Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Humility – The artists sharpest learning tool

This is a painting called “last green tree” by Donato Giancola . I was fascinated by how this is the closest visual representation to Future of Forestry that I’ve ever come across. C.S. Lewis’s poem called “The Future of Forestry” comes to life in this graphic painting where the beauty of a last surviving tree is contrasted against the cold grey stone and metal of a futuristic metropolis.


My wife is in an elite art school called Watts Atelier in Encinitas (painting of this monk is by the founder and teacher Jeff Watts) I describe them as “elite” not because they are arrogant, but because they come from a purist approach to art. They waste no time standing in tight circles bantering about the question, “What is art?” They don’t study paintings called “Lame Black Dot on Boring White Canvas” and feel better about themselves when they reach some higher level of enlightening because they can appreciate the black dot more than the person standing next to them. Instead, they focus on the tradition of skilled painting and drawing found in representational art.

I was fascinated by the story of a guy who is attending the school who is by profession an art director (let’s call him Bob). Bob works for heavy hitter illustration companies (like Dreamworks or Sony or something). His job is not to craft art himself, but to craft the artists who are making the art. In other words, he is commissioned to critique them in order that their work will improve. Bob is the art director of most of the teachers at the my wife’s art school. They entrust their art to Bob’s critical eye. He looks at their work and with extreme knowledge and experience tells them how the painting translates, what works, what needs to be fixed.

In spite of Bob’s vast knowledge, understanding, and credibility to the art community and to all the teachers at the art school, Bob has no clue how to paint. He has chosen as a complete beginner to take art classes from the teachers that he critiques for a living! I can only imagine what torture this is for him. Being a professional art director and critic, looking at your own work and simply cringing. I try to fantasize what that experience would be like in my own terms: with my years of musical background and understanding, I pick up a guitar and have no clue how to play it. All I hear is crap coming out of the instrument and I want to smash it into a thousand wood splinters.

I thought about the kind of humility it takes to do what Bob is doing. Or for that matter, the kind of confidence it takes. He is so secure in who he is as a critic, that he feels no embarrassment in front of his teachers (the ones whom he directs). Tam told me that he conversed with the art teachers in one moment helping them, critiquing them, giving them perspective and advice, telling them what was wrong with their rendering, and they were eager to learn. In the next moment, he had a paintbrush in hand and his teachers began instructing him.


This is the kind of humble child-like learning that makes great musicians and great people. I have known all sorts of musicians. I know this one guy who wanted me to mentor him. So I spent some time with him. But the more time I spent with him, the more I realized he was set on trying to impress me, show me what he already knew. It was a real pain in the butt to be honest. Not because he didn’t have any knowledge, but because people who want to impress more than learn exhaust me. The many musicians I have known who really progress, who really grow, are the eager ones who are constantly asking questions.

That by nature is a fun thing to do. When I’m around people doing pro-tools or tweaking a compressor, I’m asking a million questions. The funny thing about it is that people LOVE being asked questions. I almost never find someone who is like, “Look bro, I’m way to important to help you.” People like being an expert at things. When they are asked questions, it makes a subtle and loving statement that you admire them.

I never took any music engineering or mixing classes. My learning experience came from never letting someone do something that I didn’t understand. All the producers and engineers I worked with were bombarded with my questions. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do today without them.

Here’s to Bob and his openness to learn. May we learn from his humility and desire to grow and discover.

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