Flying from Santa Barbara to Denver
©2013 Lou Ann Smith
Lou Ann’s website
How Do We Get Better
Have you ever thought about why you never getting better at typing even though you might spend hours a day practicing this skill?
They say practice makes perfect but if that were all it takes I should be an outstanding typist given that I spend 8-10 hours a day at a computer. Right – just think of all those blog posts and facebook updates I type. I should be blazing fast!!!
Basically I’ve not gotten better in – well – a lot of years. How fast do you type? When was the last time you got better at it?
Turns out to get better, we need the right kinda of practice. Just doing every day typing isn’t going to get me faster or better. Although if I were to spend time doing drills and focusing on increasing my typing speed, I would get better. I would need to be intentional in my practice.
The same concept applies to being an artist. Just making art is not all it takes to becoming a better artist. We could spend years churning out the same average artwork over and over unless we take the time to practice our artwork with the goal in mind of becoming better.
The Okay Plateau
This phenomenon is sometimes called the okay plateau. When we are learning new skills we get better at it for a while – until we reach the place where we are satisfied with our level of achievement.
Once we reach this plateau – we essentially stop getting better.
This is because when we learn new skill, we go though 3 phases:
- Cognitive – considerable conscious effort is required.
- Associative – some parts are controlled, some parts require conscious effort.
- Autonomous – we’re on autopilot.
This is fine for typing – at some point we are good enough.
But for most of us, this isn’t what we had in mind for our artwork. We don’t want to get stuck at “okay” – most of us would much prefer to make art that results in people saying “wow”, not “it’s okay”.
Moving Beyond the Plateau
So how do we do that? How do we get better at our artwork?
The trick is to stay out of the autonomous phase. You must consciously work at getting better.
Here are a few suggestions on how to do that:
- Musicians get better by practicing scales – not just playing the same song over and over. What are you doing to improve your design sense? Do you sketch? Do other design exercises?
- Study yourself failing. When things don’t go well, do you take the time to evaluate why and formulate a plan for improvement? Treat your artwork like a scientific study – create a hypothesis, test your theories, tweak your methods to obtain the desired results.
- Work outside your comfort zone. Are you consciously thinking about design? Or do you just work intuitively all the time? What do you do to shake things up? Where are you trying new things?
- Get critical and immediate feedback on your artwork. Learn to give yourself valuable critical feedback. Surgeons get better over time because they get immediate feedback to their work. Interestingly radiologists reading mammograms do not get better over time because they do no receive any sort of immediate critical feedback on their work. It can take years before their mistakes are discovered. This idea of critical and immediate feedback seems to be key in improving our skills.
- Study what those that you feel are more successful are doing. What can you learn from them?
Working in a Series
To become a better artist, I believe rigorous practice is what is needed. And this is one reason I work in a series.
It provides me the structure necessary for improvement.
I view myself as a student – each piece in my series is simply an assignment to learn something. To improve, to try something different, to test a theory about color.
If you are ready to move beyond the okay plateau in your art and would like some guidance and feedback on your artwork, I’d love to work with you in my upcoming Working in a Series online workshop.
If you are ready to turn the “okays” into “wows” this is the workshop for you.
Lou Ann Smith
“Lisa’s class was truly extraordinary. I have been taking art classes all my life, and have never had an experience quite like this.
Lisa provided a varied list of artists whose work we considered through the course, along with material to think about regarding design and process every week through email on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This, along with her one-hour lecture on Sundays, provided a rich coursework with plenty to think about without it becoming overwhelming.
Lisa’s assignments were clear and her critiques every week of everyone’s work was extremely valuable, thorough and insightful. I think I got the most out of her critiques of my work and her assistance helping me critique my own work. She helped me see my work objectively and continue to improve things that didn’t work in the original composition.
For me, working on a piece a week created a nice flow of design. Her class offered me a new way to work in a series by offering new ways to pursue the concept I had originally envisioned. I feel that I have a better perspective of my work and my process after completing this course.”
~Lou Ann Smith (artwork above)
©2014 Janice Stevens
“Becoming an artist is a journey with many barriers in its path, some from outside of us but most from within. Most of us struggle with questions of whether we have anything to say, whether we have anything original in content or style, whether we are good enough.
In our quest to find answers we often do course after course hoping to find the magic answers that will give us a direction, a voice and the confidence to dare to try.
In the Working in a Series course with Lisa Call, I found all of that and more. She didn’t provide us with magic answers because there are none but she guided us through ten weeks of intensive work that gradually gave us insight into how to be an artist.
The tri-weekly emails gave us information on design principles, introduced us to a large number of artists and helped us develop more efficient and productive work habits, all of which were invaluable, but for me, the most important thing that I learned was how to believe in my artwork and to trust my own voice.
The way that I learned this was by learning to critique each of my pieces for myself. This is not as easy as it might sound but is an invaluable skill to have if you want to be able to follow your own vision rather than being unduly influenced by other people’s opinions.
The decisions and discoveries I made were reinforced by the weekly group feedback sessions which also improved our ability to critique other artists’ work.
I had never really understood the benefit of working in a series and tended to make unique pieces as one-offs and then proceeding to a new topic. As the course evolved I began to see how this working in a series gave me ideas that would lead into the next exploration of my theme in an almost seamless way. This saved a significant amount of time in searching for a new subject, a new approach, a new design; I was therefore able to produce seven quilts in seven weeks which is an unprecedented pace for me.
Discovering these things about myself greatly improved my self confidence in my ability which then allowed me to start a new phase in my art development. As Jasper Johns once said “I am going to stop becoming an artist and be one.” This course is impeccably organized, extremely well taught and invaluable for those who want to take that next step on the ladder.”
Koh Samui, Thailand