Picture this. There has been a decision by the Artist’s Federation of Florence that all new paintings have to be rigidly examined as they are created. This is to fit into rigid new rules from the Florentine Government that specify the precise way that all paintings must look, the colours to be used, the subject matter of the painting. There will be a board of examiners to overlook the painting process and of course it will be precisely timed!
At the end of the painting examination the examiners will state whether the “creation” has passed or failed the state examination painting standard and in exceptional cases it will be granted an “outstanding” certificate that will allow it be shown in local and maybe international art galleries.
Of course this weird scenario never really happened. Leonardo did not have to appear in front of a group of examiners whilst being given a timed test, to rigid specifications, as he painted the Mona Lisa. If he had faced this situation though what do you think the result would have been?
I have been watching a popular television programme over here in the U.K. called “Masterchef“. At the beginning of the programme we see Monica Galetti, the experienced Sous chef of the famous Michelin Starred chef Michel Roux Junior, cooking a dish in about five minutes. The “contestants” a group of experienced chefs from various restaurants around the country, then have to do the same thing under the pressure of time and with Monica and Greg Wallace (the co-presenter of the programme) staring at them intently as they go about their work.
Often the result is a disaster. The chefs are made to look like amateurs.They burn the food, they do not cook it properly, it is presented awfully. They will often walk disconsolately from the room where their disaster happened and state afterwards that “I can do better than that. That was not a true reflection of my ability.”
It always reminds me of my own struggles with tests and examinations. I have often wondered what, if anything, a timed test under pressure really proves, except the ability of the person taking the test to work under a lot of pressure and produce work of a substandard to what they are capable of.
If Leonardo had to work under the pressure of examinations throughout his amazing life would the world have ever seen the masterpieces that he produced? What value is it to see good professionals reduced to wrecks trying to cook a masterpiece in a few minutes? What pressure do we put on our children throughout the year and what does it really prove?