The rumor around the school of music was that the violin teacher’s instrument was worth $400,000. It was said that he played on movie soundtracks in the 80s, including big blockbusters like E.T. I remember thinking to myself, “If I had a $400,000 violin, I could sell it, buy a freakin’ $100,000 violin, and still have 300 grand leftover.” I couldn’t imagine how a $400,000 violin could be that much better than a $100,000 violin.
But he could. And that is why he drove a different Mercedes to work every day of the week.
Your talent will never exceed your taste
I have often told this to students and mentees, because if you cannot discern when a great piece of work is better than your own, how can you possibly expect to reach that level? Even artists at the top of their field have tastes that exceed their talents. It’s how they got into that place, and it’s how they improve and create better and better work. They might not have another person’s work to compare it to, but they compare it to the ideal in their mind that is greater.
I once interviewed a person applying for a web design job on my team. He had a printout of a site he’d built that was just shy of mediocre. When I asked him what he would change about the site if he could, his response was basically, “nothing.” You can guess the outcome of that interview, because there was no hope of his work getting better.
Embrace your insecurity
If you are like me, you can probably look at your work and name a dozen things that are wrong with it before taking a breath. You know the greatest in your field are better than you, but you just can’t seem to create something on their level. That insecurity, however, is the only hope you have to becoming one of the greatest yourself.
The next time you stare down at your work and lament that it just doesn’t have “It,” don’t shy away from that feeling. Dive headfirst into your work, make it better, and hope you never lose that sense of taste.
If you are on the other end; if you have trouble finding anything wrong with your work and don’t know why people don’t like it, you probably need to spend time developing your tastes. It’s obvious to think about developing skills, but there are plenty of people in your field with the “right” skills. What’s needed—what is practically begged for—is taste, and don’t think for a moment that taste can’t be developed. Observe the work at the top of your field, and read commentary others have written that explains its virtue. Find out what the big deal is. This absolutely critical, because your talent can never exceed your taste.