Here’s the thing: My school has an annual auction to raise money for the school’s annual fund. We the teachers are asked to make contributions of time and energy and product to the auction, and so I volunteered to produce a painting. Which I’m doing, as you can see on the left. Only, I’m not sure this is the painting I’m supposed to produce. And I’m currently debating between starting again, or doing another painting in this series, or leaving well enough alone and giving this one to the auction committee, or continuing to work on this painting… well. The possibilities are endless.
Except, of course, that they’re not. The auction day is in about two weeks, and I have to decide pretty soon whether to produce a different painting or keep working on this one. What would you do? I’m heavily leaning toward trying again. This is an interesting painting, and I learned a lot about process by doing it — work in large layers, work from heaviest strokes to lightest, work with a relatively limited palette, work within color families, and so on. But even given what it’s supposed to be — a phoenix rising from the ashes of its funeral pyre — it’s not very convincing, is it? Would you buy it?
There’s a fair degree of overlap between the artist, the magician, and the designer, but relatively little between those three and the student. The artist, the magician and the designer all work because they love the work. They enjoy the work, they derive satisfaction from the work, and they enjoy the process which leads them forward whenever they do the work. The process is important, and it teaches them critical things about how to move forward — just as I’ve learned from this painting, my first in several years. The student works from outside motivation — getting a good grade usually, or maybe just avoiding punishment. It’s not to say that outside motivations aren’t good ones, but they won’t lead a designer to produce the next iPad or make an artist into the next Rembrant. It certainly won’t make a magician better at his craft and arte.
I don’t know how one goes about making this sort of ambition intrinsic to students, this internal drive to a) produce work, and b) do the work, and c) make the work better. But I know that without that intrinsic drive, the internal quest to produce quality effort, any attempt to enforce ambition from outside is unlikely to succeed. You can’t make a person work beyond himself or herself on fairy dust and a B+.