This post is for everyone who makes things no matter what it is that you make. Clicking through my RSS feeds, I came across the story of Jerry Uelsmann, a professor at the University of Florida who once divided his class into two groups and got two very different outcomes from each (and no, this is not that story). In this tale, the outcomes aren’t as interesting as much as what led to them.
There are many sources for this tale but I’ll choose this one by Austin Kleon. Also, keep in mind this story takes place long before the iPhone or digital photography.
On the first day of class, Jerry Uelsmann, a professor at the University of Florida, divided his film photography students into two groups.
Everyone on the left side of the classroom, he explained, would be in the “quantity” group. They would be graded solely on the amount of work they produced. On the final day of class, he would tally the number of photos submitted by each student. One hundred photos would rate an A, ninety photos a B, eighty photos a C, and so on.
Meanwhile, everyone on the right side of the room would be in the “quality” group. They would be graded only on the excellence of their work. They would only need to produce one photo during the semester but to get an A, it had to be a nearly perfect image.
I like the story thus far, but wouldn’t it be way more cool if instead of the perfect photo it was the perfect bank heist or drug deal? Imagine a new season of The Wire with two gangs taking an entirely different approach to netting out the same EOY revenue result. Anyway…
At the end of the term, he was surprised to find that all the best photos were produced by the “quantity” group. During the semester, these students were busy taking photos, experimenting with composition and lighting, testing out various methods in the darkroom, and learning from their mistakes. In the process of creating hundreds of photos, they honed their skills. Meanwhile, the quality group sat around speculating about perfection. In the end, they had little to show for their efforts other than unverified theories and one mediocre photo.
If you don’t immediately feel inspired to go make one hundred of whatever you like to make then you may want to consult a physician—Blood thinners are likely in your future.
I’ve been in both groups and looking back at the time when I produced more than I tinkered or thought about what I wanted to make. Sitting on the left side of the classroom so-to-speak, not only did I get a lot done, but I was a lot happier than any time I’ve sat on the right side. And when I sit too long on the right, I also tend not to create much at all which leads to creating nothing at all.
I don’t want to sit on the right side again, and I hope you all will slap me upside the head if you find me over there in the future.