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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

How good is it? / How good am I?

With a drawing or a song, I can ask, how good is it? Or I can ask, how good am I at doing this? These are usually the wrong questions, though they are different from each other. Am I a good songwriter? I don't really care, because nothing is of consequence in the answer. Is a song good? If I like it myself, that is enough for me. If you like it, even better. I could be a good songwriter and write a song that's not as good as another, etc... Tons of people hang up their art works in coffee shops around town. Some is fantastically good, some is not, but it shouldn't really matter to the artist what I think.

I do things seriously, whether I am an amateur at any particular thing. In fact, I have decided to pursue hobbies seriously rather than thinking of them as something I am bad or good at. Thinking you are bad at something is every bit as much of an ego move as thinking you are good. To invest serious effort simply means that you think of the activity itself as more significant than your ego investment in it.

Shame is a factor. For example, I have played piano in the student union for anyone walking by. I don't have to feel embarrassed any more, because I realized that nobody really cares how well I play, if they are listening at all in the first place.

It's the same with everything I do, except that I am a professional literary critic slash academic, so there I have criteria which are common to the field of inquiry itself. They are commonly held, and I have my own preferences on top of that, my own quirks.


If you confuse "how good am I" with "how good is it" you will be in trouble. Suppose you write a paper for school in two hours. The paper might not be good, yet, because it is not really done yet. You might be good at writing papers, but you haven't spent enough time with this one yet. If you spend endless time and still can't make the paper good, it means you aren't good at it... yet. You need to write many papers in order to learn how to do it. The ego is mostly a hindrance: you need basic confidence, but you need to be able to look at a piece of work outside of yourself and see what needs to be fixed.


Anonymous said...

This is what I dislike about the people who harp on about good-enough and the importance of rough drafts. They are convinced that if you have any piece of work you do not like, you are saying you do not like *yourself* and they go on about how you should submit this piece already and let an editor deal with it, and so on, and so forth. They will *not* allow you to say anything of yours is really good, or anything is not good enough or not yet good enough, they are only satisfied if you will describe all your work as good-enough -- I think it is because they convince work and self and are upset with the idea of anyone not describing their own self as mediocre plus, i.e. "good enough"

Anonymous said...

(I could also rant on about art teachers with really conventional senses of design. What to discard or not in ceramics is always a bone of contention, they want you to save the conventional lopsided and I don't, but I will keep beautiful things that have cracked and they do not understand me although it is I who get noticed for design whereas they only get noticed for technique)

Anonymous said...

And finally --

"To invest serious effort simply means that you think of the activity itself as more significant than your ego investment in it."

That is the sentence I like here. It is what I don't like about academia, the imposition of all these egos and self-worth issues. It wasn't like that before professordom, I can remember just being interested in field as opposed to being immersed in atmospheres of Darwinian struggle and general ugliness. It is also why I, who have difficulty working on my own behalf, would rather be in law, something where I have clients or countries to defend.

I also don't like the idea of hobbies as something you do not pursue seriously. You may not be aiming to compete at the activity, but it isn't fun if you don't get to do it seriously. This is why I hate music, we were required to play it but it was supposed to be for fun only, so we never got to get good enough at it to be able to enjoy playing it, it was always such a struggle

Jonathan said...

It's an important point that you have to get good at something before you enjoy it. At least with my songwriting I was able to compose a song the first day I tried, so I was enjoying it from the very beginning. It reflected my limitations in knowledge but it is still a fine song, for my purposes. Now I'm going back and writing some simplistic songs and it's fine.

Anonymous said...

This means something about teaching, then, if you teach beginners. They won't enjoy the subject until they have some skill, so you have got to piggy back it onto something they already know and like, while making sure they get some form of good result with the new subject right away. I wish the creators of FL programs could understand this, or had not forgotten it