I once heard about a fancy pants, ivy league art school. The guy talking about attending the school explained that when he showed up as a freshman he wanted to learn how to be a great sculptor. For the first semester he sees that he will spend two hours, EARLY, every morning, monday through friday in a sculpting class. He shows up and is in a room by himself. The instructor walks in slaps a blob of clay on the table and explains that he has two hours to sculpt a head. BEGIN!
At the end of the two hours, he thinks he has done a reasonably good job for his first day - and given only two hours. The instructor comes back into the room and smashes it. "See you tomorrow."
The next day: "you have two hours to sculpt a head." Two hours. Smash.
It's like he isn't even looking at it. He doesn't give any feedback.
Day after day: smash.
For four years, two hours a day, monday through friday: sculpt a head and smash.
The guy telling the story explains that at the end of the four years, the heads he could sculpt in two hours were rather magnificent. It is a pity they were all smashed.
In 2003 or so I had so much stuff rolling around in my head that I needed to express that I decided to take a drawing class. On the first day of the drawing class, the instructor showed us the amazing stuff he had drawn. It was all amazingly cool. His stuff would often be used on the cover of the weekly magazine, or as art in all sorts of things. Or as art!
He said there is nothing he can teach us. Learning to draw is 100% experience. You just sit down with paper and a pencil and draw. Call it doodling if you want. The more you draw, the better you get. If you become obsessed with drawing and spend fifteen hours a day drawing, then you can probably get some stuff published in a couple of months. If you spend an hour a day drawing, that point might come in a few years. He was emphatic that no amount of teaching or advice would change any of that. The only thing a teacher can do is to get you to spend some time drawing instead of doing something else. So, that's what the class was going to do.
And that is what we did.
When it comes to homesteading and permaculture, I think that this sort of experience is not 100% of this, but it does make for a good 70%. It helps to know about different tools and techniques. But .... 70% is a lot.
Yeah, I was just thinking today "you learn by going through failure, and there's just no getting around it." We're very programed to not want to make mistakes, but they are probably the best learning tool.
That being said, I often wish I had someone around who would say "I wouldn't do that if I were you" and then we could have a discussion about why. Not having someone around means I'm probably making a lot of mistakes that if I had someone just tell me to "wax on, wax off" I would avoid them when I was alone.
On the other side of the coin, practice makes permanent, and doing the same thing again and again without any critical review is not a likely path to improvement.
Location: Northern Italy
posted 4 years ago
Peter Ellis wrote:On the other side of the coin, practice makes permanent, and doing the same thing again and again without any critical review is not a likely path to improvement.
You're right, I think it might be a question of not observing well and not accepting feedback. When you do something that is wrong and you see the effects of what you've done, most people I think would do some hard thinking afterwards. The reason mistakes lead to experience which leads to making fewer mistakes is the frustration and pain that come with making a mistake. Humans generally try to avoid pain and frustration, so usually we don't repeat the things that bring those feelings.
There might be other factors involved, like making a profit out of a dysfunctional system, which in many ways is encouragement that something swell is being done when it's really not.
I think with any skill be it an artistic one, or a more functional homesteading one there is a lot to be said for the perspective of the student. In my years of teaching guitar lessons I was able to think a lot about practice and how to get people where they want to be with their skills. Like Peter said practice does make permanent, and I think 9 times out of 10 someone who is practicing a mistake is doing so because they are in a hurry to move to the next thing. It takes presence of mind and self control to step back and actually practice what needs to be practiced, that's why having a teacher to guide you can be so productive.
In my own struggle to be a better artist and musician I had to step out and get experiences in public and with others, but I also started to think I could not play the music I wanted unless I put myself in the position to do so, both technically and mentally. So it fits with that Joel salatin quote quite well, start with a rough approximation and hone in on it until it's exactly what you want. That can also apply to my permaculture systems, start with an idea and actually observe its functioning before tweaking, dismantling, praising, or whatever. And if it works then find a way to make it work a little better.
Bottom line is, if a person does not look past their nose with their observations then they probably will not learn from their experiences.