6 – Quantity Over Quality

In the previous episode we talked about motivation and inspiration. We said that we shouldn’t wait for inspiration to strike, for the Muse to pay attention to us, before we get down to do work. The best artists find inspiration by just getting down to work, every day. As Todd Henry says, “I only write when I’m motivated to. I just happen to be motivated every day at 8am.”

Picasso also said: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

Many of us, however, even when we do commit to getting down to work every day, get stuck in a rut or experience writer’s (or photographer’s) block. We grow a sense of dissatisfaction with what we are creating. This in turn leads to doing less work and so the circle repeats itself.

In part, this is what Ira Glass is talking about. The fact that we have good taste makes us feel that what we are creating is not good enough and induces frustration.

The worst thing we could possibly do to fight this, I believe, is striving to always create the best possible work. The best thing, conversely, is striving to create the largest volume of work possible.

Person making a clay vase


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“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

– From Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

“This shift in perspective, from seeing your preliminary images as junk to seeing them as important and valuable, allows you to be more playful with them. It allows you to be less critical of them and instead to let them lead you. What do you like about one particular frame? What could you do differently? What doesn’t work for you and how can you exclude those things? What changes can you make to give your subject its best expression? Do you need to wait for better light? Better moments? Do you need to change your perspective, your lens, your shutter speed?

See the difference in approach? One, the “everything I’m shooting is crap” approach, leads to frustration. The other, the “everything I’m making is getting me closer to a better final image” approach, leads to creativity, play, experimentation, and—ultimately—to stronger photographs.”

David duChemin

“if you throw well, the catches will take care of themselves. […] Dropping is fine. We’re not doing it so we can catch, we’re doing it so we can learn to throw. […] The reason is natural is because we bypass the status and we bypass the fear”

– Seth Godin, “Throw throw catch catch”

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know. I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there…If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.”

– Ernest Hemingway

David Ulrich, Zen Camera

“Mind the gap” audio sample courtesy of bbc.co.uk – © 2018 BBC. Click here to download the original file.

February 6, 2019