Blame Good Taste (Why Artists Don't Make Enough)
You see it everywhere. You look at it and cringe. Your friends just don't understand.
- "Can you believe they used Papyrus for the font on that logo?"
- "Who could drink that cheap beer? It's gross."
- "You put sugar in your coffee?"
- "Really? Who wears socks with sandals?"
Taste. Some people have it and some people don't.
In this post I'll discuss what you should do about what you make when it doesn't live up to your tastes, what my taste has hindered me from accomplishing, and what to do if you don't have good taste and want to develop it.
How Your Taste Can Hold You Back
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about how my taste has been holding me back. I am a bit of a quality snob. Bad website design often keeps me from reading what I was headed there for. I struggle to watch television that isn't in HD. I can't stand listening to podcasts that have guests with bad microphones.
It's a personal problem.
More important than what your tastes can keep you from consuming though is what they can keep you from making.
During episode 76 of the seanwes podcast and within the video on that page, Sean says:
"Getting to 90% is half of the work of getting to 100%." ― Sean McCabe
I completely agree with this. Turning something from good to great is 50% of the work. You can sit down and quickly put something together, but to make it truly remarkable, memorable, and shareable to you need to put in the extra effort.
My all-time favorite perspective on taste comes from Ira Glass, the host of This American Life. In it he describes how your good taste got you into whatever it is you're doing, but how it can also keep you from accomplishing what you need to go though (see: slog) to create art that match your taste. Here it is in full. Print this out, put it on your wall and read it everyday.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” ― Ira Glass
I've referenced this quote a bunch of times over the past few years working with creative entrepreneurs at Fizzle. They'd email or post on the forums that they're not proud of what they've made. That it didn't live up to their expectations. They wanted it to be better.
I'd reply, "You know what? That's a great feeling to have. You know where you're at right now isn't where you want to be. You can push for more. Work towards better. You'll get there."
What To Do About Your Good Taste
If you're in the same boat of having good taste but not being able to make art that lives up to your desired outcome, there are a few things you can do in the meantime.
First, you should embrace this gap. Every person that is at the top of a skill started with no ability. At some point in their life they were a beginner. They couldn't make a lay-up, play a scale on the piano, or take an in-focus photograph. Realize that to get to expert you have to start at novice.
Second, study the pasts of some of the artists and creatives you admire. Look at their websites on the wayback machine, read the first few posts on their site, or their first YouTube or Vine videos. (But please, don't do this to me. It is embarrassing...) You'll begin to see that the quality they're at now took a lot of time, effort, and money to get to.
Third, focus on getting to 90% and shipping. Instead of spending twice as long on one video in the beginning, make two in the same amount of time. As you keep making, you'll slowly see improvements. It is only through continual work that you'll get better.
Fourth, if you really can't wait until you are good enough to make what you want made, hire someone with great taste and ability to do it for you. This is the shortcut. It will cost you more to hire someone to help, but if you can get what you want without having to know how to do it yourself, it will be worth it.
What If You Don't Have Good Taste?
The problem is that everyone assumes they have good taste, and you know what, they're kinda right. As they say, taste is acquired, so no matter what stage of acquisition someone is, they think they have good taste.
Take beer for example. At first you may have hated it. Then in college you started drinking the cheap stuff and maybe you acquired a taste for PBR or Keystone Light through all the games of beer pong. Then after college you can actually afford some beer that isn't watered down and you switch to Blue Moon and Stella Artois. Then you find out those are actually owned by MillerCoors and Anheuser–Busch respectively, and decide to get hooked on local, craft beers.
You see, taste develops over time. You don't typically just start out with what is the best. You begin with just a sip tailgating for college football and then ten years later you're on a search for the obscure "best beer in the world" made by Belgium monks.
So if you don't have good taste, you'll get there with the right amount of work. Fill your free time consuming media that is considered the best. Watch a show with amazing cinematography (House of Cards), great storytelling (Breaking Bad), or incredible writing (West Wing).
Surround yourself with people doing amazing work. Whether that is by actually being friends with them or just following what they do online.
You can develop better taste, you just need to work for it.
What My Taste Has Kept Me From
My taste keeps me from doing a lot of things.
I could easily make videos with just my iPhone or webcam, but since I have nicer cameras, lenses, and microphones, so I don't.
I could put out a simple blog post that doesn't have the perfect header image, headline, or corresponding email to my list, but I don't.
I could spend more time learning to play the guitar, but I know how it should sound and can't make it do that (yet), so I don't.
Taste keeps me from things, but keeps up my quality. Good taste is a creative's linchpin. (Tweet this.)
What does your good taste keep you from?