5 Life Lessons From Artists

What can we learn from artists who have achieved greatness? Regardless of our creative inclinations, it’s undeniable that the greatest artists throughout history offer invaluable wisdom. The life lessons we can learn from them go beyond the canvas, resonating universally and offering timeless guidance that is relevant to people of all ages and backgrounds. So, what insights can we glean from these luminaries and integrate into our own lives? Whether we’re real estate professionals, medical practitioners, educators, first responders, or simply navigating the complexities of being human, taking on their mindsets may bring us closer to achieving our own vision. After all, who knows? Embracing their wisdom might just spark a bit of greatness within us.

“You borrow from the greats, and you make your own path without losing the core of who you are.” Michael B. Jordan

Action is key

Action and consistency are the backbone of any achievement. While many envision great art as stemming from bursts of inspiration, the truth is far more grounded: it’s about showing up and putting in the work, day after day. Take Chris Ofili, Eric Hanson, Claude Monet, and Pablo Picasso, for instance—they epitomize the power of consistent effort. Picasso, renowned for his prolific output, famously asserted, “Action is the foundational key to all success.” His daily ritual of heading to the studio exemplified this belief. By embracing good productivity practices, such as regular breaks and minimizing distractions, he cultivated a staggering body of work, totaling around 147,800 pieces in his lifetime. In essence, it’s not about waiting for inspiration to strike; it’s about taking action consistently, one brushstroke at a time.

Key Takeaway: There’s no perfect moment to take action; consistency over time is the key.

Guernica, 1937 by Pablo Picasso

Guernica, 1937 by Pablo Picasso

Patience & dedication

According to Michelangelo, “genius is eternal patience” and with one look at the Sistine Chapel, it’s easy to tell that he knew what he was talking about. A glimpse at the awe-inspiring Sistine Chapel confirms the truth in his words. Interestingly, Michelangelo wasn’t keen on tackling the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, as he was a sculptor at the time he was given the task. Yet, he embarked on the monumental endeavor, spending four grueling years painting while standing, his gaze fixed upwards. The physical toll was so immense that he likened it to “torture.” While most of us won’t face such extreme or unique challenges, Michelangelo’s endurance underscores the remarkable feats we can achieve with unwavering patience and dedication to our vision.

Key Takeaway: You are more capable than you realize, and your perseverance will yield rewards as long as you never quit.

Sistine Chapel ceiling frescoed by Michelangelo

Sistine Chapel ceiling frescoed by Michelangelo

Criticism is normal

Take a glance at history, and you’ll find a long list of renowned artists who faced harsh criticism during their lifetimes. From Jackson Pollock to Claude Monet, from Edouard Manet to Vincent Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso, the list goes on. Consider Van Gogh, who only managed to sell one painting in his entire life. Now, his works are cherished worldwide, adorning the walls of prestigious museums. In fact, we have the incredible Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience just a short drive away in Seattle, offering a breathtaking 20,000 sq. ft. light and sound exhibit featuring larger-than-life projections of his most captivating works. It’s a poignant reminder that sometimes, ignoring the haters and staying true to your vision is the best course of action.

Key Takeaway: Anticipate individuals who may disagree with your vision, so that their negativity does not deter you from your chosen path.

Vincent van Gogh Starry Night over the Rhone 1889 Musée d'Orsay, Paris

Vincent van Gogh Starry Night over the Rhone 1889 Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Embrace adversity

Whether we perceive the tortured artist trope as reality or fiction, one undeniable truth remains: suffering is an intrinsic part of the human experience. Figures like Vincent Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Francisco Goya, and Georgia O’Keeffe grappled with life’s trials and mental health challenges. However, amidst these struggles, Frida Kahlo stands as a beacon of resilience. Kahlo’s life was a testament to overcoming adversity, marked by hardships such as childhood polio, a devastating bus accident, and ongoing health issues. Yet, rather than succumbing to despair, she channeled her pain into art, showcasing her strength and resilience to the world. Despite the odds stacked against her, Kahlo’s journey reminds us that adversity can be a catalyst for growth, resilience, and ultimately, triumph.

Key Takeaway: Don’t waste your pain; instead, let it become a source of strength through growth and resilience.

Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940, By Frida Kahlo

Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940, By Frida Kahlo

Connection & community

Every life possesses the potential to influence those around us. While some artists may prefer solitude, art, by its nature, is meant to be shared and experienced. Certain individuals transcend this relationship between art and audience, profoundly impacting their communities. Social activists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Banksy have left lasting imprints on society. Augusta Savage, a pioneering African American sculptor and educator, stands as a beacon of resilience and hope. Rising to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance, Savage exemplified the transformative power of nurturing relationships. Whether collaborating with peers, mentoring emerging talents, or advocating for inclusivity in the arts, she defied the odds stacked against her as a black female artist rising up in the 1920s and 30s. While many of her masterpieces may have been lost to time, Savage’s legacy endures as a testament to her enduring influence and indomitable spirit.

“I have created nothing really beautiful, really lasting, but if I can inspire one of these youngsters to develop the talent I know they possess, then my monument will be in their work.” —T. R. Poston, “Augusta Savage,” Metropolitan Magazine, Jan. 1935, n.p.

Key Takeaway: Express gratitude for support when it arrives and extend a helping hand to others when possible. Our lives are enriched by the meaningful connections we cultivate.

Savage with her sculpture “Realization” in 1938.Credit...Andrew Herman, via The New York Public Library/Schomburg Center

Savage with her sculpture “Realization” in 1938.Credit…Andrew Herman, via The New York Public Library/Schomburg Center

As we conclude our exploration into the wisdom of artists who have achieved greatness, one thing becomes abundantly clear: their lessons are not confined to the realm of artistry. Whether we’re charting our career paths, navigating personal relationships, or pursuing our passions, embracing the perspectives of greatness can illuminate our journeys and propel us towards our own aspirations. So, let us heed the call to learn from the masters of their fields. For in doing so, we may discover that greatness resides not only in the works of art they leave behind, but also within ourselves.

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