I remember it like it was yesterday. The first time I was struck by a piece of art. It was like ringing a bell, and it has been reverberating ever since.
I was a sophomore in High School and was at my friend Tom’s house. He had a copy of a catalog of graphic works by the Bakersfield College art students. The piece he showed me was by the brother of another friend of mine. It was a pencil drawing of such incredible detail that it looked like a photograph. I couldn’t believe that someone I actually knew could produce something so incredibly beautiful. It looked like it should have been hanging in a museum somewhere, and he was probably only 19 years old at the time he had completed it. If I could only do something like that.
It was a life altering moment.
I began a lifelong quest, with several interruptions, of trying to learn to do that. I had doodled somewhat when I was younger, but never thought I had any natural talent. And I didn’t. Here’s a little secret: not many people have natural talent – it has to be developed. Of course there are a few with innate ability, like my friend from elementary school who could model swans from clay, but for the most part, those people don’t exist. Well, they exist, you just don’t meet them very often, if at all. That ability has to be hammered out by repetition, by mundane practice, by making 10,000 bad drawings, until you start to get a feel for what you are doing. Copying works of the masters, like the drawing above. Over and over and over.
But that feeling I had when I saw the drawing, that moment of epiphany, is a feeling that has never left me, and I wanted to follow the path – because I had to, I had no choice. If I give it up for a while, which I have done at various times, the feeling begins gnawing at me again, and I go back.
I’ve often wondered how many others have experienced that moment. It is so unmistakable. Whenever I meet someone who has a deep interest in their profession, the first thing I ask them is if they had that moment. Almost all of them have. I remember asking a guy who teaches music at a university, and plays jazz saxophone, if he had it. He said that when his father had taken him to see a jazz concert as a young boy, he fell in love with the saxophone, and began taking lessons right after that.
I never thought of this as a gift from God until recently. I always thought the gift was the talent, but I was wrong. The actual gift was the desire to learn. The desire that never goes away. The desire to improve, to get better – that’s the real gift. That gift was given to me all those years ago at my friend’s house, when I saw that drawing.