The Ripple Effect
Anyone who has ever made any kind of art has probably experienced it – the necessity, on making a change to a work in progress, of having to accommodate that change in other parts of the work. One small tweak can initiate a cascade of adjustments – The Ripple Effect. The triggering tweak may have seemed minor and may have been made for any variety of reasons (which always boil down to a simple recognition that something is off, something isn’t right – “the color’s wrong”, “the legs are too short”, “this should be darker”, etc.), but the resultant effort of synchronization can be major, requiring manipulations across an entire canvas, the body of a sculpture or, I suppose, the text of a novel, the score of a musical composition, the choreography of a dance...
The Ripple Effect involves both risk and reward. It can be both hindrance and help.
Aware of the potential for generating a chain reaction of modifications, and of the challenges that arise in making them, you might be reluctant to address something you know damn well needs to be addressed. You might resist the gut feeling of knowing you need to “fix” something that needs more work or to add a new component. You may know you need to sacrifice some element of the piece for the “greater good” of making the whole thing right but perhaps you just love that element and really don’t want to abandon it. You may fear the needed correction is simply beyond your ability. You may even just be lazy, reluctant to commit. Whatever the reason, the downside of letting fear of The Ripple Effect prevent you from acting is that inaction may compromise the success of your work.
On the other hand, sometimes even a little change helps you see a bigger picture – new avenues of development, clearer relationships within the composition that can be enhanced, adding real richness to the work. Sometimes, one small change is or leads you to the final puzzle piece that fits everything together, crystalizing all your efforts into a successful work of art.
Of course, some changes aren’t that difficult to accommodate. Maybe they’re straightforward and the associated adjustments are easy to foresee and to execute; in that case, The Ripple Effect is no big deal. Or maybe it’s early in the evolution of the piece, when changes are coming rapidly and spontaneously; at that point they may, in fact, be a welcome source of further inspiration and creativity that lead you forward. Still, as the work progresses, coming together more and more, beginning to look as you want it to look, and especially as more time and effort have been expended in getting it there…well, then The Ripple Effect can be a little intimidating. To forge ahead seeking excellence or to stay with what you’ve got, risking mediocrity – that’s the choice.
Before deciding, however, you must always consider the justification for any given change. Does it really matter to the success of the work? Does it improve the quality or help achieve the vision and the meaning? If not, if what you’re contemplating doesn’t at least have the potential to really make the work better, then why do it? Are you, as they say, letting Perfection get in the way of Good? Ah yes, but then you say, “Well, I may not be able to judge the value of a change before I make it!” True, but I never said deciding is easy. There are no techniques, no algorithms I’m aware of to help you decide and, in the end, the decision is yours alone. It may require some courage and determination to see it through but one thing I do believe is always true in this circumstance – it's rarely good to ignore your gut (and if you do, you’d better be prepared to live with it).