Inspiration isn’t Real

You know the cliché: genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Well, it’s a cliché for a reason. Michelangelo, who, with apologies to Kanye West, could be called the single greatest artist of all time, said,

“If you knew how much work went into it, you wouldn’t call it genius.”

If you saw the hundred sketches behind Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, you wouldn’t be so impressed, even though he said things like

“My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.”

Picasso knew most of all that perspiration was where it’s at—according to the Guinness World Record, he produced 13,500 paintings and designs, 100,000 prints and engravings, 34,000 book illustrations and 300 sculptures and ceramics. Instead of paying with cash, he’d give his hairstylist a sketch. He was bald.

No one is simply inspired. The Beatles weren’t even inspired. Listen to the bootlegs of their unfinished songs: out of key, sloppily played, filled with bad placeholder lyrics—the melodies weren’t even there. But they kept at it until a Sgt. Pepper came out, or to a lesser extent their cover of Boys Boys Boys.

When painters of the Italian Renaissance discovered linear perspective, they couldn’t get back to sleep. There are loads of apocryphal stories of artists wowing at their newfound ability to add perspective and dimension to flat surfaces way past their bedtime. But it took 39,500 years of painting to get there.

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