An old colleague at Lucas used to have this sign above her desk. Underneath the diagram were the words: PICK TWO
“So much to do and so little time.” – The Joker
We all love speed and I’m as guilty as the next person — I think fast, talk fast and act fast. It’s become part of my nature. It’s also my disease, something I need to remedy on a daily basis if I’m to continue my journey towards being a true human being.
Kevin Costner and Graham Greene star in Dances With Wolves. Costner’s brilliantly written and directed film captures a time and place when America had not yet become the America it is today, with its unblemished landscape and natural way of life as embodied by the indigenous Native Americans.
Being fast and doing things quickly may be a coveted skill but it definitely comes with a hefty price and until we learn better, we have no idea what we’re actually paying. It sneaks up on us because before we realize it, we’ve likely stopped giving people, things and moments their due attention.
There is indeed such a thing as “timing” — the art of mastering rhythm — but timing and hurrying are … mutually exclusive.” — Alan Watts
Poor little fella. This hummingbird killed himself smashing into my glass balcony. This accident might not be common, but it’s well known that the fastest and most hurried animals on the planet all live incredibly short lives. How’s that for a wake up call?
If someone were to offer us a great stock tip that promises to make us rich without learning how to invest, we’d know to take caution. But the same thing applies to secrets or shortcuts that promises to make us better artists. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. It’s simply impossible to get good at something as complicated as art (or anything worthwhile for that matter) utilizing quick tips and easy tricks. The ideas may be sound and inspiration is important, but nothing works without real understanding and effort. Meaningful results require meaningful commitment.
“History is a relentless master. It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.” — John F. Kennedy
Now, we all like to be faster. We’re all in a hurry to save those precious minutes not realizing that time isn’t something that can be saved; it can only be experienced. And although being snappy-minded and physically active is impressive within the workplace or social circle, it doesn’t take much to cross over that fine line towards anxiety and irritability, symptoms that now plague almost every facet of our society. Hurried activities and the sensations that come with it fog up the mind and entangle the entire creative process. Nerves and adrenaline lead to rushed plans, expedited execution and ignoring valuable feedback. The desire to find any and every competitive edge at the expense of all else ultimately leads to the most logical of outcomes— repeated failure.
Wile E. Coyote is famous for his botched plans to capture the Road Runner. Courtesy of Warner Bros.
We’re all guilty of the rush mindset to some degree because slow means death for production workers, producers, marketing teams and the corporate world in general. Wall street demands CEOs to report profits consistently or stock prices drop under the weight of expectations. Journalists rush (or even cheat) stories to get them before social media does. The substantial marketing costs of Hollywood films naturally limit the kinds of films now being made. In the fashion industry, the transition into the high turnover phenomena called Fast Fashion where agile and lean (i.e. cheap and fast) is the mandate has magnified both the exploitation of slave labor and the destruction of the environment. The sloth doesn’t survive in the 21st century. But will the jack rabbit?
The 2013 Rana Plaza factory disaster that killed over a thousand textile workers in Bangladesh exposed one of the many perils of Fast Fashion Industry as seen in Andrew Morgan‘s True Cost documentary.
As I’ve aged and gained some insight and experience, I’ve learned that although my drive and ability to learn fast helped me adjust and succeed in the certain facets of work and life, it also (ironically) hampered my development in those very same areas. Things learned fast and easy, aren’t learned deeply. It’s why we don’t remember those last years of formal education. If the last thing we learned in mathematics is calculus then the only thing we’ll remember how to do (at best) is algebra. We lose whatever we learned shallowly and also whatever we cease to practice regularly. If we’ve only completed one basic class in anatomy, we DON’T know anatomy. The route to success is commonly misunderstood. Efficiency comes from effectiveness, not the other way around.
“Short cuts make long delays.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien
Rushing is also dangerous. Not only does it get us no where faster, it’s a concept and habit prone to error that magnifies itself. Athletes who rush their execution or stage performers too eager to please their audiences make more mistakes. Complex challenges require time for analysis, planning and mindful execution. We simply can’t drive high speed into corners. Maybe we need speed limits for life and not just the road.
Walt Disney’s Dumbo as animated by the legendary Bill Tytla. Can you imagine rushing through this shot if you were the animator?
What’s often forgotten is that quiet and boredom are powerful states — they drive both awareness and action. Going off course periodically can be very beneficial. Time spent alone, or with nature remind us to feel and use our senses — senses we need to improve not only our work but every aspect of our lives. Visual artists often focus too exclusively on sight, forgetting that we must use our ears to understand rhythm and our touch to encompass volume or texture. Closed-eye imagination breeds insight. Doing things slowly and attentively helps us feel things as they are or even as we hope they could be.
“See how she leans her cheek upon her hand. O, that I were a glove upon that hand that I might touch that cheek!” ― William Shakespeare,
Taking the time to physically experience our emotions, absorbing ideas and letting lessons sink in, make them far more permanent and ultimately more useful. Skills that take years to develop build on top of each other through experience and set back, reinforcing the lessons that go beyond the craft. The journey you spend becoming a true craftsman brings with it incalculable experience and unexpected turns of fate. My own life never took on any meaning till I chose to become a daily practicing artist. It has fundamentally changed everything I was, everything that I do and who I have become. It’s quite stirring when we decide to devote ourselves to something.
Snow in New York by Robert Henri, an artist who brought the purist and most complete devotion to his craft. Henri dedicated almost every moment of his life doing, teaching and writing about art. I suspect it made for a great and fulfilling life.
So, in summary, take time for things. Allow enough minutes, hours or days to learn, experience, fail and reflect. Forget about shortcuts and enjoy the process. Make time instead of trying to cheat it.
“Do whatever you do, intensely.” – Robert Henri