The road to excellence is easier than you think
There are a ton of mediocre artists out there. There are also a ton of good ones. There are very few excellent ones.
Being excellent means changing how you approach your art. It means making hard choices as to what you do. It means taking yourself seriously as a professional.
In my day to day work, I talk with a lot of artists. The biggest hurdle with them is having the balls to niche down. Become known for one thing. They want to be a magical expert in everything, and let me tell you that is unlikely to happen.
Look, we all have our zones of incompetence, excellence and genius. When you operate in your zone of incompetence, you feel terrible about yourself and your work plus you hate doing it. There’s resistance all over the place.
When you’re in your zone of excellence, it’s comfortable. It feels good. Everything is fine.
And in your zone of genius? That’s where the magic happens. But you have to allow yourself to be in that place. Give yourself permission to push hard and be deserving of feeling amazing in your work. It can be a bit of a mind fuck to get there but when you do, you do amazing things.
Most artists stay in their zones of excellence. They make the hotel quality art. They pour paint. They create technically beautiful art that doesn’t have depth. Makes for good enough, generally forgettable work.
Being mediocre means you can be easily replaced with a hundred other artists. You don’t stand out. You aren’t special. You aren’t stretching your making into something new and different. You’re telling the same stories as everyone else, and staying in the same safe place too.
Did you read this far? Good. Because I’m now talking to you directly. If you decide you want to be more, become a master in your chosen type of art, you absolutely can do it.
Yep. You can.
The thing is, it’s going to take choosing to do that one thing and doing it again and again. Much like music, becoming a master in your genre means practising. Showing up, digging deep and doing the work. But since you love it, and feel amazing doing it even when it’s challenging, you’re going to want to be doing it all day long.
Say you want to be the best pet portrait artist around but you also do commissions for landscapes or abstract art because hey, it’s money. Niche down. Refuse the commissions. Do only pet portraits.
But, don’t just do pet portraits, find your hook. What makes your work stand out? Are your pieces soulful or tug at the heartstrings? Are they playful and heartwarming? What do you get right about the portraits?
What has drawn you to do these specifically? Get super deep with WHY you love this genre so much. Really explore your reasons and those reasons cannot include “because it’s fun” or something lame. We are all drawn into the artist’s life for a reason.
So maybe for you pets represent pure love. Unfettered by human emotions. The one place you felt safe growing up. Perhaps you had a beloved dog that you miss every day. You completely get, like right down to your toes, how much your clients love their animals. You put your heart and soul into each piece, each pet you portray becomes your pet too. You love and live with them for as long as they are on your easel or in your studio.
When you are connected with your why, why you create, why you find your zone of genius in this one place, you create with true depth.
And when you focus on the one thing, in this case pet portraits, you become known for that thing. When people think of [your name] they think pet portraits. Or when people love their pets and want a portrait they immediately think [your name].
Here’s the most magical thing, and I did this myself: when you focus on one genre of art and show up in depth daily as much as possible, it doesn’t take long to level up your skills. A month maybe at most if you’re committed. There’s no ten thousand hour bull shit to deal with. By the end of the first year, your work will blow your mind.
This won’t happen if you’re bouncing around doing ink drawings one week and glass blowing the next. Jack of all trades, master of none is a saying for a reason.
Lay people do not understand or see skill when you dabble around. Sure they say nice things but honestly, you confuse the shit out of them. You look like a heart surgeon who also runs a car wash and grows organic kale. It makes no sense to them.
You and I know that art is connected. Drawing skills translate to painting and photography easily. Yes. But to the outsiders? They’re crazy different.
And while those skills translate, they aren’t deep. This is my point. Go deep. Become the master of your chosen genre. Be known for that thing. This is how you leave mediocrity behind and really kill it as an artist.