In every creative profession, including the visual arts, there's a moment when there is hope for the artist to begin the journey from good to great.
Ironically, that moment of hope happens at the instant the artist realizes that how "bad" he really is.
Let us illustrate....when your editor was younger, he fancied himself a fantastic programmer.
"There's no challenge too great for me," he thought, "anything you can conceive, I can make a computer do it."
More recently, however, we've been opening up our mind....reading books, reviewing source code written by other (better) programmers. And, most horrifying of all: reviewing code that we, ourself, wrote some years back.
And, dear artist, the honest, unabashed truth is that....compared to the greats.....we just aren't there.
Have you ever looked at another artist's work and had that feeling? Or worse?
Or, perhaps you've walked into a gallery and left vowing to throw your paint brushes away because you have so far to go
compared to the works you've just admired?
Congratulations, dear artist, the moment you have that uncomfortable experience, and not a moment before, is the moment you can take the first steps toward true greatness.
Here's how one of the greats in our industry, programmer, Jeff Atwood, puts it on his blog Coding Horror
"[Every time I saw the Coding Horror illustration], I would chuckle. Not because of other people's code, mind you. Because of my own code. That was the revelation.
It's the same with art - you're an amateur artist until you realize that everything you paint.....let's say.....isn't great.
You're an amateur developer until you realize that everything you write sucks.
YOU are the Coding Horror."
It's a bit of a paradox, isn't it? Most amateur artists we know tend to be over-confident
in their artwork, while the greatest artists that we have ever met, can't even see
the true greatness of their own artwork .... they tend to focus on how much they still want to learn, and how much they still want to improve.
Back when we owned an art gallery, people would come in declaring themselves to be "artists"....having been painting for perhaps 6 months or so.
The would walk past paintings by true masters in our gallery....people like Kevin Macpherson
, David Leffel
, Mian Situ
and Laura Robb
, and confidently announce that they were ready to exhibit their artworks in our gallery. They weren't even close.
They literally could not even see the difference between their amateur artwork and the works of artists who had spent a lifetime devoted to getting better day in and day out.
Occasionally, however, an artist would spend some time viewing the art and then announce to us that she just would never measure up and might as well throw her brushes away.
Those were the artists that excited us, because there was now hope
. We would ask her to show us her artwork and to stay in touch.
So, dear artist, when you're feeling down, feeling like you'll never be great, rejoice! You've reached the moment of hope.
Software Craftsman and Art Fanatic
PS - It may seem a bit of a downer, that the better you get, the more you realize that you're not great. However, it's not. Creative pursuits require a lifetime journey of commitment and growth. It's a journey, not a destination....so while you may never be satisfied that you have "arrived", you'll get a bit closer every day, and the true greats all enjoy the ride.....and what a beautiful ride it is....won't you join us for the journey?
For more information on the similarities of programmers (hackers) and artists (painters) and our tortured souls, consider reading:
Hackers and Painters
by Paul Graham