1. I think you amazingly great work, but you have your own standards for yourself, I’m sure. I’ve been doing jigsaw, crossword, and sudoko puzzles for years. it took me a long time and lot of practice to be able to complete an nyt weekend puzzle, and I know I’ve gotten better at jigsaw and sudoku just by hours of working on them, all labors of love

      • everyone has their strengths and challenges. I’ve always been draw to puzzles. I’m not a logical thinker, but can find patterns in things for some reason.

          • me too, and even the sudokos dont look like numbers to me, could be any symbols, it’s a matter of seeing a pattern

                • I have discalcula. I didn’t even know it had a name until a few years ago. Once I got to algebra, I had no chance. 4 and A, B and 3, G, g, q, p and 6, 8 and B and 3, S and 5 — normal brains don’t have this problem.

                  • so funny, and it makes perfect sense. i just discovered (along with my sister, that we both have it too) . this explained why i have never been able to understand spatial skills, cardinal directions and always get lost. i felt better once i discovered it. the good news is, we have a more highly developed literacy-skilled brain.

                    • I’m ok with North, South, East and West and, normally, right and left, but I can actually lose track of which side of my body is right and which is left. Back in school the worst thing I could do was “write it down!” but teachers always said (in math) “Write it down! Show your steps!” I did that and invariably got the wrong answer. I would go about the process of solving the problem correctly but never got the right answer. Then much much later I heard Stephen Hawking speak about how he could solve problems without writing them down. I thought, “Hmmm.” I got my algebra book (11th grade!) and went to where everything went completely to shit, polynomial equations or solution sets — graphs. I tried one without writing it down and got it right, then another and another. I felt SO GOOD. It wasn’t because I’m dumb. It’s because I will write it wrong. I don’t even count very well on paper. To make it worse, my dad was a mathematician who worked for the DOD and was one of the men who wrote FORTRAN…

  2. Is mastery a personal trait (as in “I’m a master”)? Or is it a state that one may enter temporarily (as in “that drawing demonstrates mastery”)? If it is a state, is it one that becomes more accessible with practice?

    • I think there might be things one can master through practice and I also think it’s very very likely that any skill improves with practice (all things being equal), like you are the master of plumbing IMO. But I am not sure with art that anyone ever “masters” it. I guess there’s the idea that when someone is at a point where they can teach others, they are a kind of master. I tried teaching drawing early in the pandemic but soon realized it wasn’t going to happen unless my pupils were willing to try and fail over and over. They weren’t. 😀

  3. By far the hardest part of drawing is the perspective, isn’t it. A degree out or a line in the wrong place and the whole picture just looks wrong. Still having fun with it, is the important part. Mastery comes from opinion, not skill or talent. Just look at the splats and scribbles in art galleries – utter crap called masterpieces by apparently blind professionals lol. I think the drawings and paintings you share are beautiful!

    • Thank you. Perspective is challenging if you’re not actually LOOKING at the world. That’s where I missed the line in my drawing but I’ll go add it in a few. 🙂 I think you’re right about mastery coming from opinion. “He’s a master.” Maybe the “he” in question is thinking “Damn, I’m never going to get it.” 🙂

      • That’s the good thing about art work, you can always go back and add a few strokes.

        Opinion is the life and death of artists and writers alike. If people like you, you make it. If they don’t you get squashed and trodden on. Such is life.

  4. “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

    I have to remember this.

    If you have been watching the Space X launches, you see this philosophy at work. They are trying to perfect a difficult landing technique. They launch it and it blows up on landing. They fix the cause and launch it again. It blows up from a different cause. Fix it again and launch again. This time it successfully lands on the pad but the landing was too hard and it blows up 8 minutes later. Fix it again.

    Each step pushes the failure a bit further down the line. Probably launch again next week. Eventually it will stop blowing up and they will throw a party. On to the next challenge.

    Compared to NASA’s philosophy of putting huge resources into trying to get everything perfect before it ever reaches the pad.

  5. I don’t think there is mastery for the Arts. The pleasure is in the process of doing, and sometimes we’re happy with the product and sometimes we’re not.

  6. Your ink drawings are beautiful! I think you are right in that mastery is so very subjective from the point of the artist and the audience. While you see the flaws others see the overall beauty and thrill at the talent… Artists are their own worst critics. Perhaps it is all in the doing and the failing where the mastery is stepped over or kicked under the sofa.

  7. As I read your post, I kept thinking…it’s the process that makes it satisfying (Heather beat me to it 🙂). When you look at your creation and smile and exhale, then I think that’s a form of mastery. I don’t believe that perfection in art is a worthy goal or even possible. As in school when a perfect score equaled “mastery.”

    • I guess I was thinking about how stressful in a way it’s been to go in my little studio and do something. I’m not afraid of failing, exactly, but something. I don’t know. The process is the only thing that matters and it makes me happy. 🙂

  8. I wonder. Perhaps “master” does not mean much. Perhaps the only word which matters is “mastery”. I like to think that when you have mastery over something, then you can look beyond that barrier to what you really wanted to do. Like mastery over typing is necessary to begin writing. Then punctuation, or simple syntax, basic spelling. Once you have these you can go on to begin communicating. That works in bigger chunks too. Sometimes I think I can control a certain rhythm, a certain tempo, of communication by changing the lengths of sentences. Maybe it is just a succession of these things. I suppose the thing one looks for is the point where you are able to let your thoughts flow without sweating over the small and distracting things.

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