I was teaching painting recently and one of the women in the room was getting frustrated with her work. She creates lovely work, but was at a point where she had reworked this particular piece over and over and couldn't stand to look at it anymore. She and I took a break and I read her a poem that made her feel better and reignited the artistic spark.
At some point, all artists get frustrated with their work, question their talent, or are simply ready to quit. In times like that, and when I get frustrated with my own work, I think of Michelangelo.
Point one: "David" is not perfect. In fact, I have an article from the earlier days of the internet as we know it. When the Digital Michelangelo Project started up, they took scans of the "David" and they discovered that he's a bit cockeyed. I like this flaw as it reminds me that the sculptor was human and even a master can make mistakes.
Point two: Even he got frustrated with his employer. "I am thy drudge and have been since my youth" and he was uncomfortable when he had to stretch his comfort zone. Even though he excelled at it, he never viewed himself as a painter.
I have an antique book of Michelangelo's sonnets. My favorite is this one, where he bitches and moans about the creation of his work in the Sistine Chapel. I share this with other artists when they need to know they are not alone when they are unhappy with their work and that even a masterpiece in the making can gnaw at an artist's patience.
On the Painting of the Sistine Chapel to Giovanni Da PistojaI've grown a goitre by dwelling in this den--
As cats from stagnant sreams in Lombardy,
Or in what other land they hap to be--
Which drives the belly close beneath the chin:
My beard turns up to heaven; my nape falls in,
Fixed on my spine: my breast-bone visibly
Grows like a harp: a rich embroidery
Bedews my face from brush-drops thick and thin.
My loins into my paunch like levers grind:
My buttock like a crupper bears my weight;
My feet unguided wander to and fro;
In front my skin grows loose and long; behind
By bending it becomes more taught and straight;
Crosswise I strain me like a Syrian bow:
Whence false and quaint, I know,
Must be the fruit of squinting brain and eye;
For ill can aim the gun that bends awry.
Come then, Giovanni, try
To succour my dead pictures and my fame;
Since foul I fare and painting is my shame.
In the end, even though he suffered and complained, he created a thing of breathtaking beauty.
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