Are you a Master Craftsman(10,000 hour theory)?

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Are you a master of your art/craft?

According to author, musician, neuro-scientist, Daniel Levitin in his book; "This is Your Brain on Music" ( a New York Times best-seller, Plume Printing 2006) , an expert or master of any craft is measured by that person practicing their craft for 10,000 hours.

Here is how Daniel Levitin puts it...
The emerging scientific picture is that 10,000 hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert in anything. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again.

Now how long is ten thousand hours? It is equal to roughly 3 hours of practice a day, or twenty hours a week, of practice for ten years. Of course some people never reach mastery, which is not really explainable yet. But, no one has found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery. -Daniel Levitin

On a personal note...

This theory totally resonates with me personally and why I feel comfortable calling myself a Master artist/craftsman. I have easily put in 10,000 hours and feel confident with my skills and knowledge to solve any problem in the field of artistic blacksmithing.

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Smyth Boone

visitor's picture

Theories are just that --

Theories are just that -- theories.

I would agree that after doing anything for 10,000 hours you should be pretty darn good at it. However, I really don't think the word "master" should or can be applied simply because someone has achieved the magic 10,000 hour point.

We all know people who are much more masterful at doing things at 5000 hours, let's say, than some person who has done that same thing for 20,000 hours.

To me, there are many more factors that go into the equation of being a master of anything; time spend doing it being only one of those and, quite possibly, the least of the factors.

Myself? I have forty years and about 27,000 hours flying airplanes -- over three years of my life with my feet off the ground.

What has that gotten me? Retired!

dewebb's picture

Theories are just that,

Theories are just that, simply theories.

Surely, doing anything for 10,000 hours should make almost anyone pretty good at what he does.

However, we all know people who do "X" and have done it for, let's say, 5000 hours and are much more of a master at "X" than others who have done "X" for 20,000 hours. Therefore, there must be many other factors that are included in the equation other than simply time. Passion, skill, repetition, intangible talents, a gift to do "X," to name but a few. And, we all know those who have done "X" for 10,000 hours and do "X" terribly and would never be considered a master.

Myself? I flew airplanes for almost forty years and have over 28,000 hours in my profession. Was I a master pilot? Well, I was pretty darn good, but only as good as my last landing.

warren's picture

Never stops

Yep just a theory, I took the quick learn program and worked 80 to 100 hours a week. Of course that was thirty years ago or so. Since then still learning. And when you think you are a master of your craft after X amount of hours you are cutting yourself short. Never put a time limit on yourself and always keep an open mind and just keep on experimenting and using those creative juices.

www Metalrecipes -- heat and beat to the desired shape, repeat as necessary.

Frank Castiglione's picture

WORK ! !

Work!! --- Maynard G. Grebs
Frank (Grasshopper)

Rich Waugh's picture

Well, in keeping with

Well, in keeping with Chuck's "say what you think" dictum, I'd have to say I think that's a load of used food, to put it delicately.

I have seen countless numbers of people who have done the same thing for well more than 10,000 hours (5yrs full-time) and are still anything but "masters", because they've been doing the same incorrect things for all that time.  They have become, if anything, masters of the flawed.  That hardly makes them master craftsmen in my book.

On the other hand, I have seen several prodigies that could outperform those with far more than "master-level" experience after only a few months.  Hard to call those people amateurs, isn't it? 

In the trade guild days, it took at least five years full-time labor (well over 10K hours in those days) as an "apprentice" to become a "journeyman" and the status of "master" was reserved for journeymen who had achieved still further experience and been granted the title of master by the acclaim of their peers, rahter than by some arbitrary tallying of hours.  That seems to me to be a far more rational approach to levying the title of master - after all, if it is competence that is being measured, who better to take the measure than those who are already skilled?  The calendar and the clock have no skills, no benchmarks, by which to measure either skill or competence.

This 10,000-hour guideline smacks of more so-called "objective" rating of skills, a notion fobbed off on business and industry by unions only interested in protecting their own existence, rather than emulating the trade guilds from whence they originated.  It is designed to foster mediocrity over skill, tenure over talent and to eliminate the possibility of a truly brilliant talent achieving recognition or advancement over some mediocre plodder with tenure.  It is little wonder then, that we have fallen so far behind much of the rest of the world in so many areas involving skills, particularly the so-called skilled trades. 

I've been banging on metal since about 1968, so I might not be a rank beginner, but I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable labeling myself a "Master."  As I said, that designation should be given by accolade from one's peers.

