I feel there are 3 major stages in skill development, and the first one is the most challenging. This is the “newbie” phase of skill development, when you are limited by your limited understanding of your chosen material. Each material is different and it will take you an unknown amount of time to feel you fully understand. Experiential learning often becomes quite subtle as you eventually observe the nuances of making small changes in your technique.
Coming up next in skill development is feeling like you really understand the material. After working hard to develop your skill, you can finally get the result you want most of the time. You are past the point when you may have had the brash confidence of a newbie who doesn’t realise how little they really know. You can spot factors in the workspace that may cause you to make mistakes, and fix them. You can make a detailed plan of action and carry it out effectively. This is a wonderful phase because you can finally show off your work, and others will confirm that your time wasn’t wasted. But it’s not the last phase of skill development. In this phase, you understand the material, but the limits of the material itself are your limits.
You may have guessed that the last phase is moving your limits beyond the limits of the material. I think this phase is the most unique to each person, because finally it’s not about what the material can do, it’s about you. Understanding where you want to take your work is a very different kind of challenge. Your challenge when you first start developing a skill is to simply not quit, to keep practising. Thinking beyond the limits of the material means that there are no boundaries, no guidelines, sometimes no popular role models leading the way. It’s hard to know if you’re going in the right direction because you can go in any direction.
Newbie glassblowers often say, ‘the glass is random, it does what it wants.’ As someone who understands the material, I can confirm that glass is always bound by its physical properties, and always responds the way I expect based on my actions. This doesn’t mean every piece is successful, it just means I can accurately identify my mistakes. Although there are many new directions I could take my work, I feel like I might still in a newbie phase of moving beyond the limits of my materials, like everything could be random. Like with the preceding phases, I suspect a big part of getting where I want to be is to keep practising. So I guess if there’s a fourth phase to skill development, here’s hoping that I’ll be able to update you in a few years.
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