or what Mastery actually means.
Sparked by a recent article that appeared on DIA (Marcin’s 10k hour myth) I started pondering on the subject of mastery. Who can be called a master? Why do we look up to masters of the past, why do we consider them masters and how the hell did they get there? Obviously they got there with their hard work and complete dedication to their craft, but how many others, with same dedication and amount of work did not make it? After studying some of the work of people that I’d consider masters myself, I have come across a certain pattern that clearly shows when they started to pull from the pack.
We all start from the basics, right? Even Mozart or Bach had to take lessons and start with practising scales, chords, harmonies etc. Henri Cartier-Bresson had to learn the relationship between aperture, shutter speed and ASA speed before he could expose his film. Michelangelo had to practice brush strokes before he painted Sistine Chapel. In that very same fashion, you dear reader, began your journey, learning the basics of your craft and working on extremely simple projects.
As time goes by, you grow in confidence and your skills and abilities expand. The designs, compositions or stories (depending on your craft) get more complex, more elaborative and grow in size. You progress, you produce more work than ever before and that fuels even more projects. You are gaining momentum and after some time, you reach, what could seem, like your peak. And it’s great, you are on top of the world and nothing can stop you.
Give it some more time, and as your experience grows, you will start stripping things away. The same designs, compositions or stories will become much, much more simple. That is not say basic or crude in any way, but more elegant, more refined.
Take Beethoven’s Fur Elise. It was written in 1810, that is AFTER his Fifth Symphony (1804 – 1808), one of the most highly regarded musical compositions in human history. Fur Elise wasn’t discovered until after his death. It is possible that he might not have been as proud of it or was worried about reception of it by public, as it is way, way simpler than most of his previous compositions. Yet it is one of the most famous musical scores. There’s many other examples but I would like you to discover them by yourself. Study work of your masters, put them in chronological order and see how their progress unfolded.
That is not to say that you should try to skip any of the steps along the way. There’s no shortcuts. You have to go through it. It is only after achieving competence in complex designs that you will be able to make simplicity truly elegant. At the end of the day, despite all the complexity in our lives, we are simple beings. By stripping the unnecessary and the expected, you can express your own voice.