If you have any interest at all in horses or sports, you know that one of horse racing’s premier events began yesterday and concludes today—the Breeder’s Cup series.

In recognition of that event, I’m reaching back into my archives and republishing a post that first appeared on my writing blog a couple of years ago. It’s been around the track several times since then and has been mentioned in other places, as well. Although there are a lot of things I can compare myself to as an artist, showing you how I am like a race horse is my favorite.

Race Horses and Artists

So what do race horses and artist really have in common?

Let’s take a look.

Race Horses and Artists - How They're Alike

The Race horse….

A race horse spends its early days alone with its mother. All of the basic lessons are learned in this one-on-one relationship. Standing. Walking. Running.

Race Horses and Artists - The Baby Race Horse Alone with its Mother

After a time, the little race horse and its mother join other mothers and babies. The youngster learns to play with others in its natural environment. It learns to do what it does best; run fast.

After a few months, the baby race horse is separated from its mother and learns how to be a grown up race horse. It still runs and plays and grows and matures, but it’s still mostly untutored, learning with its band of buddies.

Finally, it enters training. It learns about bridles and bits and saddles. It learns to carry a rider. Life seems pretty regimented and it doesn’t do much running.

When the young race horse has learned all these things and is reasonably good at them, then it goes to the track. The first time it sees a track, it doesn’t know what the track is for, but let the rider give the horse a little rein and tell it to go and the race horse knows what to do. Run! Oh boy!

But there are rules to learn. Rules about running with other horses in close quarters. Rules about not running all out all the time. Rules about listening to the rider and about the starting gate. Rules about standing quietly before the running begins.

It can take a good trainer with a good student up to two years to get the race horse ready for its first race. A lot of time spent learning things that seem counterproductive to the purpose the race horse was born with…running fast.

Race Horses and Artists - Horses in a Race

But a good, solid race horse that’s well trained steps onto the track for the first time with natural ability AND a knowledge of the rules basic enough to get the job done.

If the race horse is good enough, it can get the job done faster than any other horse in the race.

Eventually, it might even find itself in the winner’s circle with a blanket of roses over its shoulders on Kentucky Derby day.

The Artist…

When I started drawing, I drew to please myself. I did what came naturally and I did it over and over and over. I learned about colors and how to use them. How to put lines together to create shapes, then how to shade those shapes to create form and so on.

Race Horses and Artists - Colored Pencil

I finished a lot of drawings before I started painting, learning something new about art and myself as an artist with each one. Then I graduated to painting and repeated the process.

Then I started taking art classes in school.

Then I found art magazines and subscribed to them.

And I started learning rules. Things like fat over lean, aerial perspective, color temperature, and the color wheel and value scale.

I even signed up for a popular correspondence art school. I wasn’t very creative at that point, but everything I learned contributed to becoming an artist.

So What’s the Point?

Human beings are the only part of God’s creation that aren’t able to care for themselves within a short time of birth. That race horse I mentioned earlier can stand and walk within minutes of being born. It can run within hours. We humans, on the other hand, need years of care and instruction before we can do the most basic things for ourselves.

So it’s only natural that when we decide to make art, the first thing we do is seek out the help of others.

But if we haven’t taken time to play with our talents, we’re a blank slate. Everything we hear influences our art and the way we see ourselves as artists. We try to make everything work, even when one piece of advice directly contradicts another. That way leads to no personal style and no distinguishing characteristics.

We sound like no one because we sound like everyone. Consequently, our art looks like no one special because it looks like everyone.

Artists (and most creative people) need the same kind of time to play with their talents, to explore, learn, and grow that the baby race horse needs. In my opinion, artists should already have a solid knowledge of their artistic style and what they can do BEFORE attempting to learn the rules.

This is, however, only my opinion; based on personal experience. Each person is different. But don’t be so eager to jump into training that you forget playing. Whether you learn by playing first, then seek training, do both at once, or something else, make sure you take time to learn about yourself as an artist.

And wherever you are in your artistic journey, don’t forget to play!