Most of the time the reason writers, visual artists, and other creatives aren’t yet accomplished isn’t because they are unintelligent or lack talent but because they don’t know enough. Many writers, painters, and other creatives across the globe reading this post are experts. Expert artists differ from non-experts in the knowledge they possess and can bring to the creative task.
Expert creatives have outstanding performances because their knowledge is extensive. An expert’s knowledge is ready at hand to be used and easy for the creative to access.
Most of the mistakes any artist makes are a result of incorrect or inadequate knowledge. If you have the knowledge, you won’t make the mistakes you would otherwise make.
Knowledge guidelines for practitioners in the arts are:
- Absorb as much knowledge of your art, other arts, and of the world as you are able to.
- Stop thinking that talent guarantees success, but do continually add to your knowledge.
- Patiently watch the years of effort pass, your knowledge increasing, and your capabilities growing strong.
Creatives: Older Is Better Than Younger
If you want to be successful in the arts, be older rather than younger. Older is better because most outstanding contributions to the arts are not made by people in their teens, 20s, 30s, or 40s, but in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. Why is that so? The main reason why, artistically, older is better than younger is that to have the ability to do artistic work expertly and do increasingly superior work, the main factor is the artist’s KNOWLEDGE and its PRACTICAL APPLICATION over a period of time that is often long.
That people in the arts generally require a lot of time between their first exposure to their art and their first significant work is well documented. And also well documented is that usually considerably more time must pass before they do their best work. Why is so much time necessary?
It is because artist’s knowledge has to become more comprehensive with time, study, and practice if they are to reach the apex of their performance, make the fullest use of their capabilities, establish their reputation, and reap the highest rewards.
No artist has ever lived –Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Proust, Picasso, Mozart–who had so much talent that they didn’t need considerable knowledge to excel at a high level. Talent is a blessing, but talent alone isn’t enough.
Talent may be given to artists at birth, but knowledge must be earned through sweat and toil. Artists who reach high success like Faulkner in writing and Cezanne in painting put in many thousands of hours of exhausting work and study.
Absorb Knowledge of Your Field
Absorbing knowledge of your field is a requirement of any artist who wants to far surpass “mediocre” and “adequate.” Every art has a set of fundamental skills that must be mastered if the artist is to graduate to expertise. The rules of the art, its techniques, traditions, history, facts, principles, experts’ opinions, experiences of other artists living and dead, and criticisms the artist receives provide a foundation to help them solve problems that have to be solved if quality works are to be produced.
In any field in which you are intensely engaged, such as serious writing or painting, the brain you feed with knowledge just goes on learning and learning and learning and your abilities grow and grow. The more knowledge you have, the faster you’ll recognize related information that’s relevant to solving problems you are facing. You’ll be able to say, quite quickly, “So-and-so handled the problem I’m now facing by…” Acquiring knowledge is what you are doing all the time you’re working at your craft, talking with others about your craft, studying it, taking classes, reading, and practicing to develop your skills.
Set and Pursue Knowledge-Enhancement Goals
You would be smart to set specific KNOWLEDGE-ENHANCEMENT GOALS. The greater your knowledge and the then higher the quality of your works, the more tangible the successes you will have.
Many writers in particular are self-educated and have developed their knowledge through a rigorous learning program they designed themselves. It was only after a period of self-education that American author Jack London became the most popular and successful writer in the world.
London submitted stories hundreds of times before his first success. He realized that he had very little formal knowledge–hadn’t graduated from high school–and needed to educate himself. He got hold of the reading lists of universities and studied them on his own.
The more knowledge that is needed to excel in a field, the more formal education is needed, whether at a university or self-taught. For example, writers must learn from their predecessors, their contemporary writers, their current times, and people in other fields so that what has already been achieved becomes internalized and ready for a future use in the same way a master chess player knows the strategies and techniques past masters used to win matches. You won’t amount to much if you aren’t aware of what has come before you. In his advice to aspiring screen writers, Academy Award winning producer Tony Bill said, “Whatever you do—don’t read any ‘How-to-write-a-screenplay’ books. Just read a bunch of great scripts and let it go at that.”
Shakespeare learned from Chaucer. Proust studied the work of Englishman John Ruskin for six years and wrote a book about him. If he hadn’t done that, it is doubtful that he would have written–or even attempted to write–his monumental masterpiece In Search Of Lost Time.
Following in the footsteps of the greats is a vital route to writing knowledge, and knowledge leads to skills, and skills coupled with confidence lead to success. What helps is an aptitude for learning and learning fast, which I can hardly imagine a person in the arts not possessing.
An artist in one field learning from artists in other fields can be effective. You may wish to make cross-training a feature of your own training. For example, my own observation is that many painters like English artist Janet Weight Reed and Australian Michelle Endersby are also superb writers. They must have acquired that skill somewhere. Hemingway studied painter Paul Cezanne and translated some of Cezanne’s techniques into literary techniques.
Goals you set for increasing your knowledge, like any goal you might set, should be specific and should be programmed–a schedule set up. For example, if you want to improve your short story writing you may wish to develop a schedule to study short story masters Anton Chekhov, Guy de Maupassant, and Ernest Hemingway and read critical studies of their approaches. Visual artists often select one or a small number of artists and study their work and what has been written about them
Be a Sponge
Let’s hope that your mind is a sponge sopping up knowledge because people in the arts who can acquire knowledge quickly and remember large amounts of it have an advantage when trying to create something original.
In any field you’re intensely absorbed in, your brain develops an insatiable hunger and just goes on learning and learning.
You can excel in the arts only when your knowledge is sufficient to excel. Not before. The person who studies harder will acquire knowledge faster and reach expertise sooner.
All artists benefit from setting knowledge-enhancement goals: “What must I know?” “Where will I find it?” “Who can help me acquire the knowledge I will need?”
You are a better painter, writer, actor, dancer, etc. now than you were five years ago because you have practiced and because you have acquired knowledge. The probability is that your knowledge is now substantial, and you are still adding to it and amassing it, and that your knowledge is reflected in the higher quality of your work.
© 2021 David J. Rogers
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