Why so few have the patience to build dioramas

If you were to ask someone to list the essential qualities of a good diorama artist, you might get things like “talent,” “creativity,” and “an eye for detail.” But someone can have all these things and never complete a single diorama, unless they have patience.

At a recent art show, I asked a painter how long it usually takes him to finish a painting. His answer was “about a week.” Contrast this with a diorama artist, who can spend months, or even years, on a project. (Whether or not a diorama is ever finished is something I discussed here.)

When you consider the number of steps involved in creating a diorama, it’s easy to see why it could take longer than the average painting. At a minimum, the diorama artist must do the following:

  • Decide on a subject
  • Design a layout
  • Select a scale
  • Construct the base which will support the diorama
  • Construct, paint and weather the elements (including scale   vehicles, buildings, figures, etc.)
  • Create the terrain for the base
  • Position the finished elements on the terrain
  • Make final adjustments

Additional steps are needed if the diorama is to have lighting or motion. The installation of electrical components must be carefully planned and implemented in the right sequence. It can substantially increase the time investment in completing a diorama.

Not all diorama projects have to span multiple birthdays, but as with most things, the more time you devote to your diorama, the better the result will be. As Greek philosopher Epictetus famously noted, “No great thing is suddenly created.”

So why are there so many “weekend artists” who prefer to complete their projects in the space of a few days, and so few diorama artists who are willing to devote months or years to a project? Part of the reason is that we all like a quick win, but there’s much more to it.

We’ve become increasingly conditioned to expect instant gratification. Over just a few decades, many routine activities have gotten a lot shorter. Hour-long conversations with friends have been reduced to text message exchanges of a few words at a time. What used to be a long, relaxing soak in the tub is now a five-minute shower. And there’s no need to spend an afternoon preparing a meal when you can pop a frozen entrée into the microwave and have it ready in less time than it takes to set the table. (Speaking of microwaves, there’s even a “quick minute” button, because manufacturers know that pressing “six” and “zero” separately takes far too long!)

These technological conveniences should have increased the amount of time at our disposal that we could devote to meaningful activities. But contrary to plan, we didn’t fill this newfound spare time with anything meaningful, because the same technologies that gave us more time exacted a terrible price. They conditioned us to expect instant gratification. As a result, we have shortened attention spans, less ability to persevere, and little patience. So we squander our newfound spare time on low-investment distractions like Facebook and Twitter.

Much has been written about the simple pleasures which we lost in our blind pursuit of technological conveniences. But we also lost something else: the patience to create art which requires a time commitment of more than a weekend.