Friday, August 24, 2007

Technique, Art, and Quality

Having just written about quality and art, I wanted to expand the thoughts to the importance of good form in the creation of good art, eventually closing the arc in my next posting.

I start with an analogy of an important concept found in the work of Jean Piaget, who believed that knowledge was built on top of mental structures and that mental structures were built on top of knowledge, thus supporting a continuous cycle of learning. For the purposes of this entry, I offer this parallel thought:

Art builds on top of technique and technique builds on top of Art

Whereas the inspiration for great art is drawn from Quality, the amount of inspiration reaching the target medium is limited by the artist's technique. Whether the artist is a graphical designer penning the next logo for FedEx or Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, pure thought must be channeled through hands and tools.

The process of channeling inspiration into craft requires concentration and fluidity of action, with conscious thought being too structured and slow to allow the free flow of Quality into reality. Forced to think through his actions, an artist will continuously interrupt that free flow at every twist of a pencil or keystroke.

...a thorough understanding of its craft allows an artist to recognize additional facets of its primordial inspiration.
I have heard many times about the importance of practice in achieving greatness, but somehow selected this Fortune Magazine article, titled "Secrets of Greatness - What it takes to be great" as an index to that school of thought. The article highlights the importance of practice and hard work in achieving greatness of execution, but deprived from the freedom to dive into the philosophical pit by the pragmatic nature of his audience, the excellent Geoffrey Colvin did not introduce the subject of Quality as the differentiator between high-performers.

A great Artist relies on intense practice of his technique and dedicates time to observe its effect on others. That intense practice exposes the limitations of an artist's technique, a critical aspect to eliminate imperfections in the resulting work.

A thorough understanding of its craft allows an artist to recognize additional facets of its primordial inspiration. When the wood splinters at a too narrow cut or the metal cracks at a sharper bend, the medium can teach the artist indirectly through its reactions. In his next creation, the artist will know to avoid those shapes or, more commonly, research and attempt new materials.

Over time, the repeated iterations of discovering new techniques and materials create repeated iterations of more unusual results that closely resemble the artists intent. Absent their knowledge of the artists toil and the time it took him to arrive at combinations of materials that are far from the obvious first choice, the onlookers will not only observe genius in form, but also genius in technique.

It is that oneness between the artist and his craft that makes it possible for his work to transfer the combined force of his original inspiration and of his continuous practice through time and distance.

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