Reflections on a Quote by Michelangelo

“If you knew how much work went into it, you would not call it genius.”

I came across this quote by Michelangelo this week and it resonated with me.

It took over two years for one of the most revered artistic geniuses in history to complete his statue of David. But the fact he was a genius didn’t mean he didn’t have to do the work. He still had to work the marble, day after day, month after month, just so the ‘genius’ would have a chance to pop out one day through the rock.

Seems no one can avoid the work. And lots of it. It doesn’t matter if you’re gifted or brilliant. High IQ? Doesn’t matter. You still have to do the work.

I was working with one of my adult piano students this past week analyzing one of the Bach Two-Part Inventions. I pointed out where the first key change occurred, and then showed her how Bach had painstakingly set up that change several measures beforehand using a type of musical foreshadowing. She looked at me and said, “Do you think composers think about this stuff when they write music?”

Not only do they think about this stuff, they WORK on this stuff. Constantly. They work to improve their craft, to tighten up their skills, to hone their understanding of form so their musical ideas will have the best chance of shining through, like David emerging from the marble.

Still not convinced, she said, “But can’t somebody write something good without knowing all these technical things?”

“Of course, they can,” I said. “They’re called one hit wonders.”

Sometimes people do get lucky and produce a truly beautiful piece of art. But if they don’t continue learning, working hard, digging deeper and improving their understanding of their craft they will never be placed on the ‘genius’ pedestal. They will simply be someone who got ‘lucky.’

The truth is, Pulitzer prize-winning novels don’t write themselves and masterpiece sculptures don’t magically appear from stone. We may not see the artist’s effort, but it’s always there. You cannot avoid the work. And lots of it.

Even if you are a genius.


K. Kris Loomis is the author of the humorous travel memoir, Thirty Days In Quito: Two Gringos and a Three-Legged Cat Move to Ecuador as well as books about yoga and meditation, including her recent release, After Namaste: Off-the-Mat Musings of a Modern Yogini. Kris is a determined chess player, an origami enthusiast, a classically trained pianist, and a playwright. She lives in South Carolina with her husband and two cats.

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