Quality Is Always a Result of Intelligent Effort 

“Quality is never the result of an accident; it always the result of intelligent effort”

– John Ruskin

I have an app called DailyQuote which gives you a motivational quote every day. Although I’ve grown disillusioned with the value of such quotes, I do believe they are a good writing prompt. This above quote by John Ruskin is today’s quote.
I like John Ruskin, especially his work “On art and life”. He delves into the hidden meaning of things such as gothic architecture and rust. It made a real sensual impact on me. I can still feel what gothic church spires are all about and the inner life that they sprung from.
Most quotes weren’t originally meant to be quotes. Rather, they came as just one part of a literary work or a speech. They were simply one idea or sentiment among many and often thus were intended to rest on the preceding development. I often find that these quotes are woefully divorced from their original context and meaning. They are presented as a general truth or advice that stands alone, and thus they become like a second meaning unintended by the author. I doubt many authors would mind being quoted, though.
Take Winston Churchill’s famous words: “if you’re going through hell, keep going”. This is often found completely divorced from the context they were said and is taken instead for a general truth or wisdom. An epigram. What he was trying to do was inspire his people to beat the Nazis. He wasn’t trying to give advice to people who are going through a tough time generally.
To truly understand the quote by John Ruskin we have to know where it came from and I feel stupid for having come this far without being able to tell you.
“Quality is never the result of an accident”. Let’s unpack this. Firstly, what is quality? Is it really true that quality is never the result of an accident? The dictionary says that quality is the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind, its degree of excellence. So the quote means that something that’s better than others of its kind never came by accident? The only exceptions I can seem to think of are genetics and the domain of love and relationships.
Arguably there is an intelligent effort involved in genetics by the parents. On some level we’re all trying to apply intelligent effort to make ourselves more appropriate to a partner but sometimes love seems to preempt or even spurn intelligent effort to obtain it, preferring to emerge by accident. Does quality apply to love, though? Is some love better than other similar loves? Comparing like this doesn’t seem to sit right; I believe that intensity is a better means of considering love than quality since it is a subjective feeling. However, I believe the concept of quality would aptly apply to long term relationships. For example, some marriages are better than others. And marriages do indeed seem to require intelligent effort to improve so Ruskin’s quote holds water thus far.
Is quality always the result of intelligent effort though? Well, intuition is a form of unconscious intelligence, so if you’re thinking about the artist that seems to do so very naturally and effortlessly let me stop you right there. Learning any art form most certainly requires effort in some degree.
It seems to me that quality isn’t about inventing something, but rather making an existing thing better. If you set out to make something specific that has already been invented you know what you’re making. You must learn from people before you. I don’t believe the genius exists that can truly make something better than seasoned professionals at the drop of a hat, without the intelligent effort of learning the art form. We simply need to learn from those who have made progress before us and that takes time and energy. Maybe among children but what child can produce something better than a professional adult without intelligent effort?
On the other hand creating something entirely new may be done seemingly without any effort; simply by having the idea come to you.
I can conclude that Ruskin was indeed stating a universal truth. A basic fact about quality. This is useful because we can assume that if we want to improve the quality of something be it good, service or organisation: we know that intelligent effort is required. Given that other people also will be applying intelligent effort and quality is a relative term, we can also conclude that barring exceptional talent we must generally apply more intelligent effort than others if we wish to produce a higher quality.

There’s a book called “Talent is overrated” by Geoff Colvin. His thesis is that something called “deliberate practice” is what determines the winners in their respective fields from the also-rans. I’m struck by the similarity between Ruskin’s idea of intelligent effort and Colvin’s idea of deliberate practice. In essence, they both mean to work but work smart.

The Life of Pablo by Kanye West

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I’m a fan of Kanye West. I haven’t listened to all his stuff but I do like his newest album: “The life of Pablo”. Having never tried to review music before this is likely to be clumsy at best, but I hope that whatever impression I can articulate will be interesting or useful to someone.

Let me begin by saying that his persona is a part of it. Just like the album cover. It adds greater depth of meaning to each song, because you know where it comes from. I know what Kanye is about and I like it, I tip my hat when someone is willing to offend the politically correct majority. I’m someone that likes to do things differently. So is Donald Trump, so is Kanye West. I like them because by being willing to break the rules they break the mainstream narrative and make themselves a target to naysayers. I’ve felt like an outsider to those safely in the mainstream my whole life, it’s just who I am. So when I see someone do it in front of the whole world it resonates very strongly with me and gives me confidence. It makes my world a slightly more comfortable place and conversely makes the world more uncomfortable for many. People with a tendency to do things differently are also responsible for humanity not still being in the palaeolithic. I believe that humanity evolved to have a balance of rule-breakers and rule followers, because having both creates the highest probability of survival and reproductive success in a population. You can’t have too much of either.

What does happen when you have only rule followers? To me it feels like a system which keeps on building more and more social pressure with no healthy way to release it or laugh at itself. As a matter of fact this is exactly how I see the dominating paradigm of political correctness. The natural balance is upset because the legal, social and economic systems can greatly punish those for saying things which frankly are true and only marginally offensive.

What do I really think about what Kanye does though? Well I think it’s pretty funny to be honest. And it certainly works if you want to sell records. There are hundreds of would be superstars waiting in the wings because Kanye has distinguished himself the most successfully. Made people feel something about him en masse. This isn’t even to speak of the music yet.

I liked the music because it was beautiful. It was harmonious. Many of his previous releases displeased the ear and created tension or low vibration energy. I don’t like songs like that. My favourite style of music is psychedelic precisely because it is by and for a trance-like mind. Does it come down to maths whether a song is pleasing or is it simply my taste? Yes.

Certain mathematical principles do apply to beauty. Yet merely following the equations of beauty would soon become obvious and displeasing, because it lacks the other important quality: creativity. Kanye has this quality, arguably more than any other A-list artist. Can we then conclude that his persona makes him A-list but his music makes him cult? I haven’t listened to all of his music, but I think he’s always been quite artistic about it rather than commercial.

Embarrassingly I lack the vocabulary to describe the music itself. Perhaps I ought to read some album reviews to see how the professionals do it. As a big picture kind of guy though, to me it’s not so important what’s happening specifically as is the story in broad strokes . The way I see it is that it’s a break-the-rules musician, releasing an artistically sound album which I happen to enjoy listening to.

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