This is something for all of you out there who are frustrated that you’re not better than you are. I call it the curve of misery. Take heart if you’re not getting where you want to go. Take heart if you’re constantly pushing, and it feels like you’re making no headway.
The problem at the core of it is your skill trails your vision. You have better taste than you can execute on. And that’s natural. In fact, at first, you don’t really notice it, because as you start to learn, your ability improves so quickly that it outstrips any changes in taste and vision. You’re getting closer and closer to your target, because your target moves slowly and your ability moves quickly.
But at some point as you do more, read more, see more, you start to better understand the nuances of the field you’re in. You see the complexities. You see that some picture you loved wasn’t great for the reason you thought. Maybe it wasn’t even great at all, while something else you hated was actually amazing. You start to appreciate all sorts of other work, and you bounce from one favorite person to the next, because there’s just so much out there. Now you start to really see why things are hard, and you see it from a practitioner’s point of view. This is the second phase. Here, your vision grows faster than your ability. And this is where the misery kicks in. You’re still getting better, but you don’t feel it, because your target is moving faster than you are. In fact, it might not only feel like you’re getting nowhere. It might feel like you’re getting worse, as you see more and more of your limitations.
It’s almost like two magnets repelling each other. As you get closer, your target is pushed further away. This is the phase where it’s most important to keep at it. Most people quit or give up at this point, and that’s exactly how you wind up feeling like a failed artist living a life of cliche. It’s how you wind up with the bad window display of some awful children’s photography with 1982 asking for its pictures back. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. This is the most important time to push through and stay with it. Instead, believe in it. Love the frustration you’re experiencing, because it means your mind is moving faster than your body can respond. You’re forming who you are as an artist, shedding your preconceptions, and learning what matters in a way that is personal and unique to you. This is a wonderful thing.
Finally, the evolution of your taste starts to slow down. It will still grow and change, but not nearly as fast. After you’ve learned of a large percentage of the work out there, refinements to your vision and adjustments to your taste come more in trickles and spurts. You might even find yourself repeating the whole cycle after discovering new inspirations. But you’ll rebound faster and learn to integrate it more easily. Meanwhile, your ability continues to grow. It will turn out that you had much more capability than you realized, and you finish as you started. You are again making headway, getting where you want to go, and getting closer and closer to your goals. Congratulations. You’ve made it to the other side. Everyone can. You just have to keep at it. Enjoy the journey.