I transcribed this snippet from the Ken Burns documentary about jazz. It inspires me to make mistakes at what I’m doing.
[Glenn Miller]… was sort of the Lawrence Welk of jazz. It was one of the reasons he was so big; people could identify with what he did, they perceived what he was doing. But the biggest problem: His band never made a mistake, and it’s one of the things wrong. If you never make a mistake, you aren’t trying, you’re not playing at the edge of your ability. You’re playing safely, within limits, and you know what you can do, and it sounds after a while extremely boring.
(c) 2020 JMN
This generalization might or might not apply to other people in whatever medium. Mistakes are part of my process, which almost always involves a lot of trial and error. But for someone else, and what they are trying to achieve, a more formulaic approach might work best. Did Norman Rockwell make mistakes? Probably not a lot, and he churned out a lot of brilliantly rendered pap, but he’s got at least one masterpiece.
Mistakes tend to happen in the area of manipulating the medium. But it’s conceivable that one might have mastered the medium within the range they use it, and the exploring they do could take place in content. Perhaps a novelist might have his or her style down pat, and even the process, but explores possible stories, etc.
I’m just a wee bit wary these days of anything prescriptive about art, or any litmus test. People have such different personalities, inclinations, obsessions, interests, and on and on. But if it works for you, and you find it helpful, that’s great. I totally agree with the concept as applied to myself.
This is a thoughtful, well expressed take on the Artie Shaw comment, and I’m in sympathy with all you say. I think of myself as painting in a very cramped, literalist way that I associate with amateurishness, thus reluctant to branch out and risk “making mistakes.” But when you mention trial and error I realize that nothing I paint comes out without various blundering iterations. It doesn’t lend worth to my work, but maybe I stretch for what’s beyond me more than I realized!
I’m old enough to remember when the Saturday Evening Post was ubiquitous on coffee tables, more often than not with a Rockwell cover. I marvel at his work even now, though it doesn’t lead me anywhere in my own efforts to paint. Your phrase “brilliantly rendered pap” is an apt one. I don’t question that, prolific as he was, he had to have done something masterpiece-ful. A picture of his that sticks in my mind is of a boy contemplating taking a dive (or jump?) from the high diving board. Shaw’s comment about Glenn Miller surprised me. My mother lived to be 93 and was an accomplished vocalist. The Glenn Miller Orchestra felt like it provided the soundtrack to her generation. It hadn’t occurred to me that he could be subject to criticism by another “iconic” artist of the era, Artie Shaw! I’m learning much I didn’t know about jazz from the Burns documentary (Amazon Prime).