All great artists did crappy work at times too.

– June 25, 2014

My first design-ism.

For some unknown reason, before writing the above inaugural design-ism, I was musing about great designers, illustrators, and fine artists throughout history. Specifically, I was thinking about their oeuvres: works so great that they stand the test of time and continue to serve as the ideals we reach for.

It's humbling, really, to reflect on these masterpieces. But as I did, I remembered that the pages of Art history books are filled with the best of the best – which in turn implies that there are lesser works by my artistic heroes – works less than their best. Moreover, if there are in fact lesser works, it stands to reason that there are degrees of “lesser-ness.” In fact, those masters may have even created lesser works that are just really not good. But we don’t read about those.

Recent reports indicate that the incomparable Leonardo da Vinci may have actually painted over 2 lesser portaits before arriving at his final version of the Mona Lisa. Winslow Homer, a personal favorite, showed tremendous development and growth throughout his lifetime. On a populist front, compare the early drawings of Charles Schultz or Gary Trudeau with their later Peanuts and Doonsbury strips respectively. It’s almost like they were drawn by different people.

Clearly, even most of the lesser works by the masters are still “pretty good,” but we still want to celebrate them more because of who created it. Instead, we need to undertand that these lesser works are what they are – experiments, trials, early hints at a new direction, some that panned out, others that did not.

These artists continued to push themselves and grow, and in doing so, created pieces that were less satisfying than the masterpieces that they have become known for.

What does that mean for designers working today? Personally, it provides me with some solace. it means that if the best of the best had off days, maybe we share a bit of the artistic experience. I might not know what it’s like to be revered around the world, but I know what it feels like to have my work rejected, and perhaps so do my heros.

Baseball’s Mr October, Reggie Jackson, struck out 2597 times (he had 2584 hits), but is perhaps best known for hitting home runs in four consecutive official at-bats during the 1977 World Series, including 3 in game six alone. 2597 failed at-bats. I can relate. Yet, he his known for his home runs. Someday, I would like to be able to relate to that as well.

If I can treat my own “lesser works” the same as my heros did, there might be hope for me still.