I picked up Rob Bell’s new book, Drops Like Stars, yesterday. Almost read it all last night. In it, Rob talks about the link between suffering and creativity. Two things have immediately stuck out to me and got me really thinking today. The first is from this quote: “Great artists know that it isn’t just about what you add; sometimes the most important work is knowing what to take away.” Rob goes on to mention how “Michaelangelo said that his David was in the stone clamoring to be freed.” He used an illustration of bars of soap that he gave to some of his sculptor friends and had them carve something. They had to remove parts of the bars of soap to reveal their creation. I’m sure you can already see how this relates so well to woodworking. In wood carving, one is essentially sculpting a block of wood. The carver must intimately know the piece of wood he or she is working with, and must understand how the grain will react to the knife. The dance between the carver and the wood grain, if done well, will reveal something beautiful! How Rob connects this with suffering causing us to have to “eliminate the unnecessary, the trivial, the superficial,” is just beautiful as well, and I encourage you to go find and read it. The second thing that hit me, right before I went to bed last night, was a reference Rob made to a story from David Bayles and Ted Orland’s book, Art and Fear. I will paraphrase:
A ceramics teacher divided the class into two groups. One group was graded on how much they created in the set time, while the other, on the quality of one work they made. The quantity group ended up producing the most quality, as they produced piles of work and learned from their mistakes. The quality group sat theorizing about perfection and only produced grandiose theories and a pile of clay.
This made me sit there for about 15 minutes and seriously look at how I work. I have a tendancy to over-analyze things when I want to create something. I spend so much time trying to get things absolutely perfect before I ever actually do any work, that many times an idea gets lost in the shuffle of life. Now, this isn’t a diatriebe against carefully thinking and planning out your project. It is obviously not a good idea to just start cutting into that one-of-a-kind walnut crotch without any idea what you plan to do with it. But at the same time, we can’t be paralyzed by our fear of making mistakes. Mistakes teach us so much! I recently began trying to learn to hand cut dovetails. I had multiple people tell me to save my first dovetails, so that I always know where I started. Unfortunately, I am stubborn, and was so embarased by my first attempt, I cut them up and threw it in the scrap wood barrel. I’m very sad that I did that now. Its foolish to think that we will get things perfect on the first try. So what projects are you putting off because of fear of failure? What lessons are you missing out on because you won’t allow yourself to make a mistake? The saying goes, “Quality over quantity,” but maybe we need to modify that sometimes to be “quality from quantity.”