Good Artists Evolve into GREAT Artists {If they work hard enough for it}

I have been doing this whole art career thing for a little while now, albeit it a little off and on due to the joys of parenthood. And I have learned a couple of things over that time and here is one of them: Greatness does not instantly manifest itself in an artist–an artist has to WORK AT IT. Now this is not something that the top dogs in the art world might admit to. I would imagine that they would prefer that we all see them as some kind of Greek god who sprung perfectly formed out of the elbow of their mothers. But I have proof that what I say is in fact true! Allow me to present to you 3 artists of immense fame & talent who once, not too long ago, were making not as great art.

Exhibit A: Daniel Sprick { b. 1953 }

Sprick has to be one of my most favorite living artists. His oil paintings exude a sense of place, time & mood unlike anyone else except for perhaps Claudio Bravo (who sometime Sprick’s work reminds me of). Below is an example of the work we have come to love and recognize him by.

Daniel Sprick. “Landscape & Pansies”. Oil & Board. 24″ x 30″. 2003.

And here is an older painting of his recently sold on Ebay for $2,995.00.

Daniel Sprick. “Gladioli”. Oil on Canvas. 24 x 20 inches. ca. 1987.

There are 16 years that separate the creation of these two paintings. Although the older work is relatively “good” in execution and has some nice variety in its brush strokes and edges, it is a rather ordinary painting and certainly not at all in the same league as its modern day counterpart. I would not have linked these two paintings as having been created by the same great artist. Do you see what I am getting at here? Gives the rest of us hope, doesn’t it?

Exhibit B: Lucien Freud {1922 – 2011}

Lucien Freud is an artist who comes to mind immediately when I think of the evolution of a great artist. His work was always very psychologically charged (the apple here did not fall far from his Grandfather’s tree, Sigmund Freud) but there is most definitely a crudeness to his earlier work which was very much nurtured by what was happening back then in modern painting. However, he did eventually evolve into a highly realistic artist with great technical ability who worked until the very day he died at 88 years of age. Below is a typical example of the work he became known for.

Lucien Freud. “Reflection (self portrait)”. Oil on canvas. 56.2 x 51.2 cm. 1985.

And here is a painting from early on in his career.

Lucien Freud. “Girl in a Dark Jacket”. Portrait of his first wife, Kitty. 1947.

Again, there is a 38 year difference between these two paintings and just look at how different they are from each other. One is extremely flat and the other extremely convincing in its realistic rendering. Now I think that Freud could have been satisfied with with his early style as it is most definitely engaging (looks a lot like an Alex Katz here to me), however he chose to evolve in his artwork and what he evolved into is something truly remarkable with highly realized skills in painting a subject from life. Not an easy thing to do, believe me!

Exhibit C: Salvador Dali {1904 – 1989}

This summer I went to visit the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg FL and I was floored when I noticed the technical gap between Dali’s earliest work and the work in the prime of his career. The tour guide made sure to point out to us that day how exceptional his work was back then and how within it you could see the “seeds of his greatness”. I could not have disagreed with her more! I found his early work to be very average in both the traditional techniques in which he studied and his experimentation with modern styles. And it was this enlightening discovery which gave me the idea for this post and has encouraged me along the way. Below is a painting that I saw in person at the museum which was created when he was already well established. It blew my socks in wonder over its highly technical rendering.

Salvador Dali. “Living still life”. Oil on canvas. 1956.

And here is one of his early works when he was still trying to figure out his style & direction. I think I could find something similar in a local yard sale.

Salvador Dali. Self portrait. 1919.

My take away message from this post is this: Do not allow yourself to be discouraged from achieving great things in both your work and your career. You only have to put in the hard work and persevere over time to achieve it. Now that doesn’t sound so unattainable, does it?  So what are you waiting for? Go get your buns back in the studio!

4 thoughts on “Good Artists Evolve into GREAT Artists {If they work hard enough for it}

  1. Great article..I too was surprised at “early works ” of some artists,which looked almost amaturish! Sometimes we are born with unusual ability and are developed early on ..but for some reason it doesnt get nutrured or just stagnates..(in my case I was a child prodogy..but it went no where.. When i was young my parents wouldnt send me to art school..schools then were not into classic Realism like today..so as young adult of 20 I stopped painting altogether ..even though I resumed painting nearly 30 years later..I am not the artist I could have been,,I “lost” something in time) Your right, it takes hard work ,perserverance and industry.. to go from good to Great..talent is really “secondary”!

    1. I am in complete agreement with you Belita! However, I would say that an ARC finalist such as yourself has not “lost” anything. To the contrary, your life experience resonates in your work. No looking back my friend–only forward! 🙂

    1. Absolutely Nancy! I teach young artists and nothing upsets me more then when they think they are not “good enough” or not “talented enough”. Society perceives talent as being something exclusive. It is not–it is how you nurture and develop the talent that makes all the difference!

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