The true artist is not proud. He unfortunately sees that art has no limits; he feels darkly how far he is from the goal; and though he may be admired by others, he is sad not to have reached that point to which his better genius appears as a distant guiding sun.

Beethoven, letter to a young pianist, 17 July 1812

No matter how hard we work the distance to our potential remains. Mastery is not the pursuit of an end but merely a race after an ever vanishing star.

There is an old joke of a man who stops a stranger in New York and asks ‘How do I get to Carnegie Hall?’ The stranger’s reply is ‘Practice. Practice. Practice.’ However, it is often the case that even with carefully considered practice we never reach our destination.

Practice reveals new levels of performance, artistry and mastery that are yet to be attained. Ancient cultures, religions and professional guilds often work on opening up new levels of knowledge to practitioners as expertise developed. Reaching too far ahead could become daunting or dangerous by not having built the right experiences or foundations. The learning experience was mediated through a gradual opening of knowledge and practice.

In our modern impatience, we may have jettisoned the idea that all knowledge and experience must come in time through practice. Aren’t we just one Youtube video away from perfection? Yet, knowledge and experience is not all transferred digitally and instantly. Mastery demands practice and experiential learning. New levels of practice still open new vistas of potential.

We may not all have the genius of Beethoven. We can share and recognise his frustrations. We can all pursue that ever-distant guiding sun.

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