Vision is Always Ahead of Execution

One reason that creative people are drawn to new ideas, often at the expense of executing ideas they already have, is that new ideas have an ideal perfection about them. But once you sit down and start to execute a new idea, you soon realize how complex it really is and that you’ll never be able to make it as pretty and shiny as it appeared when you first thought of it. This reality bums you out, so you find a new, new idea.

I adore this excerpt from the book Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland (1994) that makes an interesting claim about vision and new ideas and how they are perceived differently by beginners versus masters:

Fears rise in those entirely appropriate and frequently occurring moments when vision races ahead of execution. Consider the story of the young student who began piano studies with a master. After a few months practice, the student lamented to his teacher, “But I can hear the music so much better in my head than I can get out of my fingers,” to which the master replied, “What makes you think that ever changes?”

That’s why they are called masters.

When he raised the student’s discovery from an expression of self-doubt to a simple observation of reality, uncertainty became an asset. Lesson for the day: Vision is always ahead of execution, and it should be. Vision, uncertainty, and knowledge of materials are inevitabilities that all artists must acknowledge and learn from. Vision is always ahead of execution, knowledge of materials is your contact with reality, and uncertainty is a virtue.

“Vision is always ahead of execution, and it should be.” If you can hold this in your mind as you are struggling with the imperfection of your own work, it will ground you. It will keep you focused. And it will earn you the title of master.