If you work hard on a painting that will not of itself make it into “art.” Great works of art are not, as I think it was Corot who said it, the products of an infinitude of labor. And if he’s right, hard work alone won’t do it.
Yet though “art” be this “je ne sais quoi” thing yet sheer hard work does take you a long ways toward the goal, for it builds skill, gradually more sure, graceful and resolute skill, which one fine day lends assistance to “art.” Perhaps. If some morning after eating your bowl of Wheaties, breakfast of champions, you discover inside yourself a great idea rich in beauty and filled to the brim with brilliant insight — well then you have the tools, you see, to wrestle that idea to the ground.
It works something like that. Skill is not “it” but a way of meeting “it” someday.
But in the by and by, if you work hard at art …. Well, let’s say you just make yourself work as hard as you can. You pursue the “infinite” labor on a smallish territory in the space-time and turn yourself into the absolute devotee of whatever it is, say, a pear in a basket on a table covered by a red cloth. If you pour yourself into that image, even if it lacks the gravitas of the entire Italian Reniassance, it will come to possess largish chunks of your thought and desire. And that, my friend, we can say without immodesty will hold some fascination.
For, recall, we do not make ourselves. We find ourselves at least partly assembled. We are products of Nature. We can delve into the vast interiors of our own woodlands, or craggy precipices or vast seas or slender streams and quiet lakes or little mud puddles and make discovery. Not on a scale with Christopher Columbus or Magellan, perhaps, but not shabby either.
The human’s humane territory holds beauty in particularity. I learned this redrawing things. No two drawings are ever quite alike, though I swore I’d be a Xerox machine. And no two koi have exactly the same spots nor snowflakes the same …. Of course, you already knew this, right?
So yes, you know but it’s more a matter of daring do. Self expression by itself flirts with narcissism, but self expression with hard work tends toward discovery. Authentic discovery (of continents unknown).
Work hard, therefore, and dig assiduously for there’s gold in them thar hills.
(“Je ne veux plus voir que mon coin et le creuser pieusement,” said Degas.)