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The Artist That Could

by Clint Watson on 8/5/2009 8:56:20 AM

This article is by Clint Watsonformer art gallery owner/director/salesperson and founder of FineArtViews. You should follow Clint on Twitter here.

Back when I owned my art gallery, a man came in one day and wanted my opinion of his art. You see, his heart's desire was to be a professional artist.

Unfortunately, this man's work was, frankly...terrible. I thought to myself that he truly should not give up his day job.  But, believing in hard work and "luck", I encouraged him to continue with his artistic pursuits as long as he truly loved and enjoyed it....and I asked him to periodically show me his work so I could see how he was doing. (Plus, he assured me that, since he had a family to support, he would not quit his day job until he was 100% sure he was ready to support himself with his art).

Over the years, he worked hard, studied with some of the greats, painted every day and just kept at it. I was impressed each time that he came in, that his work, while still bad, WAS little-by-little improving.

I still remember the day, years after our first meeting, that he brought in the first painting that made me think "this is pretty good."

Fast forward to today, and you'll find the artist in this story working as a successful, full-time, professional artist.

David Leffel once told me, "Talent is overrated . . . it's what you DO with the talent that counts." (He said this, by the way, years before Malcolm Gladwell's book, Talent is Overrated Outliers, was published....although Gladwell's book is worth a read). Richard Schmid says essentially the same thing in his book, Alla Prima, where he advises would-be artists to,"just assume that you've got talent and move on to learning and doing."

Note to artists: If David Leffel and Richard Schmid say something regarding'd be advised to take heed.


Clint Watson
Software Craftsman and Art Fanatic

PS - My apologies to Lori for jumping on the talent subject right after she posted on the same thing, but I've been wanted to tell this little story for a while and this seemed like the appropriate time to do it.  Click here to read Lori's article, What is Talent? (where a version of this post appears as a comment).

PPS - Malcom Gladwell was not the first person to put forth the "number of hours" theory of becoming competent in a given field:  I quoted newsletter author Michael Masterson's theory of becoming competent in 5,000 hours on this blog in January of 2007.


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Related Posts:

Believing in What You Do

What is Talent?

Becoming Competent

The Importance of Practice

Be an Outside Zebra by Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

Becoming a Master

Topics: Art Business | Creativity and Inspiration | Productivity 

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Lori Woodward Simons
No apology needed Clint! I'm happy to pass the "talent" baton to you since I'll be away for the rest of the week.

Here's a comment I put on the talent blog that I'll repeat here as another example of how someone who hung in there eventually became a highly collected professional painter.
I wrote a series of articles for Watercolor Magazine where I showed professional artists' early attempts at painting. Some of them showed absolutely no ability for the first year, but then after 2 years of work, something amazing happened - they got really, really good.

Dan Stouffer comes to mind. He is an amazing watercolorist. His first 2 years of paintings (which we showed in the article) were amateur. Which does to show that perseverance and constant painting can take you all the way to the professional level.

Debbie Turner Chavers
Thanks Clint! My first thought after reading the story was " The Artist That Could-And Did!"
Practice, Practice, Pratice is a running theme song in my studio. I spent way too much time thinking and not producing. Still working on that practice principle.

jimmy springett
'The artist that could", is a great example of being kind to ll artists at all ends of the skilldom. A story I liken this is is about my wife, Marge, when she was in grade school, they had daily art class, and in her class the teacher was not encouraging, actually very critical of Marge's work. This negative view has stayed with her for a long time, and trying to overcome the stigma of not being good enough is hard to overcome, even as adults. Our inner child needs permission and nurturing especially now as big people. I encourage Marge to contine her weekly watercolor class, and this has helped to soothe her soul over that negative statement from long ago, and amazing today, her work is improving with practice. Be kind, like your story Clint, never judge a book by it's cover---good story. Have a great day!!

Jim Springett-artist

Maria Brophy
I really love the idea that anyone could be a good or great artist, if they really wanted to. But that goes along with my belief that anyone can do anything, if they decide to.

I always tell artists in my seminars that the most successful artists may not always be the most talented, but they are the ones that set their mind to being successful.

Great Post - thought provoking. Makes me realize that if I really really really wanted to, I could be the next Picasso!


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