Rich Waugh, Metalsmith

GeorgeMummert's picture

10,000 hours ~ another perspective

Compelled to respond to this string.  Don't want to be too harsh but do have to say this...  Really.  (scratches head)  I do suppose if I read about myself in some article covering a project that I happened to be working on & the writer included that I was a 'master craftsman' - I probably would not call for a correction.  Similarly, when "expert" was actually used to describe my skill in a 30 minute film, I had to laugh.  

Identifying a person as a master craftsman has some connotation - perhaps more people should not be so difficult on ourselves - 10k hours is not so difficult to obtain.

A masters work will speak for itself 

Call it what it is, regardless of hours.

In the words of Duke Ellington - If it sounds good - it is good.

Question? > Is a master craftsman a master craftsman after just 1 project?  

one persons response: I should think not.

Well, yeah. I agree. 

The author of this theory is successful.  There successful in my mind, NOT in discerning who may be a master craftsman, but, moreso in getting me to read up on their background as to what type of person generates such a theory - and sells a book on the subject....probably not an artist, or even a master craftsman.  <I probably should not make such broad assumptions>

OK, back to the '10k hours theory' Let us do the math.  I keep time sheets for my assistants.  I also very rarely have any of them working unless I too am working.  So, I know more accurately how many hours are involved - I should as I pay these assistants. 

For instance: On a single project (granted, not a small project) I personally logged over 2,000 hours.

Thats 6 days, 12 hours daily for 7 months. That's only 72 hours a week. (there are 144 hours in 6 days - one year of 6 days of work is 7488 hours) so you can see this is only working half days.

This is a harder than average working schedule and not one that would be advised for a lifetime, however when a project comes forward, so must the artist.  If you can't work hard for something, it must not be worth working for in the first place.

All of this jibberish I am conjuring here is to say that anyone can log hours.  Let's be real.  

If I thought that somehow, reaching a set number of hours I could sit back and gain title,and somehow this would 'set' me apart from the pack, I would be in real trouble.  Seriously, this is when I would make the biggest mistake in my work.   We can't rest on laurels...Be on your toes.  Continue learning.  I think Frank touched on this too.  

Many artists are never satisfied with their works.  Others will define you in many ways, from master to amateur and 1000 shades between.  I say define your self as you wish, but if you want to want to be a master craftsman, stop counting hours, and create a masters work.  It will speak for you.


dan t's picture

I think most of you who are

I think most of you who are dismissing this theory have misread or misinterpreted what Levitin actually said. He claims the 10000 hours are required to be considered world class or a master. That is, considered by your peers to be a master. Anyone who claims themselves a master, isn’t. Levitin also states that simply working 10000 hours at a particular activity may not result in your becoming a master. It takes more than just ‘hours’ as any artist (or anyone for that matter) knows. Also, a prodigy is just that, a prodigy, they have not had the experience to become a master.

visitor's picture

Actually, if I may expand on

Actually, if I may expand on your post, the real article claimed that after a particular amount of learning occurs specialized training is required on the part of the individual in order to continue to increase in their ability.

The reason many of you may not feel like a master is because the specialized training this article refers to is something that maybe has not crossed your path yet.

Obviously if you practice washing dishes the same way for 10,000 hours you won't be a master at washing dishes. But if you experimented with different methods for dish washing and have encountered every dish out there and in any combination of dishes possible than most likely one may call you a master at washing dishes.

The article also talks about how true masters have the ability to not only have an unlimited amount of experience stored in memory but also how they're able to shift through those experiences quickly to formulate solutions that would otherwise take much longer for less experienced person.

Finally, and here's an unfortunate kicker, they claim that these 10,000 hours needs to be accomplished by the age of 20. So obviously the people who put out the study feel there is some loss of ability to learn after a certain amount of years of living.

bigfootnampa's picture

"Finally, and here's an

"Finally, and here's an unfortunate kicker, they claim that these 10,000 hours needs to be accomplished by the age of 20. So obviously the people who put out the study feel there is some loss of ability to learn after a certain amount of years of living."

So WOW! that would disqualify guys like Uri Hofi who began his smithing career at age 55 if I remember rightly. I would certainly say that MANY of Uri's students could properly be classed as "Master" blacksmiths and he would certainly be as well qualified as anyone that I could think of for such a designation... so that kinda lets the air out of that theory!

QuiQue's picture

Being a "Master" of a craft

Being a "Master" of a craft is misleading due to the fact that you may master a tool or technique, but still not master the craft. Francis Whitaker, whom I consider is a master of the blacksmithing craft, once told me that he did not consider himself a master blacksmith. He said the day he considered himself a master would be the day he put his tools and craft down.

The key to becoming a master is to learn something new every day. Therefore the master is still the student.

