You’ve heard the phrase “it’s better to be lucky than good”. Some people will claim this is terrible advice. But I think there is enough truth in the phrase to merit some thought. Strive to be as good as possible, but welcome and embrace luck when it happens.
Not the way to plan
We can’t schedule or control luck. It is an external thing that happens, or it doesn’t. Since we can’t control luck, we better work on the things we can control. This is just pragmatic.
The context here is art, but it really applies to most areas of our life. Work hard. Develop all the skill you are capable of. It is a life-long quest of continual improvement.
When we are good at what we do we have more control of the outcomes. Another old saying you’ve heard is “the race doesn’t always go to the swiftest, but that’s the way to bet.” In this case, bet on skill. Our skill is a huge determinant of what we will achieve,
Art, though, like many important things, is not completely predictable and deterministic. Unexpected or unforeseen things can happen and that can be good.
When the unforeseen happens we tend to call it luck. No matter how great our skill or how much we plan, sometimes something happens that just makes us say “wow.”
If this event takes us away from our desired goal we tend to call it unfortunate – bad luck. If it sparks a new idea or gives a new insight or makes some problems go away we call it good luck.
In either case this event was unplanned, unexpected, unanticipated. That is part of the beauty of it. Or it can be, depending on what we do with it.
Be open and receptive
Luck can be received as a gift. We should be flexible enough to re-evaluate our plans and goals in the moment to consider what we have seen or learned. Psychologically healthy people tend to have an attitude of gratitude. This luck could be pure gold. We should consider ourselves fortunate.
It can trigger the creation of a great image or even bring us to a new place in our art. Even what we at first consider to be bad luck can have good outcomes. There have been times when I had been working on an image or even a project and a piece of bad luck causes me to reevaluate what I am planning on doing. Sometimes I conclude I was going down a dead end. The bad luck sent me to a different and better place.
This cannot happen unless we are open. I could not possibly list all the times some lucky accident caused me to change my plan. Or the number of times I have learned something new to eagerly apply in my work.
Let me talk a little more about this image than I usually do in these articles. I try to get out all year in all weather. In the winter I try be aware of good ice patterns, because I sometimes like the patterns and textures. Usually, here, there is enough snow to make the ice cloudy and less interesting. Nice, but kind of all the same.
This day, though, I hit a brief window where the lakes had partially thawed. Then a hard freeze, with no snow, and calm conditions, had led to the formation of beautiful ice crystals. In addition, the edges of the lakes I was at had good rock just under the surface to give more pattern and color.
I abandoned everything else I was planning to do and nearly froze to death shooting this ice. It was very cold.
I love this image. It has not been altered substantially. Just some color boost and correction. I haven’t seen these conditions before or since. It was a happy accident – good luck.
Lucky or good?
So, is it better to be lucky or good? I will let you answer that for yourself. For me, I believe we need to work very hard on our skill and our vision. We have to be able to produce the work we want to create at the quality level we want. But I also believe we should be receptive to the happy accidents that bring joy and freshness to our life and vision. They seem to go together.
Maybe Samuel Goldwin was right when he said “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”