However, I'm of the opinion that you're most likely to succeed at achieving your goal if you know where you're coming from and where you're going to.
On this very historic day, I've tried to think of a topic which ties in to what we will see happening later today.
One of the things that struck me when reading about Barack Obama and his path to the Presidency is how inquisitive he was and how many questions he asked about how things worked. He set out to find out what he needed to know, he applied himself to tasks which would be useful to know how to do and he developed and practised the skills required to be successful at being the person he aimed to be. And it worked!
taken shortly before he assumes office.
Source: Change.gov / Pete Souza
Finding out and asking questions are an essential and integral part of the process of education and developing competence at what we do - and what we seek to do.
It also gives us a very useful perspective for evaluating the information and advice we get from others and deciding what to do with it.
In developing your knowledge and skills - how conscious are you of your own competence?
Here are some different ways of looking at competence. This analysis had a huge impact on me the first time I came across it. It really helped me to sort through what I knew and what I didn't - and how far I was from where I wanted to be.
- Stage 1: Unconscious incompetence - not knowing what you don't know
- Stage 2: Conscious incompetence - knowing what you don't know
- Stage 3: Conscious competence - knowing what you know
- Stage 4: Unconscious competence - not knowing what you know
Stage 1: Unconscious incompetence - not knowing what you don't know
This is the "blissful ignorance" stage. I find that the easiest way to remember this stage is that essentially it's about "I don't know what I don't know".
So, when I'm at this stage this means:
- I'm naive - I get on with doing it my way, because I don't know any better
- I lack both knowledge and skills - but haven't got a clue that this is where I'm at
- I don't know or appreciate what the skills are to producing quality artwork
- I'm not aware that a particular skill is relevant to producing art of a particular sort
- I don't know that I have a skill deficit and that I need to learn about a particular process in order to be able to draw or paint in a particular way
- I have no appreciation at all of how my particular skill level relates to those who are most skilled
- Teacher perspective: Increase awareness of the skills used to be effective at producing artwork. Demonstrations of skills or abilities. Identify benefits of learning 'how to'.
- Student perspective: Start to learn how much you don't know. Ask questions. Find mentors. Watch people do things. Identify benefits of learning a skill.
Interestingly this stage also creates artists, such as Alfred Wallis, whose work is typified as "naive art". Characteristics include objects being drawn without any sense of perspective and sized according to their importance to the artist's world.
Stage 2: Conscious incompetence - knowing what you don't know
This is the "I know nothing" stage. This is progress! At least now that I know that I know nothing I can start to learn something!
When I'm at this stage - this is what it feels like:
- I now have some awareness of the knowledge and skills which I need to know more about
- I know that I need to find out more about how things work
- I've tried drawing/painting/printing/whatever in (name the media or process) and find that I don't produce the results I see in pictures in books or exhibitions
- I recognise my skills deficit and know there are skills that I need to learn
- I begin to find out just how good some artists really are and realise I'm no expert!
- I begin to appreciate just how big the gap is between where I am and where they are
- I accept that my ability is very limited
- I may not enjoy that I feel inadequate or unskilled relative to where I want to be - my confidence may take a knock
- I know that I will improve my effectiveness if I engage in the learning process
- Teacher perspective: Support learning by students - accept lots of mistakes will be made. Engage their enthusiasm for learning. Provide coaching. Show them what's involved e.g. demonstrate what goes into creating an artwork - how it is designed and constructed and what it means as well as how it's painted. Highlight what artists need to learn to become competent and skilled at what they do. (i.e. it's not enough just to know how to handle a brush or mix colours). Emphasise the need to put in the time and the work.
- Student perspective: Work out how far I am from where I want to be. Make a commitment to learn more. Identify some stages for learning more about what I need to know. Attend art classes and workshops. Read resources - in books and on the net. Discuss art with people who 'know'.
My personal view is that there are some big potential risks associated with this particular stage - which can lead to students getting stuck and making no further progress.
Being aware of what you don't know and how much you need to find out can be daunting and really influence your mindset and approach to learning. It can lead to the eternal student - people who get stuck at the reading stage; people who go to workshops and watch the demonstration but who fail to engage with "doing".
Essentially you find out how things work by making things happen - or not! Being willing to endure feeling uncomfortable with what you produce enables you to practice getting better.
I think it also stumps some people who are in total awe of really good painters. They just can't start to learn because they've become more and more aware of just how good 'proper painters' are. For some of them, if they can't be the best then they don't want to try.
The other danger at this stage is becoming 'stuck' in the mindset of a particular teacher who fails to show you the very many different ways that people use media or approaches to making art.
Stage 3: Conscious competence - knowing what you know
I know what I know. I have knowledge and can use it. I have skills and can practice them. I am effective - but I'm not yet reached my full potential or the peak of performance.
When I'm at this stage - this is what it feels like:
- I've acquired knowledge - I now know things about specific aspects of art and making art
- I've acquired skills e.g. I can draw and I can paint in my chosen media
- I still need to think about what I'm doing if I'm going to be effective.
- I can achieve a reliable level of performance - however my competence levels can operate in fits and starts unless I make artwork on a regular basis
- I can develop a body of work. I can create a series. I can make pictures for an exhibition.
- Working steadily on producing output can be very draining because of the conscious level of effort involved
- I know I still need to get much better
- I know I need to put in the work in order to get better and refine my skills
- Teacher perspective: Be very competent at what I do in order to demonstrate to others. Be very knowledgeable about my practice and competent at explaining what I do - in order to transfer that understanding to others.
- Student perspective: Make a commitment to becoming the best I can be. Practice, Practice Practice!!! Putting in the 10,000 hours (See Outstanding performance - a talent or 10,000 hours of practice?)
People will start to teach at this stage - but may be less effective as artists and teachers than those who manage to reach the next stage.
This is the stage where everything seems easy - it's only taken three stages before this and an awful lot of hard work to get here!
This is when you can say you have achieved mastery and do not think about what you do. You've now reached your full potential, the peak of your performance and (probably) the peak of confidence in 'knowing' what you know - because it is an intrinsic part of you.
Here are the characteristics - described in the first person. How many of these are part of you?
- Practising for many hours has helped me to develop a habit which is now ingrained - it's now 'second nature' (part of the unconscious part of my brain)
- I can do things automatically and without thinking. There is no need for a conscious effort - my brain is engaged with the process but doesn't need to make me think about what I'm doing
- This can make it difficult for me to explain to other people what I do
- My performance is reliable and robust. So long as a I maintain an output then the quality levels will tend to remain pretty reliable.
- I can multitask and do more than one thing at a time
- I'm at the peak of fulfilling my abilities and potential - and my confidence
- I start looking around for new challenges!
- Teacher perspective: Conduct and deliver a masterclass. Become a very effective teacher if able to articulate what mastery involves.
- Student perspective: Continue to practice, practice, practice! Find new stimuli e.g. learn a new skill; seek out a new motif; practice reiteration within one motif.
True mastery requires a well rounded ability, knowledge and skills.
Personally I think it's also very much associated with a talent for reinventing yourself from time to time - and Picasso is an artist who springs to mind in this regard. I think it probably comes from a commitment to personal development and a continued enthusism for learning and developing new skills.
Please comment below if you find this helpful and or have anything to add.
(PS I'm now off to go and watch the television on this very historic day and wonder in awe at Michelle Obama's ability to withstand the cold!)