Da Vinci, Mozart, Durer…
We all know the names of these geniuses who exist on that level above everyone else. There talent simply is, an untouchable level of perfection that we can never hope to achieve.
Or is it?
As a young artist, I would stare at the works of Linda Bergkvist, John William Waterhouse, and Edward Burne-Jones and think to myself, “Gosh, I will never be that good. Why am I even trying?” There was something sublime and unattainable in their art that I felt I could never reach no matter how hard I tried.
As I grew older and wiser, I entered into the art program at university and was exposed to the flurry of line, shape, form, texture, and color that make up the rudimentary foundation for the whole of visual arts. It was true that there were some students who were better than others, but it soon became very apparent that even the worst student among us could be fantastic if they pushed themselves to practice and the best of us could get a failing grade if we became lazy and complacent and didn’t do our homework or strive to be more original in our thinking than what was required.
Also, it wasn’t simply the act of practicing either that led to improvement, but the combination of repetition in addition to the presence of a good teacher. An effective teacher can help translate the mysteries of the universe into a language you can understand. When we train ourselves, we are left to unravel the mysteries on our own and may not learn as quickly as we would have if we had guided direction by someone who has already been through the learning process. Teachers can show us the golden moments of realization that happened for them so that we might learn from theirs and arrive at our own realizations of understanding.
I say this because I’ve had so many other artists and friends look to me and say “I’ll never be that good,” or simply sigh and give up under the weight of what it takes for them to get from the point they’re at now to the level they want to be at. They all had the mindset that everyone was so much better, when we can be just as good if we work at it. A hard truth is that there will always be someone better than you because all artists are continuously improving, including the ones that came before and are already established in the industry.
Personally, I am not a believer in natural talent, of people who can just draw and have a masterpiece right off the bat. I define talent less as the ability to draw well and more the ability to come up with the idea that’s out of the box and to combine that idea with the expressive act of realizing it in painting, drawing, sculpting, or what have you. The true talent is in having the patience to push yourself to study and draw again and again and again until you’ve united the idea with the act of expressing it physically.
I have never seen a successful artist, or anyone in a creative craft for that matter, who isn’t 5% natural talent and 95% pure drive to succeed. If you have, than I guarantee they had an early exposure to that craft thanks to very encouraging parents.
So the next time you find yourself staring at another artist’s work and feeling insignificant while placing that artist on the pedestal of “thou has has recieveth talent without effort”, remember that they’ve probably had their own sleepless nights of staring at the art of someone they respected as well and practicing until their hands cramped.
We all have our nights of sighing and dreaming. Even now, I still sit, chin in hand, and stare at the work of Da Vinci and Kuniko Craft and think to myself “When will my time come?”
Still, perhaps it’s the dreaming that keeps us motivated to succeed?