Getting your attention off the tools

I’d like to post this observation on an artist and his tools. It was posted a while back by an online acquaintance of mine here.

Great artists don’t talk much about their tools. The rest of us do, because we’re still discovering what our hands can do. Most of us never get to the end of this exploration of means – and that’s ok, because to create is its own reward, no matter what stage of development we find ourselves at.

But I think I see a shift in the biographies of great artists, a shift where they have found what their hands can do with the equipment that is available to them. Their attention is absorbed, then, not by means and tools but by creating an image truly conversant with the given images in the universe.

They finally, after a long brutal apprenticeship, lift their eyes.

Tim is a painter and has that foremost in his mind I think, but I see this working out with artists of all mediums and even computer programmers.

Mediocre amateur photographers talk endlessly about cameras and lenses. Many of the real masters talk mostly about light often shoot with surprisingly simple (and even cheap) gear.

I know guitar players who have $2000 reverb boxes and the latest amps and a whole closet full of high-end guitars, yet they still play terribly. They’ve become obsessed with their tools and haven’t yet discovered what their hands can do. Some of the best players I met in music school at the university also had unremarkable instruments. Not junk mind you, but certainly nothing fancy.

I think the novice programmer is typically too focused on his tools. He gets into arguments about the best Linux disto. He may be zealously committed to one programming language, constricting his imagination to its syntax and always drooling over the bleeding-edge release of some framework. Another variation is always trying new languages. They can write in Scala, Erlang, C, F#, and CoffeeScript, but haven’t made or maintained anything truly non-trivial projects. They are curious, which is good, but are still too focused on the tools. The master will use the right tool for the job and he’ll err on the side of just making SOMETHING substantial with whatever he has lying around, even if it isn’t the best. The master has learned not to procrastinate in this way.

Being distracted by tools and technology options is probably still one of the biggest productivity temptations I encounter. In a way, it’s easier to put your head down and straighten the bristles on your paintbrush than to look up, open your eyes wide, and just create. We must trust our hands and be brave.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>