LEARNING to paint embraces a wide array of skills. It requires motor skills, or the simple act of applying paint. It requires intellectual skills, such as how to manipulate two dimensional space. There is an emotional component as well requiring the harnessing of profound creative impulses. This combination of traits makes studying painting different from the examples most books on learning offer. Most studies examine chess, basketball, languages, or the most common–golf.
Kaufman understands that a baseline proficiency is necessary before you can enjoy learning anything. I remember trying to learn the violin. I tried but I never enjoyed practicing. If you can’t get to that point in a reasonable amount of time you will abandon your project. The First 20 Hours acknowledges that critical threshold and offers methods to get there faster.
In order to get to the point where you are good enough to enjoy painting you have to understand what skills you need. It is counterproductive to simply say you want to be a great artist. You need to define your goals with precision by breaking the process into skills and sub skills.
For example I recently began trying to improve my ability to glaze. I carefully defined what skills it would require–which I had mastered and which needed more development. To this list I applied research, that is, I looked for additional information via books, videos, or experimentation. Experimentation in my case was a series of small abstracts on which I tested a variety of substrates and mediums for glazing. Such research helps eliminate distractions and allows you to focus on specific problems.
The last two stages of The First 20 Hours program relate to execution–removing barriers to practice, such as having a permanent place to paint with all your supplies handy.
The final step is committing to practice. The book claims you can achieve a baseline of ability (a level where you enjoy practice) within a surprisingly short amount of time. He states that forty minutes a day for one month will get you to that level. Painting differs from other disciplines by requiring cognitive skills (creativity and intelligence), motor skills (dexterity of eye and hand), and an optimal emotional state (achieving a state of flow). This odd combination is what makes studying the art of painting so difficult. But Kaufman insists that the barriers to excellence are not physical or intellectual but emotional–meaning we create our own barriers by our lack of optimism and emotional buoyancy. I agree with him.