Great writers will often type out great works, just to feel what well-structured language feels like as it comes out onto the page.
Painters learn by copying the great works with an exactness that forces them to the same solutions and techniques that the masters used.
In school, we learn science by repeating experiments that were once groundbreaking and demonstrative of the Universe’s foundational laws.
Great athletes review film, generals study battles from the past, and musicians must learn the songs of others before they can compose their own.
In learning and perfecting any skill, there is a constant balance between the fresh energy of the beginner and the studied discipline of the master. It is the interplay between these poles that generates true excellence. Neither the undisciplined talent nor the technically skilled but stagnant veteran creates works that resonate and endure over large spans of time.
It is the serendipitous convergence of tremendous effort and spontaneous inspiration that fixates and mirrors the vicissitudes of the human spirit. Western culture tends to revere the spontaneous more than the cultivated, while in the East this value is flipped.
In spending our novice years in a long apprenticeship, prostrating ourselves before and imitating the great masters, we create the substrate in which our own coherent style and the accompanying techniques may arise.
Piccaso, both a great master in his middle and old age, as well as a prodigy in his youth, articulated this notion eloquently.
“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”
Not everyone is destined to paint like a child. But every great artist and craftsman have some novel contribution for the greater culture, and the pursuit, as well as the honing of that gift, is of great importance no matter how meager its impact may appear to be.