Re: Aphorisms

Subject: Re: Aphorisms
From: Dick Margulis <margulis -at- fiam -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 31 Jan 2001 21:56:00 -0500


You raise an interesting point. As a reformed perfectionist myself, let
me try this out on you:

What we do is commerce, not art. That's the main point, and I'll come
back to it later. But you associate your experience as a fine
artist--and the attitude of an engineer, too--with perfectionism, a
reluctance to let go of a work until you are satisfied that it cannot be
improved upon. And I would suggest that the lives of most of the artists
whose work we see in museums stand in direct contradiction to that
association. Artists--in whatever medium--create a series of essays
(attempts), gradually exploring the nuances of a particular conceit,
eventually wringing as much from it as is possible and then moving on to
another conceit. I'll readily admit that there have been some individual
artists who were neurotically incapable of releasing their work (J.D.
Salinger comes to mind); but I would suggest that this has to do with a
particular personality trait and is not an essential characteristic of
the practice of any art.

But back to the main point. We do work for hire, as a rule. Someone pays
us to add value to a product and they expect to sell that product for
more than it costs to make. As a rule, the selling price is tightly
constrained by the customer's willingness to pay; so that, in turn,
limits how much time we can spend on something. We have a professional
obligation to do the best job we can do within those constraints, and
I'm all in favor of working hard, working fast, and doing good work. But
when, as you put it, you're out of time, the product really is good
enough--not perfect, not unimprovable, but good enough. There will be
another release, or next year's model, or next week's issue, or another
production run. If that were not the case, then every product on the
market would spring in full-blown perfection from the void.

This is basic, and it is something that the reluctant engineer has to
accept just as surely as the reluctant writer.

Now, as I said, I'm a reformed perfectionist, than which there is none
more sanctimonious; so I may be ruffling some feathers. But I think I've
mostly got this right. At least this is a little essay in that direction
;-) In any case, it took me a long time to accept this, and I think I'm
a better person for it.


kanerb -at- concentric -dot- net wrote:
> As a former fine artist, I can relate to the engineers' reluctance to let go
> of it and say OK -- take it, it's done. I could just keep reworking my stuff
> and reworking it, because it was never good enough. I have to fight that
> tendency with my writing, too.
> I like this:
> Q: How do you know when a project is finished?
> A: When you're out of time.
> (Deadlines are everything!)

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