The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.
When I first read that quote, many years ago, it made me furious. I took it to mean that to be an artist you had to have been given the gift of talent or vision or some such nonsense, and I make it a personal crusade in my life to tell everyone I know that yes, you too can learn to draw or paint or whatever it is you want.
Of course not being given “the gift” is a great excuse for not leaping into the next adventure. I, for instance cannot sing. I wasn’t given “the gift” and so I sing in the car, in the shower, in the woods, alone at home and anywhere else I am absolutely sure that I will not be heard. I sing loudly and with great feeling. In my head, I sound great! I should be on stage! If anyone overheard me I would be sure to be discovered! A musical friend told me a while ago that anyone could be taught to sing. Did I believe him? Absolutely ….….well………let’s just say, I agreed with him and told him about my own crusade and continued to sing in private.
Do I believe I could learn to sing? Sure – if I wanted to spend lots of time in front of a piano, doing scales or whatever you do when you have voice lessons, I could probably learn to sing. Do I want to? The part of me that belts out show tunes in the shower desperately wants to be on stage and have that audience loving me and asking for more. It looks like so much fun. So what is the problem here?
There is another part of me that loves making things more than singing (and heck, if I’m honest here, when I turn the radio up, I can sing while I make things!). And what about that gift? I don’t have a great gift for drawing. I don’t have a great gift for painting or sculpting or even printmaking. What I do have is a passion. I can get up at 6:00 in the morning and have to leave the house for work at 7:15 and find 15 minutes to set up a plate or lay down a bit of color so that I will have something to come home to that afternoon. I miss it when I am not making something. I think about what I am going to make next. I plan my ideas. Sometimes I dream about what I am going to do next. My ideas are often lined up behind the time I have to actually commit them to paper.
When I look at that quote again, I see that the “gift” – at least for me – is not the innate talent to do something easily or well, it is instead the passion for doing the thing and the pleasure that I derive from the making that is my gift. And the work? In this second half of my life, I am finding that I have a passion for the work that is new to me. I am not so easily discouraged if something comes hard. I find that if I push myself to practice, to do the hard work that it takes to be deliberate about my art, I am blessed with a different kind of gift, one that I have given myself.