“Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration. Accordingly, a ‘genius’ is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework.”

Thomas Alva Edison

Inspiration or Perspiration: Which is More Important to the Artist?

You may have heard it.

The Big Debate. (No, not that one.)

The debate about which is more important artistically: Inspiration or perspiration (also known as skill, diligence, and hard work.)

Okay. Maybe it’s not a big debate but it is a topic the arises among artists sooner or later and that seems to never be answered completely, once and for all.

Inspiration or Perspiration?

The truth is that both are important. Hard work and talent without inspiration is just drudgery.

Inspiration without hard work is a pipe dream.

To be successful at anything, you need both a dream or passion (inspiration) and the desire and discipline to learn your craft, improve your skills, and do the hard work necessary to finish each drawing (perspiration.)

The dream or passion appears—or should appear—at several levels.

Inspiration For or From the Subject

Every work of art you do will begin with something. Most of them will arise from the inspiration of a subject, be it the subject itself, light and shadow, atmosphere, or just the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you see something.

This inspiration is less important in my opinion because a lot of us paint for hire. That is, clients come to us and want us to paint their portrait, or the portrait of a beloved pet or champion animal, or maybe even their home or farm. Sometimes, inspiration accompanies the commission, but a lot of times, it doesn’t.

Whether inspiration is there or not, the portrait must be done.

Inspiration For or From the Process

That’s when we have to find our inspiration in other ways.

Like the process of painting or drawing, for example. The mere act of putting color on paper or canvas, of making a two-dimensional surface look like a three-dimensional subject, or even just a well-rendered subject. This works well for me and is often what helps keep my going on paid portraits.

Inspiration For or From Life

But the thing that’s really necessary is the inspiration that comes from life itself and from the artist’s life in particular. If you have this—if you take pleasure in being an artist and in being alive—then you can survive the temporary lack of inspiration in the other areas.

Including the studio. Those seasons of creative quiet are times to recharge and relax rather than times of terror and uncertainty.

A recent podcast from Sharpened Artist also recently discussed this topic: Episode 69 – Skills versus Fairy Dust. John Middick and Lisa Clough (the artist behind Lachri Fine Art) took a slightly different tack on the subject, but the discussion is still enlightening and entertaining. Give it a listen and see what you think.

The bottom line is that both inspiration and perspiration are necessary for a successful artist. The percentages may be different artist to artist and so might the type of inspiration. But both are necessary in some form.

What’s your opinion?