I wanted to write about something I struggle with as an artist, and I know many others do as well. It’s natural as an artist to look to other artists and compare your work to theirs. I think in some ways this is how we grow and push ourselves. For example we see a beautiful sculpture, and suddenly become inspired to achieve something that level. It is at this point there is a choice. To practice daily to try to reach something comparable, or to say “I will never be that good”.
If you decide to practice daily, you will gain skill. Here’s the hard part, we all will gain those skills at a rate unique to us. Some people will be sculpting at a high level in a year, some 5 years, some 10, some 20. Some people will give up after a year. Others will soldier on. Depends on their drive. Innate abilities. Everyone is unique. Everyone has a different path. Everyone has different opportunities as well! Some are stuck in a basement teaching themselves, others have a master teaching them. The person who did that original sculpture had a lifetime of opportunities, experiences, and choosing to continue before it resulted in that sculpture. You don’t know if it took them five years or one to get where they are. You can not compare your experience to theirs. The only thing you have control over is working on your technique.
This was a hard lesson for me. I discovered I am a generalist artist by nature. I know a lot about many art forms, I pick up quicker than most at the start because I love learning. In practice however, I’m not exceptionally good at any one thing. I grow in skill slowly, because I’m practicing 20 different art forms at the same time instead of focusing on one. Surrounded by specialists that shine at their art form this can be very disheartening. My innate artistic ability is “meh”. I had to accept myself and that it would take me longer than most because of how my brain works.
The thing that really helped me was a informal lecture I attended by Dick Smith at one of my first IMATS. He showed a picture of one of his early sculptures, and it was awful. He explained how he knew he needed to practice after doing that sculpture, and he did. He got better, focused on learning, eventually became famous for his work, but it took him longer to get to that level than many of his students. He had to accept he was going to get there at his own speed, but he loved the work and focused on getting better.
Looking back over my portfolio I’ve grown a lot in ten years. I could have progressed faster probably if I had gone to LA from the beginning or not raised a family. I made choices. I’m good with those choices, and I’m going my speed. I’m going to get better. I’m going to keep practicing.
You are not alone if you feel despair sometimes looking at a beautiful piece of art. Keep going. Enjoy your work.