Skill mastery - What does it take?


          "We live in a world that seems increasingly beyond our control.  Our livelihoods are at the whim of globalized forces.  The problems that we face -- economic, environmental, and so on--cannot be solved by our individual actions.  Our politicians are distant and unresponsive to our desires.  A natural response when people feel overwhelmed is to retreat into various forms of passivity.  If we don't try too much in life, if we limit our circle of action, we can give ourselves the illusion of control.
 The less we attempt, the less chances of failure.  If we can make it look like we are not really responsible for our fate, for what happens to us in life, then our apparent powerlessness is more palatable.  For this reason we become attracted to certain narratives: it is genetics that determines much of what we do; we are just products of our times; the individual is just a myth; human behavior can be reduced to statistical trends.
           Many take this change in value a step further, giving their passivity a positive veneer.  They romanticize the self-destructive artist who loses control of him- or herself.  Anything that smacks of discipline or effort seems fussy and passé: what matters is the feeling behind the artwork, and any hint of craftsmanship or work violates this principle.  They come to accept things that are made cheaply and quickly.  The idea that they might have to expend much effort to get what they want has been eroded by the proliferation of devices that do so much of the work for them, fostering the idea that they deserve all of this--that it is their inherent right to have and to consume what they want. 'Why bother working for years to attain mastery when we can have so much power with very little effort?  Technology will solves everything.' This passivity has even assumed a moral stance: 'mastery and power are evil; they are the domain of patriarchal elites who oppress us; power is inherently bad; better to opt out of the system altogether,' or at least make it look that way."

- Brian Greene, "Mastery" 2013

Could it be that we've changed our lifestyles on many accounts from the technology we've created?  When brought into the art world this would make a lot of sense.  Much of contemporary art is built on the foundation of self-expression rather than hard work and discipline.  Although this is broad it is widely the case.

How does an Olympic swimmer become an Olympic swimmer?  By swimming every day.  Why should it be so different for artists?  If we only produce work when we are 'inspired' or feel especially 'creative' or in any other case that may require certain stars to align, we are surrendering to our physiological processes.  Does this feel cold or regimented?  Maybe it is.

However, these methods have proven to be successful in a wide array of disciplines.  We should ask ourselves what 'mastery' means to us.  What does the idea of mastery mean to you?  Do you feel as though it's something you aspire to develop in your life?

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