"Wow, you’re so talented, I could never draw like that even in a million years!"
"You’re either really good at art or you aren’t."
"Some people have all the talent, and I’m not one of them."
We hear and see things like this all the time and people with the middle to high range art skills know these comments are just not true. As author Geoff Colvin says in his book by the same title, "Talent is overrated," and really it is. There is no such thing as one person being born super talented and another having none at all or other such myths in art like that. The only difference between you the beginner artist and that artist way up at the top is hard work, smart work and time.
One major study (listed in 'Talent Is Overrated') showed that there was no such thing as the ‘talented’ elite who hardly work and just come out on top. It was found that there was no such thing as the person who just worked super hard consistently and didn’t come out as the best of the best. Usually the people at the top worked much, much harder than everyone else. While this study I’m referring to was in music, it pertains to art just the same.
So you want to be a great artist and be up there with the exclusive bests? It’s possible, but before you even start to plan how to make it there, you need to ask yourself some serious questions. As a famous quote, sometimes attributed to Francis Chan, goes "We don’t really fear success. What we fear is succeeding in something that doesn’t matter." So why not make sure you’re succeeding in something that matters to you before starting out?
1) What is my passion in life? Aka what do I wake up thinking about every morning that motivates me to keep going? Is it art or an art form I’m already trying to get better at? Or is it something else?
2) Is this something I can make money at?
3) Can I be the best in the world in this area? Will my passion for this and ability to make real, honest, non-delusional income with this actually propel me forwards to be the best?
If you can’t answer yes to all three of these areas you may need to re-think your art career.
I say this because you could make money at art and but if you’re not 100% passionate about what you do you will be passed up by the person with passion every time on the way to the top.
You may want to be the best singer in the world but if you don’t have the natural ability to sing you aren’t going to be a singer no matter how passionate about it you are. That's why you need to make sure you actually have some ability in the field you're choosing.
With the profits part, you’d better know that no matter what you do you’ll need money. Mostly because housing and food is important to your life goals. If you’re hungry you will become more passionate about eating then about your true calling if you get my drift. You need money to take care of the necessities and to open up more opportunities to you.
Spend as much time on these questions as you need. Art is so broad that you may just need to narrow down your passion to a certain field. It could be pasta art, crocheting voo-doo dolls, making robots out of cake or even covering rooms in glitter. Whatever your pinpoint area is, make sure the other two areas of profit and potential align with the passion and you’ll be well on your way to discovering your purpose.
Now that you’ve gotten the purpose part of art out of the way you’re ready for the next part; the deep truth about talent and mastery. Mastery takes three simple steps that you probably already know. No matter what area you strive to reach success in, that area will take these three steps.
1) Hard work.
2) Smart work.
Hard work is a given and most people know that. The thing is there is a shortage of people who actually do work hard. There isn’t a shortage of people who say they work hard for sure, but the people who truly do are rare and this is why success seems like it’s so difficult. If you want to reach the top in any area of art or life you must be willing to put in 10,000 hours of work towards mastering that area.
Now, this is where smart work comes in. You may look and think to yourself “10,000 hours… that’s about 10 years! I’ve been drawing for well over 10 years with little success! Why am I not a master yet?” That’s because you’ve been doing 1 hour, 10,000 times over. This 10,000 hours thing isn’t a, “Oh, I hit 10,00 hours, I’m a master now!” idea. It’s an “I worked on something new and challenging every hour for 10,000 hours, pushing my comfort level and skills every second of each drawing” sort of objective.
Hard work alone isn’t enough; you need to be willing to push yourself hard every day of your life with your art skills. Every new drawing you need to evaluate what you did well and what you did poorly. You need to look at and go “what did I do right?” and “what did I do wrong?” Then you need to take that ‘wrong’ part and make an effort to improve it in the next drawing while continuing to do what was ‘right’ for you.
Add a new skill to every commission, personal drawing and even sketch. You’ve got to make sure to draw every day even if it’s just a doodle or 5 minutes worth of work otherwise you will go backwards. That’s where the passion comes in, it’ll keep you drawing or creating even when you don’t always feel up to it. Good sailors come from bad seas, aka challenging yourself is the only way to improve.
The last component is time. You’re not going to improve overnight, in a week or even a month unless you are consistent. You probably won’t notice improvement until one day you look at a piece you just finished and compare it with something you did 6-12 months ago. It will be frustrating feeling like you’re going at a snail’s pace. In reality if you’re working hard every day really you’ll be going at a running pace and you just won’t see it at first.
Art is a marathon. You start out barely able to go, tired and ready to quit. If you don’t quit and you keep pushing, you will start to feel more energized and ready to keep running. While you may not yet see the end ahead yet you can see that you’ve come a long way.
As you near the finish line, your vision for how great you can be appears. This vision will spur you to gain even more momentum and energy at seeing you’re nearly finished. When you reach the end, you will have that huge thrill of success and victory. You’ll want to get started on your next big race right away.
Art is a never ending set of races. You will have to improve continuously until the day you die and that’s the beauty of it all. So you’ve got to go from race to marathon to 5k to practice to meet and onwards forever and ever. You always have to be reaching a new level of mastery and being the best artist you can be.
So, before you decide art isn’t for you because you just don’t see improvement, go back and look at your earliest drawings. If you’re in the middle skill level and you just don’t know if you can make it, go look at the improvement memes of your favorite artists and get hope that you’re nearly to the top you envision. If you’re at the top don’t forget to put together those improvement memes and show off that you started out the same as everyone else all that time ago.
I hope this article and these featured artists and improvement memes inspire you to find your purpose in art so you have the tenacity to reach for mastery in your field. I hope you never say “I can’t do it because I wasn’t born with all the talent that so-and-so was!” ever again because now you know you can reach that level of skill too if you apply yourself. Go out there and be the best artist you can be, fulfilling your purpose as an artist and achieving mastery yourself so you can give hope to thousands in the future.