by Steve Eulberg
Which is more important in art:
Quantity or Quality?
Very often in the artistic world some believe we have settled this classic debate by choosing the benefits of quality over the benefits of quantity.
We want to have qualities of timbre and phrasing in music, quality of graceful movement in dance, qualities of taste and smell in cooking, qualities of joy and cleverness in humor, qualities of color, depth and placement in visual art.
So, choosing the end goal of this discussion as the most important can lead us into the mistaken of mixing up the ends and the means.
Because, as this story by David Bayles and Ted Orland in their book Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking illustrates, the quality of the result may rest upon the quantity of production that precedes it.
“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups.
All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.
His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: 50 pounds of pots rated an “A”, 40 pounds a “B”, and so on.
Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot—albeit a perfect one— to get an “A”.
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.
It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work-and learning from their mistakes—they “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”
In my experience in learning, performing and teaching music, I have found the same to be true.
The only way I can perfect a phrase that I can never play perfectly once, is to try and play it 20 times….only to discover that out of twenty times I can play it perfectly three times; and then eight times, then fourteen times….all of which demonstrates the quantity needed to produce the quality I desire.