Or, “Art, Talent, and Arrogance”
This is a painful subject for me, and one that has hampered my progress my entire life. I still struggle with it. In fact some would consider I’ve lost the battle merely by writing this article!
I’m talking of course about arrogance in relation to art. Personally, this has manifested in the idea that my thoughts were superior to others. I didn’t often think of it that way but that’s really what I was saying every time I refused input, avoided constructive critique, or thought my work didn’t need improvement. This was deadly to my progress and nearly caused me to leave art altogether. I know I’m not alone here, this is something many artists struggle with, and that’s why I’m talking about it. If I can cause even one artist to rethink some of the decisions that caused me so much struggle, than it’s worth it.
Quick story: I was having fun with art, drawing whatever my li’l heart desired. I was on DeviantArt. I was posting every day, doing all kinds of paintings and drawings and proudly posting them. I was a bit too blind to my mistakes. On my profile I’d put that I was professional level and had some high number of years in art – over twenty years I think, because I was counting the stuff I’d done when younger. Some of it was middling, some of it had promise. Someone came along and posted on my profile that I didn’t look like I’d been doing that art that long. I don’t even think they were all that rude about it. I was crushed – that was one of the biggest reasons why I deleted my profile. There were others at the time but that was a biggue.
The biggest problem here was the poster was right. Objectively, if a person compared my stuff to an actual professional (not just one who occasionally did an illustration or two for pay) the difference was like night and day. I had a long way to go, mostly because I’d focused on the stuff I thought I was good at, rarely pushed myself, and hated using references. At best I was an amateur with promise provided I actually applied myself.
I see that now and that’s why I carefully label myself as “hobbyist.” I’m finally getting to a level that I’m somewhat pleased with but I know I have a hell of a long way to go before professional level. It’s okay though because I’m enjoying art again and that’s important to me. I could avoided a lot of heartache if I’d seen feedback – even HONEST feedback – as the gift it is.
When I got feedback as a young artist, I never really saw it that way. I pretended to because after a certain point I knew it was expected, but it always hurt inside. At some level I saw my work as perfect, and I saw myself as talented, special. As a talented person I didn’t need to think of these things as much as others did. Or maybe my judgement was superior. Sometimes I told myself that it wasn’t my fault if other people didn’t see what I was trying for. Actually it was – art is primarily about communication and I can guarantee you my technique always needed work.
One of my biggest roadblocks was believing the idea that I was talented. If so, that was mostly in the fact that I was a bit better than average at getting my tools to do what I wanted them to. I certainly wasn’t better at observation or remembering what I saw! My visual memory is actually a bit worse than average. Over and over I deluded myself that drawing from imagination was better. However since no one around me could draw at all, I got away with it until I went to school for art, and saw how wrong I actually was. It hurt a lot. Later I went online and saw how amazing so many other people were. That was great to see but hurt more. I started realizing that I needed to quit believing my own PR.
A great art teacher recently said that if someone looks at your art and says you are talented, they are in a way insulting your hard work. I totally understand that for most people it’s just a simple compliment and they don’t mean anything by it, but I wish I’d heard that when I was young. For me, my “talent” was mostly a passionate interest that caused me to practiced more. If I had practiced properly, and had worked harder in the right ways, I could have harnessed that interest into some really phenomenal art. If I’d actually taken people’s advice and used references more, or learned to draw from life, it would have been a game-changer. But I was too busy thinking I was too special and too talented to do all those boring things, meanwhile I was still getting paint up into the ferrules of my brushes and lacking basic studio skills.
I’m not bashing myself. I am however looking honestly at the fact that I hampered myself more than circumstance ever did. That mindset hurt me more than inadequate art supplies or poverty ever did. You can make amazing art with the simplest of tools if you have the right mindset! Here are the things that would have helped me most:
Tips for anyone wanting to be great at art (or anything really)
Maintain Beginner’s Mind – there’s always something to learn
Stay Curious about new techniques and how others do things
Listen when feedback is offered, because it truly is a gift – probably the hardest tip in here
Find out the basics about your tools even if you think you already know them
Whenever possible, practice from life, or at least photos – even fantasy is based on reality
Spend time on the fundamentals, they are the basic building blocks of your craft
Think about what your goal is and what you want to communicate
Observe in as many ways possible, new information is grist for your creative mill
Forgive yourself your mistakes but always try to figure out what to do better
Keep it fun by challenging yourself
I wish someone had told me this stuff! If they did, I wish I would have listened! Who knows, maybe I’d be doing art for a living? It’s an expending field with more opportunity than ever.
Do you have any tips that should be included? Things you wish you would have known?