|Left: Kem, detail, 2004, 48 x 24, oil on canvas. Right: Hands #1, 2011, 24 x 24, oil on canvas.
I am not claiming either painting is better, but without my figure drawing practice between 2004
Few match, and I'd argue that none surpass, the genius of Da Vinci. But Da Vinci himself may not have seen it that way. It is said that his motto was Ostinato Rigore. This translates to something like "persistent rigor." Da Vinci tirelessly pursued his art, from moving line drawings to designs for incredible inventions, and allowed no obstacle or challenge to deter him.
Yes, there is such a thing as talent. There are prodigies out there in the world. But the pencil and the brush hide continents of complexity. A prodigy may pick up either one and make a great painting or draft a beautiful drawing the first time he or she tries. But to make a life of it–to produce a great body of work, perhaps to change the world as Da Vinci did–takes persistent rigor.
Beauty and truth are fine things, and they live on a high mountain. Sometimes, in the dreams of talent and prodigy, we fly up and touch them. But it is only by climbing a little bit every day that we can hope to make a home with them, and share their company for an extended time. Some people are born with talent, but nobody is born with skill. Skill is the mastery of materials and techniques, learning the basics of your art form, and there is no way to get to that level of expertise except by practicing, by showing persistent rigor.