Leonardo da Vinci Was a Loser

As I write this, I’m 36 years old.

I’ve done a lot with my career, and yet I feel like I haven’t scratched the surface of my potential. I struggle to balance the demands of the real world (paying bills and feeding the family) with the demands of my creative spirit (making cool shit).

Sound familiar?

I’ve talked to a lot of you about this. Some over email, some over beer. I’ve learned that many of us feel we’re not doing enough. Worse, we’re not doing enough fast enough.

Cooking the Last Supper

If that sentiment touches a nerve, give the above video from Adam Westbrook (published by Delve) a quick watch.

Yes, it’s a visual essay told in the language of motion design, but I’m posting it for the core ideas it’s presenting. So try to zero in on that and chime in with your thoughts in the comments.

To be honest, I’m ambivalent about its message. I appreciate that mastery and success often take longer than we publicly acknowledge.

But I’m also suspicious of the whole concept of “success,” at least in the context of creativity.

Which success matters most?

I’ve interviewed many of the top talents in our field and talked to a good deal of other accomplished artists about success. While they all strive for it, even those who achieve it don’t seem fundamentally happier or more at peace because of it.

Success, like money, is one of those slippery treasures that squeezes out of our grasp and lands just out of reach — over and over again throughout a lifetime.

Maybe the real challenge isn’t painting a metaphorical Last Supper but realizing that true success is in enjoying the process more than the product.

That definition of success doesn’t preclude other definitions, of course. In fact, I suspect that those who enjoy creation for creation’s sake probably also enjoy a good deal of “traditional” success. They just don’t define themselves by it.

“The Long Game Part 1” is the first of a two-part series based on two posts from Mr. Westbrook: Difficult and 47 Years to Success.

UPDATE: Here’s part two of Mr. Westbrook’s series. (Thanks, Angelo!)

Hat tip to Jordan Taylor.

About the author

Justin Cone

/ justincone.com
Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.

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19 Comments

David

I think the concept of “success” in relation to the idea of desire, its what keeps us moving towards something.
What is that “something” is diferent to each one of us.
Success is just a name we give to it.
I’m with the idea of enjoying the process more than the product, We are here for a very short period of time.

Dominique

Great post Justin. I most definitely agree with your definition of success. It also is something that we learn to redefine as our lives move forward, and we grow in age and, hopefully, wisdom. I think that we’ve also been victims of the myth of the artist as, somehow, being removed from any obligations to a “client”, whether that client is sitting across a conference table, or is a community we try to serve. I like to remind my students that Bach made both secular and religious music and that, in both cases, he had a client (a prince, a king, and the church.) Success to me is about leaving a little bit of a legacy, and that legacy does not have to be grandiose. But it had to be about giving. For this reason, a designer hero of mine is Mick Ebeling.

Adam

“Maybe the real challenge isn’t painting a metaphorical Last Supper but realizing that true success is in enjoying the process more than the product.”

That’s a great point. I think one of the things I was trying to express in the essays (in a roundabout way) is that in today’s world the process isn’t as celebrated..it’s sitting down on your own and getting on with your work. There’s little fame or recognition there which might be why it’s so easily forgotten.

Thanks for featuring the videos!

Justin Cone

Hi Adam! Thank you for taking the time to respond here, and thank you for the extra insight. In light of your comment, I suppose what I was saying is tangential to your core argument, with which I agree 100%.

I think what you’re doing with this series is great, and I really look forward to part two.

Michelangelo Capraro (@mcapraro)

Really awesome post Justin. And great essay @AdamWestbrook.

i think you are right, that the process is where the real fulfillment comes from. and that fulfillment is success.

i think success can be a lot like mastery: its a concept that is commonly thought of as a destination, a clear, single point in time. But lately i really connect with the concept that mastery is more about an on-going challenge, an ambition to constantly improve. and so mastery isn’t ever really “achieved” but more of a philosophy. success can be like this. it can be a long, on-going process, something that isn’t so much achieved as it is experienced along the way.

i also like the notion of success as something more practical and small. you have many successes in your life, throughout your life and career. they are not big things, but small markers that you have completed a project and are now moving on to another phase in life. maybe people cant really “be” successful but they can have successes.

Martin

Hi Justin,

a very inspiring post. I feel now like I have a few years to paint my Last Supper.
Yes, many of us are in the same situation. But feeding a family is a valuable thing to do, and it takes all you efforts. (Da Vinci didn’t have kids.)
But as long as we still have this urge to do something great, this creative “itch”, it’s not too late. No need for a Sistine Chapel. Any work done for the sake of creating it rather than becoming a star or making money makes this world a bit better.
And the creator a bit happier.

Justin Cone

Great posts, everyone. Thanks for the thoughtful commentary.

Daario

I feel better now…I am not alone.

Angelo Collazo

Part 2 is even better:

Daniel

Wow, enjoyed this, brings to mind Churchill:

Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.

Ruoyu Li gangsta philosopher

success is the quality to inspire others to do the same. :P

Wipster (@wipsters)

A touching piece Justin! Rollo

fdfdfd

“Leonardo”

Justin Cone

Success is spelling your headline correctly.

DOH!

Dave penn

I really needed to see that.

Steve Easton

Nonsense. Da Vinci was a genius even as a boy, the opposite of a loser, which could be seen in a few lines of his designs, regardless of when any works were completely finished. There is no relation between such great men and actual losers, modern or otherwise, who will never be successful nor produce anything extraordinary.

curiositybox5

Er, did you actually watch the animation or read the article?

Rohit Iyer

Great post! These ideas are especially confusing when

Feeding Your Family = Creative Work

and

Feeding Your Art = Other Creative Work

The lines blur and “success” and “genius” and other terms like that become relative and muddled.

Sometimes, it’s relatively easy to be creative and sell out and do mediocre work and just as hard to be disciplined and follow your true inspiration.

I think ultimately though, one knows somewhere what one wants as an artist. But the pursuit of that can be tricky indeed.

tony melov

I hope this is the future of television. A well researched and edited piece of writing without any gratuitous plugin effects or 3d waffle to disguise a lack of content. Congratulations on showing the way forward. Its work like this that gets the attention of the people who don’t use twitter or Facebook and thats a growing and well moneyed section of the population. Most people over the age of 40 would watch this. And then send it on saying “finally…!”

Comments are closed.