DigitalFriend Blog

January 2021

You Can't Rush Art & Outsourcing the Inner Critic

Tue, 26 Jan 2021 16:12:29 +1000

By: gosh'at' (Steve Goschnick)

A long time ago when I was 15, I made a complete Chess Set, board and box in my woodwork class at high school. I still have the Chess pieces - see figure 1 below.

Apart from my gained skills in woodwork, it taught me a few things about life in general, including that the design and creation of things that are good and worthwhile, usually takes a lot of time. A lesson well condensed in a line from Toy Story, that: 'You can't rush Art'. That, of course, is likely to clash with the values of the modern world where speed is further up the ladder than it should be.

However, time is time and any rearrangement of values doesn't generate more time, and so doing one thing often happens at the expense of another. That was the case back in my Year 10 auxiliary lessons from woodwork, where I had to drop a second term subject in order to finish off my Chess set, board and box, in Woodwork term 2. The costs to me included: needing to drop the Cookery subject with later consequences such as - when I began cooking my own meals later on in 2nd year uni, I often had just steak and eggs, where other people in the shared kitchen had more balanced meals were left aghast at mine. Another cost was that it gave me the chance to score a maximum 9 Honours that year instead of the 10 I landed the year before.

Figure 1. Self-made Chess Set.

Figure 1: Self-made Chess Set.

My straight honours in all subjects in middle high school were an early indication that I would always have trouble specialising on just a few things - another value that modern society doesn't rate very highly. Society very much prefers to put you in an easily managed and understood box. In retrospect, I was on fire in middle high school, my unquenchable desire to learn (something you can't teach) was a consequence of several things: two of my very good friends were killed in a car crash and I wanted to change the world for the better in some meaningful way; and secondly, I had my first relationship with a steady girlfriend. How these led to that, takes a little more explanation.

During the morning of the evening my two friends were killed, they'd come up to my place to coax me into hitch-hiking out to see the local football match at a nearby town (Thornton, about 13k from Alexandra) - hitch-hiking was not too unusual a mode of transport back then in small towns where everyone knew something of everyone. I was sitting on a large cube stone-lined post at the front of our property, watching the cars streaming by, up from the city en route to the water-world that was Lake Eildon. Many were impressive cars and often towing powerful glittering speedboats, heading out for a weekend of skiing. It was the age of the petrol-head and country towns in Australia were in the full grip of it (e.g. think American Graffiti and The Fonz but with Australian-made cars).

Teenage kids from large families were often relatively free agents in country towns, and so whether to go with them or not, was pretty much a personal choice. I didn't want to go, but they put collective pressure on me - there were four of them pushing all the buttons that peers know how to push. However, I stuck to my choice to not go with them. It was the ride back from that town late in the evening, with the four of them across the back seat in a souped-up Holden piloted by a drunk driver, when it slammed into a tree at very high speed. The two near the doors died, the other two cushioned in the middle between them lived. The driver's wife and child in the front seat also died. It was a major tragedy in a small country town, one of many such tragedies right across rural Australia before drink-driving and seatbelt laws came into existence. School counselling in those days consisted of: lining up the whole school as a guard of honour to watch the hearses go by en route to the cemetery. Personally, it was unsurprising that post university, I ended up working for the national peak road research body - the Australian Road Research Board. Nor that I've never let peer-group pressure override my decisions since that day forward.

How the early girlfriend relationship figured in the firing of my intellectual side so much, was harder to understand (I'd gone from a rabbit trapping, duck plucking hunter with one or two haphazard school honours per year, to 10 honours and class dux in rapid short time). It was at that same research organisation many years later where I got a key psychological insight into it. As a national research organisation, the place was advanced in many things, including the welfare of staff. As most people were desk-bound all day at their mainframe-powered computer terminals, there were organised exercise choices in the morning and afternoon tea/coffee breaks, to keep one alert and in shape. The main offering was called the 'Stretching and Breathing' session led by a wonderful human being with all the flexibility of a yoga guru and in appropriate attire. One day she said to me: "I never feel embarrassed in front of a big group of people, and I've seen that you don't either." In her case it was demonstrated in leading this group of academic high flyers through low down contortion routines. In my case it was public speaking, evident in the running of courses and seminars to all and sundry. I had never had a problem with public speaking, it certainly didn't make me nervous, and so I was perplexed when I first learned that it was generally one of people's biggest fears in life, in Australia at least.

So I asked her what was her secret to such a lack of embarrassment? "I'm an epileptic" she said, "so, after dealing with having fits at school, at random, nothing else much bothers me in public." Mmm, that surprised me - I'd been unaware that she was epileptic, and surprised at its positive affect in her later life. She then asked me "What's yours?" I didn't know but it had long been a puzzle to me. Her story made me think more deeply upon my own early schooling. I'd been moved through 4 different Primary Schools in my first 6 years of schooling (no kinder or prep years in those days). The first 3 were in rural Queensland where the primary and secondary students all went to the same school - years 1 to 12. Very few did 11 and 12, but nonetheless, the school yard and the school bus could be very intimidating and sometimes brutal places, particularly with my non-anglo surname. The way to deal with it, or at least the way I dealt with it, was to criticise myself before anyone else got the chance to. That had led to a giant but hidden inner critic.

What happens in early relationships is that one is most attracted to someone else that may well have an explicit trait or two that you have hidden in your own psyche. My first such serious relationship was indeed with someone who was a great critic, a critic that was for me not against, someone that was a natural in quality control - thats where good critics are most effective - Quality Control. Once you are in a serious relationship where you have a hidden but powerful sub-personality, such as a hidden inner critic, it no longer has such an inhibiting influence on you, it has been outsourced to someone who's much more overt and professional at it. So, in my case, once in just such a serious relationship my self esteem and confidence skyrocketed. If I overstepped the mark anywhere, someone else close to me would tell me about it, so I didn't need to be so cautious in striding forward.

Getting back to other tacit lessons from making the Chess Set, another was about the benefits of old versus new technologies. I had made the box with the chess board depicted on top of it, all done in thin wood veneers of two different colours. The woodwork Teacher and Craftsman, a relatively old gentleman named Herby Friedel, was originally from Germany and he retained the accent and many woodwork techniques from his former country and era. He wouldn't let me use a modern PVA-based glue (i.e. they can stick wood together stronger than the original wood) to hold down the veneers - I had to use the old technique and traditional glue. He gave me a pot of warmed-up glue that was made from horse hooves. After you stuck down a piece, say a single square on the chess board, you had to rub it with a silver spoon (silver so it wouldn't mark the wood), to maintain the temperature of the glue via friction, then slowly slowly reduce the motion over 5 to 10 minutes, necessary to let the glue cool slowly enough to set properly.

Needless to say, the Chess board in the figure is not my original, since its veneer panels peeled off long ago, but is a more recent import from SE Asia. Had I been allowed to use a modern glue designed to bind wood at the cellulose fibre level, I would still have my original box and board intact, to match my intact pieces. And, I probably would have got to do that Cookery subject I sorely missed out on to many peoples' detriment. The old ways and technologies have very often been superceded with better products and methods, for good reason. Just not always. You can't rush Art, or fundamental Research for that matter, but you can save time and resources through technology and innovation in the Crafts, in Engineering and with incremental Scientific advances too.

Steve Goschnick (gosh'at'



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