Reading Mai-Mai Sze’s Tao of Painting, I couldn’t help but be struck by this; it’s from the first part of the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, written by Wang Kai in 1679:
Among those who study painting some strive for an elaborate effect and others prefer the simple. Neither complexity in itself nor simplicity is enough. Some aim to be deft, others to be laboriously careful. Neither dexterity nor conscientiousness is enough. Some set great value on method; others pride themselves on dispensing with method. To be without method is deplorable, but to depend entirely on method is worse.
You must learn first to observe the rules faithfully; afterwards modify them according to your intelligence and capacity. The end of all method is to seem to have no method. …If you aim to dispense with method, learn method. If you aim at facility, work hard. If you aim for simplicity, master complexity.
Now, I’m no “observe, Grasshopper…” kind of guy; but 325 years later, in a very different culture and artistic discipline, it still seems to me perfect advice to young composers.