We often think of talent as an important ingredient in the making of great art. But I think more importantly is work – hard work. What I have been writing about over a couple of posts now – about choosing the hard path and going after you passion – is closely related to effort. I think more imperative than anything else if we want to succeed in art (and probably with everything else in life) is a willingness to work hard. As Albert Einstein put it in his well-known quote: «Genius is one percent talent and ninety-nine percent hard work.»
One remedy – besides passion – encourages creativity more than anything else: Work. It not only encourages, but necessitates. If you don’t put in an effort you will never unfold the full potential of your creativity. You simply cannot sit down and just wait for inspiration or creativity to come upon you. Creativity is not a gift but a duty. A duty to yourself. I strongly believe we all have creativity within us, but most of us need to dig it out. And the only way to really dig it out is by working, by putting time and effort into whatever creative media or expression we are prone to identify ourselves with. What it really means is to work consistently and energetically over a long period of time. For some of us a whole lifetime. Day and day again.
For photographers such as me, work means to photograph. According to Henri Cartier-Bresson «your first 10,000 photographs are your worst». When we take into consideration that he used a film-based camera, inherently much slower than today’s digital cameras, maybe we need to update his quote to your first 100,000 photographs. Or maybe even better; use the so-called 10,000-Hour Rule that Malcolm Gladwell cites in his book Outliers. The rule basically says that if you do anything for 10,000 hours you will become an expert at that thing. Put in a different, simpler and maybe more obvious way, it comes down to the fact that – as a photographer – the more you shoot, the better you become. As simple as that.
«Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; rewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.» – Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the United States.
In something that could be called youthful presumption or cockiness, I trusted my talent when I was younger. I thought I had a talent for photography and that was all I needed. I did win some photo competitions and gained some recognition, and I thought the road to heaven was open to me. Only much later did I realize that nothing had happened, I had gone nowhere since my first embryonic recognition, and photographically I had come to a stand still. I suddenly realized I wasn’t the best photographer in the world – as I had planned to become! The one big mistake I did was not working hard – well, hardly working at all. Trusting my talent as being all I needed became my bane as a photographer in my early years. First many years later did I understand that nothing comes out of nothing – even if you have talent.
«We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.» – Aristotle.
I have come to believe that talent is not important. Yes, it may set the boundaries for our potential as creative persons, but the big majority of us never reach the roof of that potential at all. Maybe Leonardo da Vinci did – or Vincent van Gogh. But us mere mortals? No way – not even if you work the butt off yourself. And that is the good news. It means you can reach as far as you want to creatively, all depending how much work you want to put into the process. You know, art is nothing before you have actually made something. Being creative means actually doing something.
«To the critic art is a noun. To the artist, art is a verb.» – David Baules and Ted Orland in Art & Fear.