How To Learn Like Michelangelo
Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, Michelangelo, was one of the greatest artists of all time.
During his prodigious career he sculpted the Pietà in Rome and the David in Florence, painted the Sistine Chapel and designed the dome for St. Peter’s Basilica.
Born in the town of Caprese, Tuscany in 1475, he was sent to study in Florence by his family as a young boy, which was at that time the greatest centre of the arts and learning in Italy.
But young Michelangelo showed little interest in his schooling, spending most of his time copying paintings from churches, sculpting figurines using a chisel and hammer and keeping the company of other artists.
At the age of 13, he was apprenticed to Domenico Ghirlandaio, a master in fresco painting who had the largest workshop in Florence. And by 14, he was already being paid as an artist!
Often known for his volatile moods, Michelangelo did not make friends easily. In fact, one of his peers, Pietro Torrigiano, once got so angry with Michelangelo that he punched him in the nose, leaving it permanently crooked!
Michelangelo got his big break after copying an ancient Roman sculpture called Sleeping Cupid and passing it off as an original by burying the statue underground and digging it up to give it a worn look.
With the help of his patron Lorenzo de Medici he ended up selling the piece to Cardinal Raffaele Riario as a recently recovered archeological wonder.
Riario later heard rumours of the scam and got his money back, but he was so impressed by Michelangelo’s skill that he invited him to Rome for a meeting to find him work.
As a result, the young artist staid in the Eternal City for the next few years, eventually winning a commission to carve the famous “Pieta,” the work that first made his name as an artist.
He sculpted his two best known works (the Pietà and his famous David before the age of 30, but Michelangelo continued to produce a phenomenal amount of work into his old age, in the three fields of painting, sculpture and architecture.
Although he grew rich, he lived in simple surroundings throughout his life and rarely changed clothes or bathed. In fact, it’s said that his clothes were so dirty and plastered on his body that when he died they needed to be cut off of him!
Despite his questionable personal hygiene, he was the first artist whose biography was published while he was alive - with two published during his lifetime. Not bad, in my book, even if he was a bit smelly!
Here are 3 lessons you can learn from one of history's greatest artists:
"If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all."
Michelangelo was nicknamed Il Divino ("the divine one") and praise of him as “divinely gifted” was taken so literally that some revered him as a saint. But Michelangelo put more weight on practice than talent.
It's very easy to assume that masters are more talented than the rest of us. And while they probably do possess some innate talent, anyone who has reached mastery has spent years honing their skills and will tell you the same.
So if you want to become a true master, work hard consistently, surround yourself with the best in your field and be patient. Because as Michelangelo himself said, "genius is eternal patience."
"The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark."
Michelangelo didn't reach the heights he did without setting himself high standards. In fact, he was so harsh on himself about his work on the Sistine Chapel that he famously wrote, “I am not a painter” after he finished it.
Setting goals is a balancing act and it's not wise to set overly ambitious goals. But ultimately, it's better to set yourself a real challenge rather than selling yourself short - because even if you fail, you'll learn a lot in the process.
"Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it."
The piece of marble Michelangelo used to carve his David was quarried and abandoned for over 40 years before he claimed it.
The stone had grown rough from the elements but still Michelangelo was able to create a 17-foot tall statue deemed structurally perfect to this day.
In all parts of life, it's very easy to dismiss the value of what's in front of you, like all the other artists who rejected the marble slab.
But, if you make the most of what you have, as Michelangelo did, it's possible to do great work or learn something new, even if you don't have the perfect conditions.
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