What Happens If You Never Improve On Anything?


Wednesday, 7.59pm

Sheffield, U.K.

“One Sunday . . . we went down to the flower market and bought some irises and came back and spent the afternoon drawing . . . He would just draw one line and then leave it, and when I would draw things, I was always erasing, changing, and improving. And he never improved on anything. Rather than do that, he would draw a new one, which is something I never thought of doing in those days.” (Charles Lisanby on Warhol: 1978) – Retrieved from pens.co.uk

It probably comes down to a personality thing but I’m not a fan of rework – or of going over and making work better, for that matter.

This is not a good thing, I am told. William Zinsser, the author of “On writing well”, says that “rewriting is the essence of writing”. You need to rewrite your sentences over and over again and then rewrite what you’ve written. And he must know what he’s talking about.

But Zinsser is talking about WRITING, in all caps, the act of creating something worthy of publication. Something that will stand the test of time. Something you can point to, as a professional, and say, “I made that.”

That kind of making is not what I’m after. That approach assumes that what you want to do is create works of ART, a gift for others. The way I use writing is as a tool for thinking. It’s a utilitarian exercise, the act of bashing out words as I work through a concept because no one will sit for long enough to listen to me talk about it or be kind enough to write down what I say so I can understand what I think myself.

It’s the same with drawing, which is why I liked the reflection on Andy Warhol at the start of this post. Why do we have to go back and make things perfect? Why does it have to be “right”. We’re always telling ourselves that we have to be in the moment – like children are. They don’t worry about making it perfect, while they’re still young, anyway. Drawing is, to me, a process of working out ideas too, and I need to allow myself to make a line and then move on, without regret. I drew the picture above in this way, leaving every line, without erasing. And it does what I need for me.

If we organized our lives so that we didn’t worry about what people thought of us would we do as much rework? Do we try harder because we’re afraid of being judged, or is that why we sometimes don’t try at all? If we weren’t attached to the lines we’d already put down would we have been able to create something even better?

The arguments are not simple. On the one hand you could say that by going over and improving what you’ve done you create works of better quality. The response might be that the work is not what matters. What matters is the observation, the act of doing the work. And if you are going to act why not go ahead and act on creating a new thing than trying to massage an old one? If you don’t like your line draw a better one next time.


Karthik Suresh

2 Replies to “What Happens If You Never Improve On Anything?”

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