I’m sure you saw the story. It was everywhere. A woman sets out to perform an unauthorized restoration of a cherished fresco and ruins it in the process. (If you haven’t already, you can see the before and after pictured above.) Amid the disbelief and the jokes — and there were a lot of jokes — we saw nine important truths for artists emerge.
- Craft is vital.
- Know your limits.
Challenge yourself, of course, but only within reason. If you’ve mastered running a mile, challenge yourself to run farther … but not an entire marathon. Not yet. Two miles would be a good challenge that might leave you pretty winded. A marathon, on the other hand, might leave you pretty dead. As an artist, don’t say yes to a project that exceeds the limitations of your knowledge, experience, and skills by a factor of 100. Instead, go back to #1 on this list and work on your craft until you are ready to take on a new challenge.
- Art is ephemeral.
The last I read, experts still weren’t sure if the damaged fresco could be salvaged. But either way, the work was already in bad shape — it was already deteriorating and in need of restoration. Paintings, songs, books, films, plays, sculptures … all these things fade in time. Yes, their impact can echo into eternity — so the work is important — but don’t get too attached to the work itself. Art falls victim to moths, rust, and theft, so it’s important we don’t lose sight of that which is eternal.
- Good intentions don’t justify themselves.
The woman who ruined the fresco had the best of intentions. She really did. But in the end, all her good intentions weren’t enough to secure a good outcome, nor were her good intentions enough to justify her unauthorized endeavor in the first place. How we feel and what we want aren’t enough to justify whatever course we decide to take. Good intentions don’t make good work.
- Your success is not guaranteed.
Let’s say you learn your craft. Let’s say you stay within your limits. Let’s say you pair good intentions with sound strategy. Even so, in any truly creative work, there’s no guarantee you’ll succeed. There’s no guarantee you’ll accomplish what you set out to accomplish or that people will notice or care or get it or buy it or believe it. At times, you will fail. The good news is that you’re in good company — we all fail.
- Doing something is not always better than doing nothing.
Cecilia Gimenez was apparently upset with the condition of the fresco. I guess one day she’d had enough and decided she had to do something. Well, the fresco would be better off if she’d done nothing. It’s good to take action, in theory. But in reality, it’s good to take the right action. In this case, doing nothing at all would’ve been preferable to turning the fresco into a “a crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic.” Take action, yes, but take wise action. Until you’re sure what wise action is, wait, consider, consult, or ask for help.
- It’s easy to offer a distorted picture of Jesus.
That “very hairy monkey” in the last paragraph? It began as a picture of Jesus. There’s a vast difference between the portraits created by the careful artist and the haphazard amateur. As for me, well, I resemble that remark. I paint unflattering pictures of Jesus with alarming regularity.
- Disasters happen.
Frescoes get ruined, artists fail, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. People hurt one another and themselves. People get sick and suffer and die. Disasters happen in this world of ours, and we need to know that. We need to be prepared for that fact, we need to create with that reality in mind, and we need to cultivate faith that is built to withstand what the world throws at it. We need to be voices of hope and redemption amid disaster.
- We have to decide what matters more.
What matters more to us: people or things? When disasters happen and artists fail and good intentions wreak havoc, we still must choose how to respond. Me? Too often I lack compassion, empathy, and grace. Too often I fall short of 1 Corinthians 13. Too often my instincts are a mixture of disdain, arrogance, and mockery. It’s so easy to get caught up in art for art’s sake that we forget what art should ultimately be about: people. As artists, losing sight of what matters more will eventually compromise both our relationships and our work. We must value people more.
Learn your craft. Practice your craft. Hone your craft. Grow your craft. Being skilled is what enables you to do difficult work that few others can do. Being skilled is valuable. But being skilled doesn’t come easy. Put in the work. Pay the price to be great at what you do.
Okay, your turn. Did you take anything from from the fresco restoration disaster?
Scott McClellan is the Editor of Echo Hub and the Director of Echo Conference. You can follow him on Twitter: @scottmcclellan.