Unless you’ve been living an artistic rock for the last two years, you have probably heard about a book called “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. Even if you have heard about this book, chances are, you probably haven’t read it. Why? Because let’s face it, it looks like one of those boring ass business books that everyone takes to Starbucks and pretends to read while they are really checking out the hot twenty-two year old barista behind the counter. Trust me, I thought the same thing until I finally sat down to read the thing.
Now don’t worry, I’m not about to tell you that you should go out and read this entire book, not only because that would be an abuse of my immense blogging power, but I’m pretty sure that you wouldn’t do it anyway. So instead I’m simply going to ask you to go to your local library or bookstore and spend an hour reading Chapter 2 “The 10,000 Hour Rule”
Since I know that only about four of you reading this will actually make an effort to track down this book, I’m going to try and summarize a few of the main points here. However keep in mind, that if your goal is to really someday become the art rock star that you envision yourself to be, sooner or later you’re going to have to put in the work. Interestingly enough, that’s exactly what this particular chapter is about. . .
In this chapter, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the success of such people as Mozart, Bill Gates, Bill Joy, Bobby Fischer, and the Beatles. Now because you’re reading a blog called Skinny Artist we’re going to focus our immediate attention here on the Beatles. As most of you already know, the Beatles were a fairly successful band. What most people don’t know, however, is how long they had been playing together before they ever came to America.
According to Gladwell, Lennon and McCartney had been playing together for over seven years before they become “overnight” sensations in the states. They weren’t just hanging out together either. You see unlike your typical high school band, the Beatles actually practiced and played together. . . a lot! In fact they used to take these trips to Hamburg, Germany and play for eight hours a night, seven days a week!
John Lennon said later in an interview about their experience in Hamburg: “We got better and got more confidence. We couldn’t help it with all the experience playing all night long. . . we had to play for eight hours, so we really had to find a new way of playing”
Malcolm Gladwell then talks about the results of this expereince:
“All told, they performed for 270 nights in just over a year and a half. By the time they had their first burst of success in 1964, in fact, they had performed live an estimated twelve hundred times.”
That’s right, the Beatles played over 1,200 live performances before they made it big, which as the author points out, is more shows than most bands play in their entire career.
Hold on, I know what you’re thinking here . . I’m a painter, a writer, a composer, or a jewelry designer so how does any of this apply to me? It means that unless you are willing to put in the work necessary, all the clever marketing and advertising in the world isn’t going to sell your artistic creation. Everything we talk about here on Skinny Artist can only help to get your product or service noticed. Once your customers/clients/booking agents manage to find you, it’s up to you to impress them with the quality of your work.
In the book Malcolm Gladwell estimates that for most poeple, accumulating 10,000 hours of practice will take about ten years. . .
Yes, yes he did.
Let’s think about this for a moment. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to get 10,000 hours of practice/creating under your belt before you can start marketing your work. This research only implies that you won’t reach the level of true mastery of your art until you have put in your 10,000 hours. For example, as Gladwell point out in the book, many people would say that even the Beatles didn’t reach their creative peak until they released “Sergeant Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band” and the “White Album” in 1967-68, which is coincidentally ten years after they started playing together in 1957. (I know spooky, right?)
So what I’m saying here is don’t freak out. You’re going to get better as you go along, and depending on how long you have been practicing your art, you may already be well on your way. Again, it’s not as if once you hit that magical 10,000 hour mark, you’ll go from completely horrible to awesome jedi master. Instead, it’s a matter of gradual improvement and finding your true artistic voice.
I guess there are two main points to my story here. First, all the marketing in the world isn’t going to help you if your artistic creation sucks. Secondly, the way to get it to suck less, is by continuing to work at it EVERYDAY! Not just those days when you feel like it or when “inspiration” hits you upside the head. It’s about having the courage and self-discipline to sit down and stare at that empty canvas, the silent guitar, or the blank computer screen for as long as you have to. It’s about doing something everyday that will take you a little bit closer towards your goal.
Yes, you need to have the right tools and the right resources but most importantly, you need to find a way to get the experience of practicing your art. It doesn’t matter if you end up throwing it away at the end of the day. You need to have that discipline to keep trying everyday to move forward.
So for all of us Liberal Arts majors out there, what exactly does 10,000 hours mean?
So what are you doing today?
P.S. I know what you’re thinking. . . 3 hours a day is nothing, I could easily do 6-8 hours every day and become ruler of the universe in less than five years. All I can say is go for it, as long as you don’t burn yourself out, no practice is wasted. Just remember that the true secret is to do something every day and to never, never, never stop.
Writer, teacher, and head custodian of the Skinny Artist community. His book "Getting Creative: Developing Creative Habits that Work" is all about finding the time (and energy) to live a more creative life.