Try that crazy idea

Give yourself permission to try your crazy idea. If it doesn’t work, rework it until it does. In art, greatness is newness, not mastery of existing forms. Ben Jonson, a contemporary of William Shakespeare, was an acknowledged master of the classical forms of poetry and dramaturgy. According to the critical standards of his day, he did everything right. Shakespeare, on the other hand, broke just about every rule there was to break. Today, Jonson is remembered primarily because he was acquainted with Shakespeare, the front-runner for Best Writer in History.

In 1881, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, having completed the most famous paintings of his career–which are among the best of the Impressionist school–visited Italy to see the works of the Renaissance masters. He was so awed that he concluded he didn’t know how to paint or draw, and turned away from Impressionism. He embraced a classical style that emphasized lines instead of brush strokes and light. The paintings he produced after that point are rarely shown, and sell for a fraction of the prices of his earlier works.

Alexander Pope, in the preface to his translation of Homer’s Iliad, said that it is Invention that distinguishes all great geniuses. Study, learning, and industry can master all other things but can never achieve genius. Even if we have excellent judgment, without invention, the best we can hope for is to steal wisely from other artists.

(The featured image for this post shows an early flying machine design.)


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