An Artist's Quest

Making Friends With Your Medium: 10,000 Hours or More!

I’ve been spending the week preparing for a two day Encaustic Collage workshop I’m leading this weekend.  I spent the first two days gathering supplies, mixing up a big batch of encaustic medium (beeswax and demar resin) tidying up the scraps of paper and ephemera I have collected over the years to share with my students, writing my lesson plans and making teaching samples for the retreat.  One of the things I always tell my students is that you have got to get to know the medium.  I ask them to think about this workshop as a first date.  I tell them don’t expect to get to first base the the first time out… meet for coffee – take some time, ask questions, explore; no expectations, no demands, then when you get to know each other better well….  While I would say I’m on very friendly terms with encaustic collage I realized this week that I hadn’t taken time lately to get together with this friend for a quality visit.  Most of my recent encounters have been more like a quick chat standing in the parking lot after a PTA meeting.  This isn’t enough to catch up and deepen our relationship.  I really needed to spend some quality time with this dear friend that I had been neglecting.  So I spent the next two days playing, not just getting ready for a sale or a class but really exploring going deeper.  I’m glad I took the time, it will make the class I teach better and it renews my excitement about the process, that’s good for me and the folks coming to the weekend workshop.

That leads me to share some insights from a book I often quote, Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers.  In it Gladwell explains the 10,000-Hour Rule. He sites studies and presents stories suggesting that the key to success in any field has nothing to do with talent. It’s simply practice, 10,000 hours of it — 40 hours a week for 5 years or 20 hours a week for 10 years, you get the idea.  That’s a lot of hours! Talent comes from putting in the time, building a relationship.  I find this notion particularly compelling even comforting.  In my work, my art, my relationships, my parenting, my everything, I am on a journey, wandering (sometimes focused, sometimes aimlessly) towards my 10,000 hours.  I am working on understanding, building richness and depth. When I’ve reached my ten thousand hours, what then? Well then I’ll dive right in to my next ten thousand hours and see what more there is to be learned.

Here is a link to Malcolm Gladwell’s website

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8 responses

  1. Val

    Well, I’ve lived long enough to accumulate 10,000 hours in something, but I’m not sure which of my many interests that is. Most likely dance, followed by an assortment of art adventures. Sometimes you don’t realize you’ve become a ‘master’ at something. I always seem to have a beginner’s mind.

    January 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    • I know you have been a dancer and a teacher for along time and surely have more than 10,000 hours going on that, but as a creative explorer sometimes exploration is the thing and mastery doesn’t always matter… maybe the beginner’s mind make you open.

      January 20, 2012 at 3:58 pm

  2. Nicole Ross

    Oh gosh, this is such a FANTASTIC reminder for everything in life! Thank you thank you for your insights.

    January 20, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    • 10,000 that’s a lot of time as the Haitian proverb says, “Piti Piti Na Rive” meaning “little by little we will arrive”. I like that, no hurry one foot in front of the other or minute after hour after day… we will arrive at those 10,000 Malcolm Gladwell was talking about.

      January 20, 2012 at 4:03 pm

  3. I like this. Enjoyed reading it. And I am wondering where is my 10 000 hours of Yoga and pranayama and meditation………………and who is counting,

    January 20, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    • It’s all floating on the wind Marie, winding through the pumping of your heart and after today’s workout Marie, I can say with authority in the sore muscles and centered minds of your lucky students.

      January 23, 2012 at 10:40 am

  4. Jane

    Many hours of Practice… and talent… and…

    I too have read ‘Outliers’ and while I agree that there is a lot to be said for practice I feel that there is also much to be said for talent. Beautiful things happen when the two are combined, but either one alone is far less fruitful. I had a friend who once after years of struggling to teach young children finally realized that, while everyone else told her she was good at it, it was not in fact her comfort zone. She was a very hard and determined worker, so she coped and made it work for years, but not until she realized her passion lay with young adults did her talent truly shine and she change lives in miraculous ways. I think Malcolm Gladwell words are convincing in as far as they go, but his scientific rationale ignores that irrational emotional side of our humanness. Practice and talent can produce good things, and together even produce great things, but the greatest things come when they are combined with passion; a power that drives us beyond rational, linear progression into the possibilities of the mystical and supernatural.

    January 21, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    • Jane, Thank you for your comment. I agree there is nothing without passion. I too was teaching at a level in which I was very practiced and very competent and I think even effective…. but I wasn’t passionate and you can’t sustain yourself on that it weighs too heavy on your soul… you must have the flame of passion to make all the practice of your talents worth the effort. Thank you for the wonderful and eloquent reminder.

      January 23, 2012 at 10:43 am

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