Friday, August 27, 2010

Recognizing the Effort Behind Your Art

What is talent? The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines talent as “the natural endowments of a person” and “a special often athletic, creative, or artistic aptitude” but, it doesn’t go so far as to say that some people are born with talent. So, are some of us just more inclined towards talent than others? And, if we are talented, how important is that in the scheme of things, especially to those who want to be successful in our artistic endeavors?

When showing my artwork, people who do not paint insist that they don’t have talent, but that I do and I must have been born with it. They tell me that this is why my work is superior to anything that they can produce. It’s very frustrating to hear this. I know that they mean well, but it’s rather insulting. They don’t take into account the many hours and years of work and study that it takes to produce a pleasing work of art. In fact, they dismiss this idea. This implies that talented people instantly produce good work from the start, which we all as artists know is not true. I spoke about this with a friend of mine who is an award winning floral designer and she agreed. No one sees the many lonely hours of practice, the frustrations of color mixing and design, and the countless disasters that end up in the trash. It took her years to perfect her style, in the form of hard work and hours of study.

While not obvious in the resulting work, all successful artists look to others sometime in their careers for guidance. The key is to find an artist that you want to emulate or learn from. And, the resources available to artists now are boundless. I’ve got pages and pages of notes and many work-in-progress photos taken in countless workshops and classes, and articles of all kinds downloaded from the Internet. Anatomy drawings with diagramed measurements are taped to my cabinet doors. My bookshelves are filled with how-to books on art, art philosophy, museum books and biography books on artists that I admire. Many of these books are riddled with yellow highlights, the pages dog-eared from repeated turning. I’ve got piles of old art magazines scattered all over my house.

As an artist, you have to develop a tough skin because you can’t progress without experiencing some frustration and disappointment. I’ve received countless rejections from juried shows and galleries, but I’ve also been accepted by some wonderful venues. I’ve had great experiences and learned a lot in artist workshops and classes, but I’ve also had to endure some harsh critiques from highly respected art instructors. As a student, you invite the criticism, knowing that the instructor is going to pull your work apart and leave you bleeding. But, without the critiques, your work can stagnate; a wall of doubt builds from not knowing how to fix something that you know is not right. You might not realize that the drawing is incorrect or even know how to correct it, or that the values are off. As much as you want a critique to help you improve your piece, you long for some scrap of approval, some small bit of encouragement that all is not lost. And sometimes, you are rewarded.

The day will come, as if an epiphany, when your work starts to improve. Slowly, you begin to unconsciously do things that you heard repeated many times in classes and read in books. It’s finally sinking in! You check your composition and values, your edges and focal point. Your way of seeing things change, and you learn to see things as a critical, conscientious observer. At the same time, you never stop learning and you never stop growing. But you don’t mind because you love every part of the creation process.

To be successful in any type of creative endeavor, you have to want to do it very badly and be willing to work hard and put a great deal of time in to achieve it. It’s not enough to have “talent.” You may have a creative tendency, but, just like anything else, you get out of it what you put into it. The harder that you work at it, the greater the rewards.

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