Does Quality Matter?

Many, many years ago, I read a book that changed my way of looking at the world. The book was Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This little book is a recounting of a road trip taken by the author and his son. The author suffered mental illness in his life and the book has a strange feel to it, when you read it. It was rejected something like 121 times, before it was finally published.

This book infected my artistic life and my professional life as an engineer. The book is about the quest for quality. It resonated with me because, as either an artist or engineer (I would argue there is little difference between the two existences), I get intensely frustrated when I am not permitted to do my best, either because of time pressures or cost constraints. I feel an existential angst at leaving an artefact alone in the world, made by me, that is not the very best work I could do at the time. Ultimately, cranking out work that is far below your own capabilities is pretty soul-numbing.

Why do I care so much about this? I think there is something fundamental in all of us that wishes to create life, beauty, benefit and in a very real sense, something of lasting quality. It means we were here. It means our existence mattered. It means we left the place a tiny bit better than we found it.

When you learn to look at the world through the lens of quality, you see it in the most amazing and unexpected places. I find it possible to marvel at the elegance of a beautifully made object, whether that object is a piece of bespoke jewellery (I have a friend that makes the most AMAZING bespoke jewellery, but that’s another post for another day), or something as humble as a finely crafted wood working tool.

Having pride in your work is very important to the human spirit and to one’s human dignity. The necessity of having to take jobs that pay the bills, but force us to compromise on our own standards of quality can feel like an unendurable life sentence.

Isn’t it about time our society and our economy started to actually value our values?

To quote the author of ZATAOMM, Robert M. Pirsig, “The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

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About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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3 Responses to Does Quality Matter?

  1. I am re-reading this for the fourth or fifth time. Its a great book, and definitely had an effect on my life, as well. I think I got a totally different take on it than you, though. By the way, Did you know that Chris was stabbed to death outside a Zen place in California? Very sad.

  2. littleironhorse1 says:

    In my early years as an art student at NSCAD I had the privilege of being taught by the late Dana Loomis who was a student of Abstract Expressionist, William de Kooning. Interestingly Dana went from abstract expressionism to surrealism. Dana gave us the required reading of Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It formed the foundation of my perspective toward art and craft, romantic and classical thought, and most importantly my personal art practice and process.

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