Like many high school seniors I had very little idea what I wanted to study in college. Worse yet, I was fairly disorganized, a poor student overall, and had no real drive toward anything. I was competent at writing, and had some predilection toward art, but I could not see myself starving. That was the most assured path of course, since so many writers and artists die of malnutrition.
Shortsighted and a bit dimwitted I eventually fell upon Journalism. I enjoyed my core classes, and feature articles and editorials were interesting to write. However, I could not stand the business of being a journalist. The very notion that we were supposed to be the watchdogs of the world, teasing out juicy tidbits from unsuspecting sources was sickening at times. So after I graduated I became a shill for an ad agency instead.
This situation was no better. As a copywriter for a car manufacturer’s website I was tasked with regurgitating copy that had already been written for brochures. After only three months on the job I quit. A former colleague was working for an interactive agency at the height of the dot com boom, and suggested I apply for a job as a design technologist. I had no idea what that was, but it meant a raise and stock options so I was sold.
I did have some experience with Internet technologies. I knew HTML — barely. I had been the web editor for the college university. I also had an eye for design — barely. I liked to draw in my free time. I could breath as well, and at that time those three things were all that was necessary to make me employable. Something clicked immediately, and the entire trajectory of my life shifted.
I wasn’t very interested in computers or programming when I was younger. I hated math, and quite frankly anything and everything took longer to learn than my peers. Regardless, the job awakened a desire beneath the surface that I never realized was present. I wasn’t yet passionate about the work, but I was determined with a sense of urgency I had never felt before. I spent days, nights, weekends… every waking moment learning everything I could.
I taught myself over the course of a number of years, and through several jobs. At times it was mentally exhausting, and even painful. I gained weight and had back problems, but I was laser focused. I grew beyond most of my peers, and was blessed to have several colleagues provide inspiration and direction. I’m highly technically proficient now, and have excelled over the last twenty years. Some might even say I’m an expert in my field, or even talented. How is that possible?
It’s possible the same way it’s possible for anyone to become a great artist. You start with whatever interest and potential you have, and you work until you’ve achieved your goal. When people ask me if anyone could learn to draw at a professional level I always say yes. I believe that, too. John B. Watson, a founder of Behaviorism, once said:
Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.
There have been plenty of studies to back this up, and among psychologists, biologists and researchers there is a common thread. Whatever limiting factors are placed in your life, it’s the determination to overcome them that will decide your fate. However you manage priorities, however much you sacrifice, and however deliberate you are, will all play a part. It has very little to do with natural talent.
You’ve heard plenty of stories that speak to this truth. You remember that girl Jane who was such an amazing artist in middle school or high school? Everyone would watch in amazement as she drew pictures with such ease and grace. She didn’t even appear to practice, and she even said as much! How jealous you were. You just knew she would turn out to be a successful artist. Where is Jane now? She works at the paper factory stirring a vat of pulp all day.
Then there’s the other girl you know. Susie only drew stick figures. She was the worst artist in class. Everyone would laugh and poke fun at her drawings. Without practice even YOU could draw better than her. Insulted by everyone’s negativity she withdrew to her room after school, and all she did every day and night was draw. Everything she did was intentionally geared toward a career in art. Now she’s a famous comic book artist.
Everyone’s on a spectrum. Everyone has some potential. Some of the hurdles are just higher. The environment and circumstances may be different for you. Are you a single mom with three kids who works two jobs? Your ten minute lunch break may be the only time you have to draw, and that might mean over the next fifteen years that’s the single opportunity you seize. That’s a real personal struggle.
In some situations it has nothing to do with time, and everything to do with innate desire. Not passion. Desire. You say you want to be a great artist, but you don’t really have a strong desire, or else you would do something about it. If you work hard at it you will start to develop a passion. That passion is what fuels you beyond the initial desire. The question is how hard are you willing to work?
Everyone has the potential to become a great artist. Including you.