Gerald Boggs's picture

After I first retired, I did

After I first retired, I did a bit of wooden vessel sailing. Between uprigging, yardwork and occasionally working at the local museum boat shop, I also did a bit of boat building. One of the sayings I often heard was concerning skill level. "It'll only take you two years to learn 98% of boat building, but it'll take you the next 18 years to learn the last 2% and that 2% is the difference between a good boat carpenter and master ship builder. I've found in most things, we quickly learn the movements of the craft, whether boat building or blacksmithing, however for most, it takes many, many years of repetition and constant learning to achieve a high level of skill in the craft. The problem I often see in blacksmithing, is the "Big fish in a little pond" syndrome. They do something well and think that because they do it well, that it makes them "masters", never realizing that there's so much of the craft they know nothing about.

NELSON's picture

Hi all, Me too, I`m going to

Hi all,
Me too, I`m going to honor Chucks`s "say what you think" post, which should with time, become a natural and straightforward but respectful way of addressing one another in this site. By now, the relativity of the 10,000 hrs theory in relation to becoming a Master, is pretty much understood. Boone very respectfully, not to question how good you are at blacksmithing, and you may be a master, but if you let other people say it, that may make you a greater one. All the abilities and knowledge anyone could gather in a life time ( or many...) are just so insignificant in comparison to what will always be there left to learn. So often, we are so precious about our work, like Peter says, not to say we should not be proud of our work. Let`s be grateful to the Providence for our talent, and above all, be a bit more humble. Isn`t there where the greatness of a Master lies? No matter how good we get at anything, it`ll be as insignificant as a drop of water in the ocean. Nobody has put it better than Socrates: " ... the only thing I know is that I know nothing" WHAT A MASTER ! Nelson.

Chuck Girard's picture

Great Thread

This is a very interesting Thread.

Are you OR aren’t you a Master ?????????
I found out the answer oh about 10 years ago.
First, I agree with the majority who have answered the Question.
Let me first say there is no such a thing in my opinion as a Master.
Why you ask?
Simply put we are all on a path of the perfection of our craft unfortunately it is impossible,
If you search your soul even the best piece you have ever created is flawed in Your Own Eyes.
“There’s always something that could be just a little better!”

I have made thousands, yes thousands of different things over the last twenty plus years and I continue to learn something new everyday.
I am a Journeyman Toolmaker/ Machinist.
Yeah, I did the Four years of Trade School and College simultaneously I spent 4 years of learning the trade. (8000 hrs.) In short an apprenticeship.
At that time I felt like I was way ahead of the crowd. (me Pounding my Chest)!
What a Joke!
This goes back to my opening comment…
I still Machine and teach younger men the trade when necessary.
I have forgotten more than they know…. And it doesn’t mean squat.
We all learn something new in many different ways.
I learn from my students, the craft itself, and the ever evolving trade itself with the fancy new stuff someone is always creating.

My son say’s “Dad, you’re a Master Journeyman surely you can make this for me!”
My reply…. “Son, I’ll try and I’m Just an Old Machinist you can drop the Master crap!”
After rambling on an on about this subject I guess it boils down to this for me.
A master craftsman typically not only knows his craft well but knows how to hide his mistakes.
I personally know a lot of guy’s who say there a master at there craft and usually they are not.
I also know people who say I’m sure I can get the job done for you the way you want. And they typically do.

My final Quote.
“The more we think we know about the greater the unknown?”-RUSH

Great thread…I am sure you are a very talented. I am certainly not questioning anyone’s talent. Maybe in the future just consider saying..
Let your craft speak for itself!!
Food for thought…

Chuck ………… student of life

Daedalus's picture


While an individual may be capable of mastering some aspects of their craft to master the ENTIRE craft is a different matter.Just the fact that technology is constantly leaping ahead and providing us with new tools and techniques seemingly on a daily basis and those same breakthroughs many times render the old approaches obsolete makes total mastery a goal that can never be met.

I agree with those who feel being a "master" anything is something your work and your peers decide and say for you.

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice.
In practice there is.

don johnson's picture

The mumber of hours is

The number of hours is meaningless. It is what you do with those hours that really counts. I've had assembly people say they have 40 years of experience. What they really mean is they had two years of experience, repeated 20 times.

So maybe you have to prove your skills, and prove it to the world. Personally, I have not made the journey, but hope too.


gwynlaredogranger's picture

this is a great book.

i have played an instrument for at least an hour to three every day, for the past twenty eight years. i still feel like i need to learn a lot more,the premise of this book is about music though, not necessarily geared towards art/crafts/etc. while much of what the book has to say is interesting to me as a musician, it isnt really relevant to my art training, of which i have put WELL over the 10,000 hrs it suggests makes one a "master". i feel more like a freshman in high school. amazing book though i really enjoyed it.