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Art and Human Failing

abstract paintingAs an artist, you must stand back and judge what you’ve done…It’s only when your judgment damns the work you’ve done that it’s likely to be any good.  ~Leonardo da Vinci

Most artists start out as art lovers. The beauty they see in the work of others inspires them to try their own. Their first attempts are likely to fall short of their vision. This is normal. To master any art form—painting, music, literature—requires education, skill, and practice.

It can be discouraging, this apprenticeship of the artist. The image in the mind is so perfect, so beautiful, yet we can’t bring it to life. This is where many artists stop. They abandon their dream, because they think of art as self-expression, not hard work. They want to bleed their creation into life, and watch it turn to gold.

This alchemy does not exist.

Artists are craftspeople first. It’s only when they’ve mastered the craft that they can hope to create art.

Dilettantes think their creations are marvelous, because they lack discernment—true artists have good judgment, and with work, they can improve. Apprentices who recognize their limitations have the potential to become masters.

Perfectionism has no place in a classroom. When you’re learning, you’re supposed to make mistakes. It’s okay if your work isn’t good enough. It’s just an experiment, to see what works and what doesn’t.

But no matter how skilled the artist becomes, their work will never feel good enough, never feel complete. That’s the nature of art. Mathematics has the luxury of certainty, while art is always subjective. Another brushstroke there, another comma here, might make it better, or maybe worse. It will never be perfect.

But isn’t art ultimately about human failing? How we manage to make a go of things against the odds in an imperfect world?

Great art isn’t perfect. It’s real. It captures what it means to be human.

To achieve that is as much as any artist can hope for.

Are you a perfectionist? Do you get frustrated when your work doesn’t come out as well as you’d hoped? How do you respond?

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